Acne vulgaris (literally, it means "the common acne") is an inflammatory disease of the skin. It occurs when oil produced naturally by the skin's oil glands is overproduced, plugs pores and hair follicles, and thereby cause an inflammation.

Normal hair follicle, blackhead, and infected follicle in acne

Causes of Acne

During the teenage years, rising hormone levels cause the skin's oil-producing sebaceous glands to create excessive amounts of oily secretions called sebum. This oil drains into the hair follicle and hardens into a plug that blocks the follicle's pores.

Blocked pores caused bacteria called Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes) - bacteria that normally live on the skin's surface - to grow in the trapped sebum and cause inflammation called acne lesions or comedones (singular: comedo).

Acne causing Propionibacterium acnes bacteria.
Meet the bad guys: Propionibacterium acnes grown in thioglycollate medium.

The major causes of acne vulgaris, especially in teenagers, are:

  • Genetics
    The predisposition to developing acne is inherited from either parents

  • Hormones
    The increase in production of the sex hormone called androgens in young men and women during puberty causes the skin's oil glands to produce excess amount of pore-plugging sebum.

Other known acne causes are prescribed medicine, cosmetics, stress, skin irritants, and pollution.

Types of Acne Lesions

There are two general forms of acne lesion:

  • Whitehead
    Acne lesion that stays below the skin surface and is completely plugged by sebum.

  • Blackhead
    Open lesion that reaches the skin's surface. The dark color is actually not caused by dirt - instead, it is caused by the sebum plug.

Small acne lesions can sometime develop into other, more serious forms, including papulae, pustules, nodules, and cysts. These lesions can last a long time, be painful, and can lead to scarring.

How Common Is It?

Affecting about 85% of Americans in their teenage and young adulthood, acne is the most common skin condition in the United States. Most people outgrow acne - however, for some, it can last well into adulthood.

Treatment of Acne?

For most people, maintaining good hygiene by washing the affected areas a couple of times a day with mild anti-bacterial facial soap can reduce excess oil and kill bacteria. Topical over-the-counter creams containing benzoyl peroxide or herbal creams containing the anti-septic tea tree oil can also help.

Prescribed medicines for acne include:

  • Topical antibiotics, such as benzoyl peroxide, erythromycin, and clindamycin.

  • Oral antibiotics, such as tetracycline and erythromycin

  • Tretinoin (Retin-A) cream or gel

  • Isotretinoin (Accutane)

See also:
Acne Research Summaries

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