Your skin has tiny holes called pores that that can become blocked by oil, bacteria, and dirt. When this occurs, you may develop a pimple or “zit.” If your skin is repeatedly affected by this condition, you may have acne. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), acne is one of the most common skin problems in the United States. At any one time, between 40 and 50 million people have this condition. Although acne is not a life-threatening condition, it can be painful, particularly when it is severe. It can also cause emotional distress. Acne that appears on the face can impact self-esteem and, over time, may cause permanent scarring. Fortunately, there are effective treatments for this condition that reduce both the number of pimples you get and the chance for scarring to occur.
What Causes Acne?
Acne occurs when the pores on your skin become blocked with oil, dead skin, or bacteria. Each pore on your skin is the opening to a follicle. The follicle is made up of a hair and a sebaceous (oil) gland. The oil gland releases sebum (oil), which travels up the hair, out of the pore, and onto your skin. The sebum keeps your skin lubricated and soft. If you develop acne, this may be because of one or more problems in this lubrication process. These possible causes include:
- too much oil or sebum is being produced by the follicle
- dead skin cells are accumulating in the pore
- bacteria has built up in the pore
An overabundance of oil, a pore clogged by dead skin cells, and bacteria all contribute to the development of pimples. A zit appears when the bacteria grows in the clogged pore and the oil is unable to escape.
What Are the Risk Factors for Developing Acne?
Myths about what contributes to acne are quite common. Many people believe that foods such as chocolate or French fries will contribute to the development of acne. While there is no scientific support for these claims, there are certain risk factors that may put you at risk for developing acne. These include:
- hormonal changes caused by puberty or pregnancy
- certain medications such as birth control pills or corticosteroids
- a diet high in refined sugars or carbohydrates such as bread and chips
Young people are most at risk for developing acne during puberty. During this time, the body undergoes drastic hormonal changes. These hormones can trigger oil production, leading to an increased risk of acne. Hormonal acne related to puberty usually subsides when a teenager reaches adulthood.
What Are the Symptoms of Acne?
Acne can be found anywhere on your body. It most commonly develops on the face, back, neck, chest, and shoulders. If you have acne, you will typically notice pimples that are white or black in appearance. Both blackheads and whiteheads are known ascomedones. Blackheads open at the surface of the skin giving them a black appearance. Whiteheads are closed just under the surface of the skin, giving them a white appearance. While whiteheads and blackheads are the most common types of acne, other lesions can occur. Inflammatory lesions are more likely to cause scarring of the skin and include the following:
- papules—small red, raised bumps caused by infected hair follicles
- pustules—small red pimples that have pus at their tips
- nodules—solid, painful lumps that are beneath the surface of the skin
- cysts—infections found beneath the skin that contain pus and are often painful