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Acne vulgaris or commonly known as acne is a chronic, inflammatory skin condition. It often causes pimples and spots on the face, neck, head and chest. It’s most common among teenagers when their sebaceous glands are very active though it affects people of all ages. In the US alone, at least 85% of the people experience acne between the ages of 12 to 24.

Effective treatments are available over the counter but the more severe forms should be treated by a dermatologist.

Types of acne

Acne pimples may vary in level of pain, color and size. The following types are possible:

  • Blackheads: They are black and visible on the skin surface.
  • Whiteheads: They remain under the skin.
  • Pustules: They are red at the base with pus at the top.
  • Papules: Usually small, pink bumps that is visible on the surface of the skin.
  • Nobules: They are solid, large and painful pimples under the skin.
  • Cysts: They are painful and are filled with pus. They can cause scars.

What are the causes of acne?

There are four main factors causing acne. These are:

  1. Bacteria- Propionibacterium acnes that live on the skin can contribute to the infections.
  2. Excess oil production- Increased production of sebum can plug the skin pores. The plugged hair follicle slowly become big and produces bumps. Eventually, the wall breaks allowing bacteria and other harmful substances into the skin.
  3. Clogged hair follicles– The clogged hair follicles allow oil build-up under the skin.
  4. Excess activity of androgen hormone– Excess androgen hormone can cause the oil gland under the skin to grow.

Other factors that may cause and worsen acne are:

  • Greasy cosmetics
  • Menstruation
  • Dirt
  • Foods
  • Hormonal change
  • Stress
  • Genetic reasons
  • Certain medications
  • Occupations
  • Diet

What are the signs and symptoms of acne?

The signs and symptoms of acne depend upon the severity of the conditions:

  • Blackheads
  • Whiteheads
  • Pimples
  • Painful lumps under the skin
  • Lumps that are filled with pus under the skin.

The adverse effect of the problem

Acne problem can have both psychological and physical effects. People with recurrent acne can experience the following:

  1. Low self-esteem
  2. Image problems at school and work
  3. Attitude problems
  4. Problems having friends
  5. Depression

How can I prevent acne?

Here are some prevention tips for acne-prone skin.

  • Do not scrub your face when washing.
  • Do not pop the pimples.
  • Refrain from touching your face.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly before applying gels and creams.
  • Avoid using oil-based products.
  • Avoid stress and anxiety.
  • Keep your skin cool and dry.
  • Avoid irritants such as acne concealers and greasy cosmetics.
  • Protect your skin from too much exposure from the sun.
  • Avoid pressure on your skin.

What treatments are available for acne?

Acne treatment depends on the severity and how often acne occurs.

  1. Mild acne

OTC medicines, gels, soap and cream can treat mild acne. OTC medicines may contain active ingredients like:

  • Salicylic acid- assist the breakdown of whiteheads and blackheads
  • Azelaic acid- to strengthen the cell that lines the follicles; stop the production of sebum; reduces bacterial growth
  1. Moderate to severe acne

Your doctor may prescribe the following:

  • Antibiotics– It works by killing the bacteria and fights the inflammation. It is best used with topical benzoyl peroxide.
  • Injections- A specialist may inject diluted corticosteroid to treat inflamed cyst.
  • Oral contraceptive- It is a long-term treatment for acne.
  • Topical medicines like Retinoid- It come in the form of gels, creams and lotions.
  • Therapies like chemical peel, laser and whiteheads and blackhead extractions.

Common acne medicines