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What is acne? It is a skin disorder arising from partial or complete blockage anywhere along the pores of the sebaceous glands of the skin from excessive sebum production, with or without subsequent bacterial infection.
A sebaceous gland (colored pink in this diagram) is a group of body cells located at the bottom of each hair follicle, and they naturally produce a oily material called sebum, that helps to lubricate our hair. The sebum is produced and then secreted into the canal or pore adjourning the gland, bathing the hair follicles.
When this gland produce excessive amount of oil (sebum), it blocks the small pores around the hair follicle. This blockade leads to formation of a whitehead or closed comedones, if the blockade is below the level of the skin surface. If the blockage is at the level of the skin surface, it leads to the formation of open comedones or blackheads.
This blockade can lead to bacteria breeding inside the excessive sebum trapped, and cause inflammation of the skin around blocked pore, leading to inflammation and redness of the spots or acne.
Several researches have show that at puberty, the production of high amount of a hormone called androgen causes the sebaceous glands to produce more sebum than usual. Sometimes, it is just a high amount of androgen that is the problem, the glands themselves becomes very sensitive even to normal levels of androgen.
The over production of sebum alone is the the only cause of blockade. The same hormones (androgens), that stimulate excessive sebum production is also believed to cause our hair follicles to produce excessive dead skin flakes called keratin. They are what is responsible for blocking or plugging the hair follicles from the top, while the sebum is produced in excess from the bottom. Following such blockage, a normal skin bacteria called Propionibacterium acnes may now colonize the "broth" formed from a mix of sebum and dead skin (keratin), leading to inflammation, characterized by redness, pain, cyst formation or pustules (cyst containing pus). If this inflammatory process progress aggressively, it leaves varying degree of scar.
Can you see why acne, pimples and zits swells up and sometimes cause the tension and pain associated with this skin condition?
Now that we know a bit about what is acne, let see what it is not. If you suffer with acne, you might have come across or heard some worrying tales about acne. It is important to know that:
Depending on where you live, there are other words used to describe acne in official and colloquial English language. They include:
What is acne called in your locality? We would love to hear from you. Please use the submission box below to tell us about any other words for acne you know of.
There are certain skin conditions that may look like acne, but are not exactly acne. They include:
There are other look alike of acne like molluscum contagiosum (a type of wart), systemic lupus erythromatosis (causing a rash on the bridge of the nose spreading to both sides onto the cheeks), keratosis pilaris and heat rash (miliaria or miliarasis). It is very important to understand what is acne and what it is not, how it is developed, and the various types of acne to help target appropriate treatment.
Many treatment failure arises where a comedone acne is treated with antibiotics for example. Treatment success lies in identifying and dividing acne into the two types: Non-inflammatory acne (comedones -white heads and black heads), and inflammatory acne (cystic, pustules, +/- comedones and scars). If you have been receiving treatment for acne and it remains ineffective, going back to the basics and understanding what is acne is thus necessary.
Non-inflammatory acne should be treated (mild to moderate) with topical benzyl peroxide, aleazic acid, and topical retinoids. Antibiotics are useless! On the other hand, Inflammatory acne should be treated (mild to moderate) with topical benzyl peroxide, aleazic acid, retinoids plus topical or systemic antibiotics. We will build more on this when discussing the best treatment medications for acne.
Understanding what is acne also helps in instituting the right preventive measure to acne re-occurring after treatment.
What is acne? We are compiling a list about what people think acne is, what makes it worse, and any held views about this skin condition. What is acne to you? We would love to hear from you. Please write as much as you can about this and share your thoughts here.