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Acne: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About Acne

Acne is a skin condition, which mainly afflicts the face, neck and chest. It is caused by an increased production of oil, by certain glands, which is trapped in the skin pores. Acne, is also commonly known as a "pimple”

Acne: Incidence, age and sex

Acne mainly affects young people over ninety percent of which are teenagers. It is observed in both sexes at the time of puberty. Acne is also visible more frequently in females not merely during puberty, but also during pregnancy and menopause.

Signs and symptoms of acne: Diagnosis

The term ‘acne’ constitutes not only pimples but also blackheads and whiteheads. These blackheads and whiteheads herald the occurrence of pimples. The partial closure of skin pores and subsequent trapping of sebum leads to white coloured tiny bumps over the skin. These are called whiteheads. When this trapped sebum gets mixed with cell debris, these tiny bumps assume a darker shade and are known as blackheads. Sometimes these skin pores get completely clogged with sebum, leading to red coloured tiny swellings which are called pimples. Occasionally these pimples get infected with certain bacteria which usually dwell on the skin surface. This causes infection of the pimples and must be treated without delay.

Acne is most commonly seen over face, neck, chest or upper arms due to plethora of oil glands in these areas. Mostly acne is self limiting. It tends to disappear with age. But at times it leaves some apparent scarring on the face especially when not treated in time or if a person has a habit of picking on the skin.

Causes and prevention of acne

Acne is triggered by over-functioning of certain glands in the skin which are under the influence of male hormones. The body hair have their roots just beneath the skin surface. Each body hair is enclosed within a covering canal which opens out on the skin with the hair. This is the skin pore. Each hair root has an oil gland called 'sebaceous gland' attached to it. This gland produces an oily substance called ‘sebum’, which flows through the covering canal of hair and finally pours out through the skin pore, spreading onto the skin surface.

Normally, this sebum moisturises the skin surface and prevents it from drying. These oil glands normally work under the influence of sex hormones, mainly the testosterone. Testosterone, though a male sex hormone, is found in both the sexes. Thus in the teenage years, these oil glands are enlarged producing more sebum due to hormonal influence. Overproduction of the sebum, together with blockage of skin pores, leads to accumulation of sebum within the pores, causing acne. Any kind of psychological stress increases the levels of sex hormones, which in turn leads to higher production of sebum, causing acne.

The following measures can help in the prevention and management of acne:

  • Frequent washing of the face with lukewarm water.
  • Daily washing of ‘oily’ hair.
  • Complete removal of any make up before going to bed.
  • Men should ideally soften their beard before shaving, to avoid any nicks on pimples.
  • Effectively manage mental and physical stress.

Acne: Complications

Acne, as such, is a temporary skin condition which wanes with age and timely treatment. It may sometimes lead to low self esteem and psychological distress in some people. Cosmetic disfigurement, even temporarily in teenagers becomes very distressing, leading to social withdrawal and occasionally, depression. Acne, if left untreated may cause permanent scarring of the face.

Acne: Treatment

Mild acne can be minimised by regular washing of the face with lukewarm water. It is better to use non-medicated soap for washing the face. Avoid frequent touching or scratching of the acne affected area. This not only causes scarring but can also perpetuate the infection. It is advisable to use creams containing benzoyl peroxide to moisturise the skin.

Consult a skin specialist in case of severe acne or if acne begin to erupt in middle age. Certain vitamins like Vitamin A and E are often used to treat acne. Hormone therapy and antibiotics are also advised in people with extremely severe and resistant cases of acne.