What is it?
Acne is one of the most common skin problems. The blackheads and whiteheads (pimples) or red bumps of acne affect nearly every teenager and many young adults. Acne happens when a "plug" of oils, skin, and sometime germs, get stuck in a hair follicle (FALL-ih-kull). A hair follicle is also called a "pore." A blocked pore swells, reddens, and forms acne.
Most people stop having acne after their teenage years, but you may keep getting some pimples all your life. Acne can last many years and may cause skin scarring. Acne can cause people to feel embarrassed, ashamed, frustrated, and self-conscious. Some people have depression or other emotional problems because they feel so bad about themselves and their acne. Most acne can be controlled with the right treatment.
Acne commonly appears during puberty, usually between ages ten to fourteen. During puberty, special hormones (chemicals your body makes) cause your body to grow and change very quickly. Hormones called androgens (AN-dro-jins) cause two major things to happen inside the pores of your skin. They cause oil glands in your skin to grow and make more oil, or sebum (SEE-bum). They also cause the skin inside your pores to grow faster and shed (come off) quicker.
Sebum mixed with old skin flakes (and sometime germs) can form a sticky plug that clogs your pores. Clogging causes acne to form. Acne may also be caused by certain medicines. You may have an acne flare-up before your monthly period if you are a female. You are more likely to have an acne problem if one of your parents or family members had acne problems.
Acne is not caused by dirty skin or poor hygiene (HI-jeen). Dirt on your skin does not cause acne. However, keeping your skin clean may help the pimples go away faster. It is also not caused by oil on the surface (top) of your skin, certain foods, or stress.
Signs and Symptoms:
Acne can be mild to very severe (bad). It is most common on the face. It can also break out on the neck, shoulders, back, chest, arms, and buttocks (rear end). You may have different kinds of acne sores on your face and body. Acne can be found on or under the skin surface. A plug may form in the pore and fill just below the skin surface to make a whitehead. The plug may come to the top of your skin and open up, looking dark or black. This is called a blackhead. You may have small, pink, painful bumps that are close to the top of the skin. You may also have large, hard, painful lumps that are deep below the skin and are pus-filled.
- Sunlight may help acne. But you should not be in the sun for long periods of time without sunscreen protection on your skin.
- Eat a healthy and well-balanced diet that includes fruits and vegetables. Watch what you eat to learn if a certain food causes your skin to break out.
- Do not scrub, pick, or squeeze acne lesions as this increases inflammation.
There is no cure for acne but it can be controlled. Caregivers will decide how to treat you after carefully checking your skin. For mild to moderate acne, treatment may include creams, gels, or lotions applied to the skin. These have fewer side effects than medicines taken by mouth.
- Creams, gels, or lotions can be applied to the skin. Some of these products have antibiotics in them that fight bacteria on the skin's surface.
- Keratolytic medicine helps to break down the plugs in the follicles.
- Antibiotic medicine and birth control pills can also be taken by mouth to control acne.
- Cell growth modifiers are made from vitamin A and decrease follicle plugging. This medicine is used for severe cystic acne or when other treatments have failed. They may have serious side effects. Cell growth modifiers should not be used during pregnancy because they may cause birth defects.
HOW TO TREAT YOUR SYMPTOMS:
Eat healthy foods from the 5 food groups that are fruits, vegetables, breads, dairy products, meat, and fish. Eating healthy foods may help you feel better and have more energy. It may also help your acne heal faster. There is no proof that eating certain foods will make your acne worse. But some foods, such as chocolate, may cause an acne flareup. With time, you can learn what foods may cause acne flareups. You can then avoid eating those foods.
Herbs and Supplements:
Before taking any herbs or supplements, ask your caregiver if it is OK. Talk to your caregiver about how much you should take. If you are using this medicine without instructions from your caregiver, follow the directions on the label. Do not take more medicine or take it more often than the directions tell you to. The herbs and supplements listed may or may not help treat your condition.
- Tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) oil (5%) applied twice daily is helpful for acne. This should be done cautiously since some people may develop dermatitis (a rash) from topical tea tree oil.
- Lecithin applied topically may decrease acne.
- Phosphatidylcholine applied topically may decrease acne.
- Vitamin A is commonly used at high doses for acne, but using high doses of vitamin A can be dangerous, especially in pregnant women. Talk with your caregiver before taking vitamin A.
- Zinc taken by mouth may be helpful for acne.
- Acupuncture has been shown to help with acne.
Other ways of treating your symptoms:
Other ways to treat your symptoms are available to you.
Talk to your caregiver if:
- You would like medicine to treat acne.
- Your symptoms have not gone away or improved by these self-help measures.
- You do not feel good about yourself and are depressed.
- You have questions about what you have read in this document.
SEEK CARE IMMEDIATELY IF:
- You feel like hurting yourself or someone else.
You have the right to help plan your care. To help with this plan, you must learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. You can then discuss your treatment options with your caregivers. Work with them to decide what care will be used to treat you. You always have the right to refuse treatment.
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2. Hillstrom L, Pettersson L, Hellbe L et al: Comparison of oral treatment with zinc sulphate and placebo in acne vulgaris. Br J Dermatol 1977; 97(6):679-684.
3. Bassett IB, Pannowitz DL & Barnetson RS: A comparative study of tea-tree oil versus benzoyl peroxide in the treatment of Acne. Med J Aust 1990; 153(8):455-458.
4. Xu YH: Treatment of acne with ear acupuncture-a clinical observation of 80 cases. J Tradit Chin Med 1989; 9:238-239.
Last Updated: 3/4/2018