More than 85% of teenagers have this common skin problem, which is marked by clogged pores (whiteheads, blackheads), painful pimples, and, sometimes, hard, deep lumps on the face, neck, shoulders, chest, back, and upper arms.
If your mom and dad had acne, chances are good that you will, too. But there are many ways to prevent (and treat) acne today to keep the condition minimal, prevent scarring, and leave your skin glowing.
What Causes Acne?
To understand acne, you need to know how your skin works. The pores in your skin contain oil glands. When you hit puberty, there's an increase in hormones called androgens. The excess hormones cause your oil glands to become overactive, enlarge, and produce too much oil, or sebum. When there's too much sebum, the pores or hair follicles become blocked with skin cells. The increase in oil also results in an overgrowth of bacteria called Propionibacterium acnes.
If blocked pores become infected or inflamed, a pimple -- a raised red spot with a white center -- forms. If the pore clogs, closes, and then bulges, you have a whitehead. A blackhead occurs when the pore clogs, stays open, and the top has a blackish appearance due to oxidation or exposure to air. (This has nothing to do with skin being "dirty").
When bacteria grow in the blocked pore, a pustule may appear, meaning the pimple becomes red and inflamed. Cysts form when the blockage and inflammation deep inside pores produce large, painful lumps beneath the skin's surface.
Hormonal changes related to birth control pills, menstrual periods, and pregnancy can trigger acne. Other external acne triggers include heavy face creams and cosmetics, hair dyes, and greasy hair ointment -- all of which can increase blockage of pores.
Clothing that rubs your skin may also worsen acne, especially on the back and chest. So can heavy sweating during exercise, and hot, humid climates. Stress is known to trigger increased oil production, which is why many teens have a new crop of pimples on the first day of school or just before that big date.
What Are the Symptoms of Acne?
While the symptoms of acne vary in severity, you'll notice these signs on areas of your body with the most oil glands (the face, neck, chest, back, shoulders, and upper arms):
Clogged pores (pimples, blackheads, and whiteheads) Papules (raised lesions) Pustules (raised lesions with pus) Cysts (nodules filled with pus or fluid)
The least severe type of acne lesion is the whitehead or blackhead. This type is also the most easily treated. With more extensive acne, you may need prescription medications to ease inflammation, bacterial infection, redness, and pus.
Why Do Some People Get Acne and Others Don't?
It is not clear why some people are more prone to acne than others.
The exact cause of acne is not known, but hormones called androgens can play a role. Androgens increase in both boys and girls during puberty. Androgens make the skin's oil glands get larger and make more sebum. Androgens also can increase because of hormonal changes related to pregnancy or starting or stopping birth control pills.
Genetics may also matter. If your parents had acne, you may have inherited that tendency.
Some medications (for example, androgens taken as medicine, epilepsy medication, lithium, and prednisone) can cause acne.
Cosmetics that have a greasy consistency may also clog pores. Water-based products are less likely to cause acne than oil-based makeup.
Other things that can make acne worse include:
Friction caused by leaning on or rubbing the skin; harsh scrubbing.
Picking or squeezing blemishesPressure from bike helmets, backpacks, or tight collars.
Changing hormone levels in adolescent girls and adult women two to seven days before the start of the menstrual period.
Can I Prevent Acne?
There are some steps you can take to prevent acne. To prevent oily skin that can contribute to acne, keep your skin clean. Wash your face and neck twice daily with soap and warm water. But never scrub your face! That can irritate your skin and worsen acne.
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Treating acne early is the key to avoiding permanent scarring.