Acne is a common condition that causes blocked pores, pimples, cysts and other lesions on the skin of the face, neck, chest, back, shoulders and upper arms. Although teenagers are often affected, adults of any age can suffer from acne. Acne is not life-threatening, but can lead to physical disfigurement and emotional distress. There are several effective treatment methods that improve the skin's appearance and prevent future breakouts.

Causes of Acne

Acne develops when pores become clogged, either from an overproduction of oil, a buildup of bacteria or a shedding of dead skin cells. When oil, bacteria or dead skin cells build up in the hair follicle, they form a soft plug that forces the follicle wall to bulge and protrude from the skin, causing a lesion. The cause of excess oil production is unknown, but is believed to involve a combination of several factors, including hormones, bacteria, heredity and, in some cases, the use of certain medications. Contrary to popular belief, chocolate, greasy foods and dirty skin do not cause acne.

In the first few months of life, some infants have acne. This is a common condition caused by exposure to maternal hormones in the womb; it clears up on its own within a few weeks or months.

Symptoms of Acne

Although they can appear anywhere, symptoms of acne usually appear on the face, neck, shoulders, back or chest. Symptoms of acne may include the following:

  • Blackheads
  • Whiteheads
  • Cysts
  • Nodules
  • Pustules
  • Redness
  • Swelling

These symptoms can come and go, and may flare up at certain times as a result of hormonal or environmental triggers such as pregnancy, menstrual periods, high levels of humidity, using oily cosmetics or hair products, and taking certain medications. Severe cases of acne may cause scarring, which can have a damaging emotional effect on the sufferer. If acne symptoms do not respond to over-the-counter treatments, or if scarring develops as the acne clears up, a dermatologist should be consulted.

Acne Treatments

Treatment methods for acne aim to reduce oil production and increase the speed of skin-cell turnover to prevent new blemishes from developing. Acne treatment also focuses on reducing inflammation to help treat current symptoms. Treatment may include a combination of topical creams and ointments, and prescription medications that include antibiotics and oral contraceptives.

Topical Treatments

Topical creams and ointments applied to the affected area are often the first form of treatment used to treat acne. Over-the-counter creams and ointments, which are used to treat mild forms of acne, may contain benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid or lactic acid as their active ingredient. Prescription topical treatments may contain higher concentrations of these active ingredients, as well as retinoic or azelaic acid.

Oral Prescription Medications

Moderate cases of acne can often be treated with prescription oral antibiotics, which reduce bacteria and inflammation. They are often combined with topical treatments. Isotretinoin may be prescribed for severe cases of acne that do not respond to other treatment methods. In some cases, oral contraceptives are prescribed for women to treat moderate cases of acne.

Scar Treatment

Certain procedures may be recommended to treat scarring caused by acne. They include skin fillers, dermabrasion, microdermabrasion and laser treatment. Many patients experience effective results from these types of treatments, which help to smooth the skin and remove the scars created by severe acne.

It may take up to 8 weeks before results from treatment are apparent, and acne may get worse before getting better.

Preventing Acne

Although acne cannot always be prevented, there are certain ways to reduce the risk of breakouts. They include the following:

  • Avoiding heavy or oily cosmetics
  • Removing makeup before going to bed
  • Using mild cleansers
  • Avoiding sun exposure
  • Avoiding constant touching of the skin

Patients should also avoid picking or squeezing blemishes, and should be aware of anything that comes in contact with the affected area, because it may contain unwanted bacteria.

Acne FAQs

Acne is a common condition that causes blocked pores, pimples, cysts and other lesions on the skin of the face, neck, chest, back, shoulders and upper arms. There are several effective treatment methods available to help improve the appearance of the skin and prevent future acne breakouts.

Do only teenagers get acne?

Although teenagers often get acne, it can affect adults of any age.

Is acne dangerous?

Acne is not life-threatening, but it can cause physical disfigurement or scarring, and lead to emotional distress.

What causes acne?

Acne develops on the skin when the pores become clogged, which may occur as a result of an overproduction of oil, a buildup of bacteria or the shedding of dead skin cells. When these substances build up in the hair follicle, they form a soft plug that forces the follicle wall to bulge and protrude from the skin, causing a lesion to develop.

Can eating chocolate or greasy foods cause acne?

No; what a person eats does not cause acne.

What are the symptoms of acne?

Symptoms of acne can include blackheads, whiteheads, cysts, nodules, pustules, redness and swelling.

What are acne lesions?

Acne lesions are physical changes in the skin caused by a disease or bacteria affecting the sebaceous gland. Acne lesions range in severity from blackheads (comedones) to cysts.

Where do acne lesions usually appear?

Acne lesions are most common on the face and neck, where sebaceous glands are most dense, but they can also appear on the chest, back, shoulders, scalp, legs and upper arms.

Can picking at or opening up pimples make them better?

No; it can make them worse. Pimples should never be opened except by a dermatologist because of the risk of infection.

What are the different kinds of acne treatments?

Acne treatments vary depending on the type and severity of lesions, and the patient's skin type, age and lifestyle. Treatment options can include topical creams and ointments, and prescription oral antibiotics. To remove acne scarring, treatments such as dermabrasion or laser therapy may be recommended.

Accutane® Treatment

Acne can be unsightly and painful. In addition to taking a physical toll, it can result in poor self-esteem and, even, depression. Accutane® capsules, with an active ingredient of isotretinoin, are a potent, highly effective option for clearing even the most stubborn acne. For more than 20 years, Accutane therapy has successfully treated severe nodular acne. The small Accutane capsules are taken orally, in several courses of 4 to 6 months each.

If, however, a woman becomes or is pregnant while undergoing Accutane treatment, there is a high risk that her baby will be born with severe birth defects. As a result, a program called iPLEDGE has been enacted to:

  • Prevent Accutane treatment from being given to pregnant women
  • Ensure women do not become pregnant while undergoing Accutane therapy

By signing the iPLEDGE oath, female patients agree to undergo monthly pregnancy tests, and to use two forms of approved contraception for the duration of the Accutane therapy. Results are verified by the prescribing doctor and the dispensing pharmacy.

Acne Scars

Acne is a common condition that causes blocked pores, pimples, cysts and other lesions on the skin. While it is most common in teenagers, acne can affect people of all ages, most often appearing on the face, neck, chest, back, shoulders and upper arms.

For many patients, once acne lesions clear up or are removed, they leave behind discolorations and indentations on the skin. In many cases, acne can lead to scarring, especially if it is severe. Scars may form after acne has healed and cleared, and may vary from person to person. Some people may have small flat scars that are not very noticeable and others may suffer from more visible and indented scars on the face or affected area. Acne scarring is most often caused by larger acne lesions, such as cysts or nodules, which can swell and rupture, causing a break in the wall of the individual pore. Infected material from the inflamed lesion can spill out through this break and can affect the nearby healthy tissue, leading to the appearance of a scar.

Although not harmful, most people are bothered by the unattractive appearance of these scars and seek treatment to remove or significantly reduce their appearance.

Types of Acne Scars

Acne scars can vary in appearance and texture depending on the type and severity of the original acne lesions. Each type of acne scar may require a different type of treatment in order to repair the damaged areas of the skin and produce a smooth, clear appearance.

Atrophic Scars

Atrophic scars develop when there is a loss of tissue. Common types of atrophic scars include ice pick scars and boxcar scars. Ice pick scars are narrow indentations that form deep within the layers of the skin, creating an appearance that the skin has been punctured with an icepick. Boxcar scars are round depressions in the skin similar to chickenpox scars, which may be superficial or deep, depending on the severity of the pimple.

Hypertrophic Scars

Hypertrophic scars are caused when the body produces too much collagen as acne wounds heal, resulting in excessive amounts of raised tissue on the skin's surface. Also known as a rolling scars, hypertrophic scars create a wave-like appearance in the skin as a result of bands of tissue that develop deep within the skin and pull the epidermis down in certain spots.

Acne Scar Treatment

Treatment for acne scars depends on the type and severity of scarring, as well as each patient's individual skin and amount of correction desired. Treatment options may include:

  • Tissue fillers to fill in depressed scars for a smoother appearance
  • Dermabrasion to remove surface scars or lessen the appearance of deeper scars
  • Laser treatments to burn away the skin's surface layer and produce new skin cells
  • Punch excision surgery to remove indented scars which may include a skin graft

For many patients, a combination of treatments may be most effective in improving the appearance of acne scars. Treating acne scars is often a complex process that sometimes involves several different treatments.

Preventing Acne Scars

The most effective way to prevent acne scars from developing is to stop the lesions that lead to scarring from forming. It is also important for patients to avoid picking or popping active lesions, as this can lead to infection and increase the risk of scarring. Picking at scabs should also be avoided to allow natural healing to occur without interruption. Sun exposure can lead to further damage of the skin and may delay healing of scars and lesions, and should be avoided as much as possible to maintain the health of the skin.

Some patients are naturally prone to developing scars from acne and will not be able to prevent these scars from occurring. Fortunately, there are many treatments available to reduce the appearance of acne scars and revitalize the skin.

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