What Is Acne?
Acne is a disorder resulting from the action of hormones on the skin's oil
glands (sebaceous glands), which leads to plugged pores and outbreaks of lesions
commonly called pimples or zits. Acne lesions usually occur on the face, neck,
back, chest, and shoulders. Nearly 17 million people in the United States have
acne, making it the most common skin disease. Although acne is not a serious
health threat, severe acne can lead to disfiguring, permanent scarring, which
can be upsetting to people who are affected by the disorder.
What Causes Acne?
The exact cause of acne is unknown, but doctors believe it results from several
related factors. One important factor is an increase in hormones called
androgens (male sex hormones). These increase in both boys and girls during
puberty and cause the sebaceous glands to enlarge and make more sebum. Hormonal
changes related to pregnancy or starting or stopping birth control pills can
also cause acne.
Another factor is heredity or genetics. Researchers believe that the tendency to
develop acne can be inherited from parents. For example, studies have shown that
many school-age boys with acne have a family history of the disorder. Certain
drugs, including androgens and lithium, are known to cause acne. Greasy
cosmetics may alter the cells of the follicles and make them stick together,
producing a plug.
How Is Acne Treated?
Acne is often treated by dermatologists (doctors who specialize in skin
problems). These doctors treat all kinds of acne, particularly severe cases.
Doctors who are general or family practitioners, pediatricians, or internists
may treat patients with milder cases of acne.
The goals of treatment are to heal existing lesions, stop new lesions from
forming, prevent scarring, and minimize the psychological stress and
embarrassment caused by this disease. Drug treatment is aimed at reducing
several problems that play a part in causing acne: abnormal clumping of cells in
the follicles, increased oil production, bacteria, and inflammation. Depending
on the extent of the person's acne, the doctor will recommend one of several
over-the-counter (OTC) medicines or prescription medicines that are topical
(applied to the skin) or systemic (taken by mouth). The doctor may suggest using
more than one topical medicine or combining oral and topical medicines.
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