According to the American Academy of Dermatology, about 40-50 million Americans have acne. Although most people think that teenagers or young adults are the only ones who get acne, acne can actually occur at any age regardless of gender.  Acne may not be life-threatening, but for some people it can be severe and disfiguring. People who have acne can also experience depression and low self-esteem.

Acne is caused by infection and inflammation of the hair follicle and sebaceous glands, or oil glands, in the skin. This made worse by the shedding of dead skin cells, which plug up the hair follicle.  Also, increased oil production in the skin makes the perfect breeding ground for acne-causing bacteria, Propionibacterium acnes.  When the pores become plugged up with oil and bacteria, the inflammation gets worse and causes a painful, red acne bump. Acne can appear on the face, neck, back, chest, shoulders and buttocks and leave red or brown marks or permanent scars.

Teenage acne occurs at puberty when androgen hormones increase and cause the skin’s oil glands to increase in size and produce more acne-causing oil.  Normally, oil is supposed to keep our skin healthy and provides moisture, but when it’s over-produced, it can contribute to clogging the pores and feeding the bacteria that causes acne, making acne worse.  In women, androgens are released during pregnancy, around the time of your period, or with certain hormonal contraceptives like the birth control pill. Androgens can also contribute to oil production and worsen acne and dark marks. Bad hygiene habits, like waiting days to shower, not washing your face or picking at your acne with dirty hands, can exacerbate acne and acne scars. Even stress can trigger an acne breakout or make an any active acne worse.

Acne blemishes are characterized into inflammatory and non-inflammatory.  They include the following:

It is important to distinguish between these different types of acne blemishes because they are treated with different medications and some cause scarring more than others. If you have mainly inflamed acne lesions, it is important to see your dermatologist right away as early treatment could prevent these from turning into scars. Both acne scarring and treatment options are covered in our next blog post.