Acne is a skin condition that is caused by the overproduction of oil by the oil glands of the skin. This oil in turn blocks the pores of the skin, which can become infected. It is often characterized by inflammation and redness of the skin, and occurs most typically on the face, neck, chest and back regions. Acne is prevalent in teenagers undergoing puberty, although is also experienced by people at all stages of life.
A lot of people only think of acne as the erupted, red bump often referred to as a zit or a pimple. Acne also has other forms:
- Blackheads are dark-colored comedones on the skin that are formed when the accumulated mixture of oil and cells is trapped and it is oxidized giving it its black hue.
- Whiteheads are small, flesh-or white-colored acne comedones formed when the mass of bacteria and oil blocks the skin pore.
- Milia are hard-closed comedones have white heads but are not painful. These are commonly seen around the eye area.
Comedones in general can be quite isolated and are not often classified as “acne” in a clinical sense.
- A papule is a red and inflamed lesion seen on the surface of the skin. It does not have pus or a white head.
- A pustule is a worsened papule. It looks like a typical pimple, red and inflamed but with a white head. The white head on the pustule is actually made of pus, oil, and cellular debris.
- Cysts are closed sacs underneath the skin that have fluid or semisolid substances. These are severe cases of acne that are extremely inflamed.
- Nodules are large, inflamed lesions present in the dermis. They are hard, painful lumps under the skin and are caused by contaminated debris from the follicle that infects adjoining follicles. This type of acne is at the most severe end of the spectrum, and can require medical intervention.
Acne actually develops when the oil that normally lubricates the skin clogs the oil ducts of our skin. Dirt, dead skin cells or other matter can also be trapped by the oil, within the duct. When this happens, bacteria start to grow, which eventually causes acne. Because of this, studies show that areas of the skin with the most number of oil glands are more susceptible to acne. The forehead is one such area, which has an estimated 2,000 oil glands per square inch. Most people will have some experience with acne at some time during their lifetime.
Known to be mostly common in teenagers until their early 20s, acne can also afflict children and adults. More severe cases of acne, however, occur in men because of the higher number of male hormones that trigger acne formation. Women with a lot of body hair and those who have irregular periods, on the other hand, are also at risk of having acne breakouts because of their increased levels of male hormones.