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Clearing up acne misconceptions

Acne is a prevalent skin disorder that affects millions of people, primarily in the teenage years and early ‘20s. In the United States alone, 60 million people are reported to have acne. However, only 11 percent seek treatment for the condition.

Acne affects all races, ages and both genders.

Understanding acne

Acne isn’t the localized pimple that occurs once in a while; it is typically a series of blemishes that spring up over and over.

Here is the general life cycle of acne:

The body produces more sebum (oil) than is necessary in sebaceous glands. Puberty and other hormonal changes are generally triggers for excessive sebum production.

The sebum, which in a normal pore would drain to the surface and go away naturally, mixes with bacteria from the skin and forms a blockage in the pore known as a microcomedone.

The microcomedone forms into a true comedone, which is commonly referred to as a “whitehead” or a “blackhead.” When the trapped sebum and bacteria remain below the skin, it is a whitehead. When the blemish opens to the surface of the skin and oxidizes, it forms a blackhead. Blackheads are not pores with dirt in them. They’re actually the sebum, bacteria and oxidized melanin, which turn a dark brown or black color. A blackhead or whitehead can release its contents to the surface and heal. This is why this type of acne is considered non-inflammatory.

Another route for the microcomedone to take is inflammatory acne. In this case a papule will form when there is a break in the follicular wall of the pore. White blood cells rush in and the pore becomes inflamed. The papule will develop into a pustule several days later, when white blood cells make their way to the surface of the skin. This is what people usually refer to as a “zit” or a “pimple.”

Inflamed pores can rupture and spread to other areas of the skin. Sometimes several pores are affected at the same time and may form a nodule or a cyst under the skin. Acne can be painful to the touch and also very visible on the skin. Lesions may occur anywhere on the body but are generally most visible on the face, back or chest.

Acne treatment

Many people think that individuals with acne do not wash properly or eat greasy foods that can cause acne to surface.

These are misconceptions about the skin disorder. As mentioned, acne forms from an overabundance of sebum mixed with naturally occurring bacteria. It is not the result of a dirty face or indulging in French fries.

Treatment for acne depends upon the scope of the condition. Options consist of reducing sebum production, removing dead skin cells and killing bacteria with topical drugs and oral medications.

Benzoyl peroxide is one of the most popular and longest-used treatments for acne. It is found in many of the over-the-counter cleansing pads and in popular “as seen on TV” acne treatments.

Propionibacterium acnes, or P. acnes, are the bacteria responsible for acnes. The bacteria cannot live in an oxygen-rich environment.

Benzoyl peroxide works by introducing oxygen into the pore, thereby killing P. acnes. Benzoyl peroxide is also good at cleaning out skin pores of excess dead skin, which in turn helps prevent pore blockages.

Common side effects of this treatment are flaking and drying of the skin, which can be mediated by a little moisturizer.

It’s recommended to start with a benzoyl peroxide concentration of 2.5 percent to acclimate the skin.

Sulfur and Resorcinol are other substances that are good at drying up oil and sloughing off dead skin cells, which may end up clogging pores.

Salicylic acid is a mild acid that works as a keratolytic agent – it encourages the sloughing of dead skin cells. It is found in a host of skin treatment products because of its ability to dissolve the outer layer of skin.

Alcohol will dry out the skin and excessive oil. It is typically found in toners and other face washes. For severe acne cases, a dermatologist may prescribe medications that work to treat acne from the inside out.

A combination of oral antibiotics (to kill the P. acnes bacteria) and vitamin A derivatives (to shrink oil-producing sebaceous glands) may be used depending upon severity.

There are many viable treatments for acne. With routine care, lesions can be kept at bay and under control. Over time an individual may find he or she “grows out” of acne.

Anyone concerned about acne should visit a doctor to find a treatment method that is best for the severity of his or her condition.


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