What is acne?

Acne is a common skin disease caused by inflammation in and around the skin’s oil glands. Acne usually occurs during puberty, but people at ages ranging from 0 to 40 might experience acne. It is most commonly seen in teenagers aged 14-18, after which the disease usually diminishes. However, 1 per cent of men and 5 per cent of women will suffer from acne in their adulthood as well. Acne can be a burden to one’s physical and mental well-being and can be both bothersome and restraining.


What are the symptoms of acne?

  • Acne may appear on the skin of your face, your back and possibly other parts of the body, and the signs and symptoms are:
  • Blackheads
  • Whiteheads
  • Inflamed red bumps also known as papules
  • Pimples, or pustules, with pus at their tips
  • Cysts, either solid or pus-filled, beneath the skin surface
  • Potentially also scarring


What are the causes of acne?

The skin consists of a vast number of holes, through which the hairs in the follicles grow. A hair follicle is attached to an oil gland which produces sebum. Sebum is an oily secretion made of lipids and dead fat cells, and this sebum protects and waterproofs the skin, making sure that it doesn’t dry out. If this happens, the skin becomes fragile and cracks. In addition, this sebum restricts the growth of microorganisms on the skin.

Acne frequently occurs during puberty, when the body’s production of androgens, especially testosterone, is higher for both sexes. In the oil glands, the testosterone is transformed into a more active hormone, increasing the gland’s production of sebum. At the same time, the outlet of the gland is narrowed, so that it is easily clogged by dead skin cells, sebum, dirt and oil. This leads to the formation of blackheads.

Blackheads and whiteheads
Blackheads are open plugged pores caused by black pigment plugs. Whiteheads are closed plugged pores caused by plugs consisting of dead skin cells.

Pimples are red and yellow inflamed bumps caused by inflammation in and around the black- and whiteheads. The inflammation is caused by bacteria, and the pimples can evolve into big, swollen cyst-like lumps. The bacteria and the contents of the plugged oil gland result in irritation of the surrounding skin. Acne typically appears on the face, back and chest, because these areas of the skin have most oil glands.


Factors that may worsen acne

Acne may be worsened by a moist or oily environments, stress, scratching or picking pimples, menstruation, certain medical treatments and certain skin care products.

It is recommended that the use of cosmetics or lotions containing oils as well as hair wax is avoided, as these products might clog the pores. It is recommended to wash the skin with lukewarm water and a mild soap twice a day and after exercising, as sweat might clog the pores as well.

It is also important to avoid using wash cloths or sponges that cause irritation of the skin. In addition, excess scrubbing is not recommended as it might worsen the condition. It is also important to notice that exfoliants or toners might dry out the skin, which might also make the condition worse. Greasy hair should be washed frequently, as oil from the hair can affect the condition negatively as well.


What are the treatments for acne?

Some people believe that acne should not be treated, but rather left to decrease naturally over time. However, since acne is both a physical and mental burden, it is important to receive proper treatment.

Physically, acne might result in permanent scarring of the skin. Psychologically, acne can lead to anxiety, low self-confidence, social isolation and absence from work, school or leisure activities. Even depression and suicide thoughts have been associated with severe cases of acne.

The best recommendation is to seek medical advice from your general practitioner, when acne symptoms become too difficult to handle. There are several efficient acne treatments which can be prescribed by a doctor. These treatments include topical medications to be applied locally on the skin as well as oral medications.

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