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Your skin has tiny holes called pores, which can become blocked by oil, bacteria, dead skin cells, and dirt. When this occurs, you may develop a pimple or "zit." If your skin is repeatedly affected by this condition, you may have acne.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, acne is the most common skin condition in the United States. Although acne isn’t a life-threatening condition, it can be painful, particularly when it’s severe. It can also cause emotional distress. Acne that appears on your face can impact your self-esteem and, over time, may cause permanent physical scarring.
There are many effective treatments for acne that reduce both the number of pimples you get and your chance of scarring.
Acne can be found almost anywhere on your body. It most commonly develops on your face, back, neck, chest, and shoulders.
If you have acne, you will typically notice pimples that are white or black in appearance. Both blackheads and whiteheads are known as comedones. Blackheads open at the surface of your skin, giving them a black appearance due to the effect of oxygen in the air. Whiteheads are closed just under the surface of your skin, giving them a white appearance.
While whiteheads and blackheads are the most common lesions seen in acne, other types can also occur. Inflammatory lesions are more likely to cause scarring of your skin:
Acne occurs when the pores on your skin become blocked with oil, dead skin, or bacteria.
Each pore on your skin is the opening to a follicle. The follicle is made up of a hair and a sebaceous (oil) gland. The oil gland releases sebum (oil), which travels up the hair, out of the pore, and onto your skin. The sebum keeps your skin lubricated and soft.
Acne can be caused by one or more problems in this lubrication process. It can occur when:
All of these problems contribute to the development of pimples. A zit appears when bacteria grows in a clogged pore and the oil is unable to escape.
Myths about what contributes to acne are quite common. Many people believe that foods such as chocolate or French fries will contribute to acne. While there’s no scientific support for these claims, there are certain risk factors for developing acne. These include:
Young people are most at risk for developing acne during puberty. During this time, your body undergoes drastic hormonal changes. These changes can trigger oil production, leading to an increased risk of acne. Hormonal acne related to puberty usually subsides or at least improves when you reach adulthood.
If you have symptoms of acne, your doctor can confirm your diagnosis by examining your skin. Your doctor will identify the types of lesions and their severity to determine the best treatment.
You can use a number of self-care activities at home to prevent pimples and to clear up your acne. Home remedies for acne include:
If self-care activities don’t help with your acne, a number of over-the-counter acne medications are available. Most of these medications contain ingredients that can help kill bacteria, open pores, or reduce oil on your skin:
Sometimes, you may continue to experience symptoms. If this happens, you may want to seek medical advice. Your doctor can prescribe medications that may help reduce your symptoms and prevent scarring:
Your doctor may recommend additional procedures to treat severe acne and prevent scarring. These work by removing damaged skin, reducing oil production, or opening pores:
Your doctor may suggest using cortisone injections if your acne consists of large cysts. Cortisone is a steroid naturally produced by your body. It can reduce inflammation and speed healing. Cortisone is usually used along with other acne treatments.
Treatment for acne is often successful. Most people can expect their acne to start to clear up within six to eight weeks. However, flare-ups of the condition are common and may require additional or long-term treatment. Isotretinoin is the treatment most likely to provide permanent or long-term results.
Scarring that occurs as a result of acne can cause emotional distress. Prompt treatment can help prevent scarring. Also, your dermatologist has treatment options specifically designed to treat scarring.
It’s difficult to prevent acne. But you can take some steps at home to help prevent acne after treatment. These steps include:
Speak with your doctor to learn more about strategies to manage your acne.
Written by: Darla Burke
Medically reviewed on: Mar 24, 2016: Laura Marusinec, MD
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