Acne, or acne vulgaris, is a common chronic skin condition also known as pimples, blackheads, whiteheads, blemishes or zits. Acne is most common among teens and young adults, though it can persist or present later in life. It has a strong genetic component.
What is Acne?
Acne vulgaris is a blockage and/or an inflammation of hair follicles (pores) and their accompanying oil (sebaceous) glands by oils and dead skin. It most commonly occurs on the face, neck, shoulders, back or chest. The sebaceous glands produce sebum, which lubricates the hair and skin. Hormonal changes, like the ones commonly associated with puberty, can cause overproduction of sebum. When enough sebum and dead skin cells accumulate in one area they can cause a pore blockage. If bacteria is caught inside of the pore when the blockage occurs (such as Propionibacterium acnes), it can multiply and start to create swelling and redness of the skin around the pore. This is known as acne. Further inflammation, sometimes caused by harsh scrubbing or physical manipulation (“popping”, for example) can cause the development of cysts and nodules. These more severe progressions of acne vulgaris are much more likely to cause scarring on affected tissues.
There is a wide variety of acne treatments available, both prescription and over-the-counter. The simplest way to avoid acne is to avoid using oily (comedogenic) products on the skin and to avoid using irritating cosmetics. Washing areas affected by acne once or twice per day with a non-irritating soap or acne wash can help to treat acne or prevent acne from occurring. Over-the-counter acne treatment products containing benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid can be effective ways to treat mild acne. Products containing sulfur can also be used effectively for spot treatments. If after several months non-prescription treatments don’t seem to be working, see your doctor and ask about a prescription acne treatment medications such as antibiotics or retinoid creams.
Baby acne has two forms: neonatal acne and infantile acne. Neonatal acne normally occurs within three months after birth and doesn’t persist for more than a few months. Infantile acne appears within six to twelve months after birth and tends to disappear within a year. Both forms of baby acne can be treated with a gentle cleanser; notify your doctor if it begins to worsen or if neonatal acne persists for more than a few months, as this can be indicative of a hormonal disorder.
Adult acne is a common condition. It can be caused by stress, changes in hormone levels, and medications. Lifestyle can also influence the likelihood of developing adult acne: smoking, for example, has been shown to increase the frequency and severity of adult acne outbreaks.
Though most patients that experience acne at any point in their lives have some level of acne scarring, extremely visible acne scarring is normally only caused by severe nodulocystic acne. These acne scars can be treated using chemical peels, laser resurfacing treatments, or microdermabrasion, which involves using tiny crystals to remove the outer layer of skin.
Sometimes acne can be confused for eczema. Click here to read more about eczema and it’s symptoms.
Return to Dermatology Ireland Home.