Acne Vulgaris or common acne is a very common skin disorder which affects the majority of young people when they reach early puberty. It is caused by the inflammation of the small oil glands, called sebaceous glands, which surround the fine hair follicles on the face, chest and back. Typically the condition steadily worsens until it reaches it’s peak during the mid to late teenage years, after which it begins to decline in most cases, although in some cases it can remain as adult acne as late as the forties. Women can also experience increased acne during pregnancy or menstrual periods due to hormonal changes which occur at these times.
During puberty the body increases the production of male sex hormones, called androgens, in both males and females. Androgens stimulate the sebaceous glands which produce a substance known as sebum. The overproduction of sebum causes the openings of the sebaceous glands to contract, allowing the sebum to accumulate. We all have bacteria called Propionebacterium Acnes living on our skin. When this bacteria feeds on the accumulation of sebum it produces a waste product of fatty acids which irritate the sebaceous gland causing them to become inflamed, producing the red pimples or cysts we know as cystic acne or simply acne. Due to the accumulation of waste fatty acids left by the bacteria these pimples are sometimes called whiteheads and should not be confused with blackheads which are merely the accumulation of dirt in the pores of the skin.
There is also a condition which is sometimes confused with Acne Vulgaris called Acne Rosacea. This appears as a red rash, most commonly on the face, neck and chest and can sometimes be accompanied by spots similar to acne lesions. However Rosacea is a genetic condition found in people of North West European descent and is not related to common acne.
There are a large number of acne creams and lotions and other treatments available over the counter, both in cream or oral form, all of which work by aiming to control the production of sebum and remove the bacteria which feeds upon it whilst at the same time preventing the narrowing of the Sebaceous Gland. Creams containing Azelaic Acid or Benzoyl Peroxide are the most common and are usually sufficient to treat a mild case of acne. If you have more severe acne symptoms a doctor can provide acne help with more powerful treatments. Creams are available which combine Benzoyl Peroxide with antibiotics or the doctor may choose a course of treatment of antibiotics alone. If you are a woman there are contraceptive pills which contain anti-androgens which can be of benefit as an acne treatment.
In the most severe cases of acne your doctor or dermatologist may prescribe a course of Isotretinoin. This is a powerful drug with several potential side effects and must always be used under strict medical supervision and never taken if you are, or could become, pregnant, due to the potential for harm to the foetus. If used correctly however it can have a dramatic effect in the treatment of acne.
Some people can suffer from acne scars. These are most commonly caused by squeezing the cyst in a misguided attempt at quick removal. If you do suffer from scars your dermatologist can treat them by laser or dermabrasion.
Acne Vulgaris is a very common condition in the population for which there are a wide number of treatments available both over the counter and from your doctor or dermatologist. If you combine this with a healthy lifestyle and good skin cleaning regime the effects of acne can be effectively minimized.