Our skin contains tiny openings that are known are pores. These pores also contain hair follicles which are locations of hair growth. Acne forms when these pores get clogged with excess oil and dead skin cells or are infected by bacteria. Some of the most common places where acne forms are the face, back chest, shoulders, and neck. These areas of the body contain the maximum number of sebaceous or oil glands.
While acne is a common condition amongst all age groups, teenagers are especially susceptible to this condition. Acnes are a common occurrence in teenagers right after they hit puberty when the sebaceous glands are activated. It is a temporary condition which can be easily treated. If acne goes untreated for prolonged durations of time, it can result in permanent scarring. There are no serious health risks with acne although it can cause emotional distress and affect the patient’s self-esteem due to scarring on the face.
Symptoms of acne
Acne can present itself with diverse signs and symptoms. Blackheads, whiteheads, pimples, cysts, and nodules are all types of acne. Depending upon the severity of the condition there can be various symptoms such as –
- Whiteheads- Whiteheads are closed holes which are plugged by oil and dead skin.
- Blackheads- These are clogged pores which are open. Due to the effect of atmospheric oxygen, they turn black in colour.
- Papules- These are small red bumps which are caused due to an inflamed or infected hair follicle.
- Pimples or pustules- Pimples are papules which have a deposit of pus at the top resulting in white-coloured tips.
- Nodules- Nodules are large, solid bumps which grow under the skin and can be painful.
- Cysts- These are pus-filled lesions which appear beneath the surface of the skin.
If these symptoms are noticed with a combination of other signs like fainting, difficulty in breathing, swelling of the eyes, lips, face or tongue and tightness of the throat, then it can be indicative of a more serious underlying condition and a physician should be consulted immediately.
Causes of acne
There are 4 primary causes of acne-
- Excessive oil production by the sebaceous glands.
- Clogging of hair follicles by dead skin cells and oil.
- Bacterial infection in the pores.
- Excessive androgens in the body.
Pimples, whiteheads, and blackheads all affect the follicle containing pores. The other pores are connected to the sweat glands and are not usually a site for the spread of acne. Apart from this, there are 4 other factors that may worsen the spread of acne. A brief overview of these factors is mentioned below.
- Hormones- Male hormones, known as androgens are secreted by both male and female bodies. During puberty, the levels of androgens increase in the body. If there is an excess of androgen production, then the sebaceous glands become overstressed secreting more oil than necessary. Added to this, hormonal medications such as oral contraceptives and pregnancy medication can also affect androgen production.
- Drugs- Certain medications like corticosteroids, testosterone, and lithium among others can increase acne and the symptoms associated with it.
- Diet- Diet plays a significant role in deciding the spread of acne. Skimmed milk and foods rich in carbohydrates such as bagels, chips, and bread often worsen acne. Consumption of chocolate should also be reduced by those suffering from this condition as it is directly responsible for the worsening of symptoms.
- Stress- To put it simply, stress makes acne worse. Various self-care and stress-busting techniques should be implemented by those suffering from acne.
Diagnosis and treatment
Acne is self-diagnosable as the marks are easily noticeable. Over-the-counter creams and lotions are available that help with various symptoms. If the condition still persists then a dermatologist should be consulted who helps with controlling the acne and making the scars less visible. Acne medication works by fighting any kind of bacterial infection, reducing inflammations, reducing oil production in the skin and hastening the skin turnover process.
The treatment strategy that is prescribed by the doctor depends on the age of the patient, severity of the condition and the type of acne. Topical creams and oral drugs are often taken together. One should always take such oral medications under the doctor’s consultation in order to be wary of certain allergies and side-effects and to be cautious during pregnancy. Common topical creams are mostly retinoid-based, which means they are derivatives of vitamin A. Topical antibiotics and salicylic acid are also used which have antibacterial properties. Oral contraceptives are recommended by doctors when the acne is caused by hormonal imbalance.
Other therapies for acne
The therapies mentioned below are recommended in cases of severe acne and can be coupled with medication.
- Photodynamic and laser therapy- There is a range of light-based therapies that have shown positive results with acne reduction. Intense light penetrates the skin and is a non-invasive method of reducing infection.
- Chemical peels- Chemical peels containing retinoids, salicylic acid, and glycolic acid are used multiple times. These peels do not remove acne entirely in one-shot and hence multiple uses are often recommended.
- Blackhead and whitehead extractions- Visible signs of acne such as blackheads and whiteheads which have not disappeared after the use of topical creams are often physically removed by dermatologists using special tools.
- Steroid injections- Severe signs of acne such as nodules and cysts are often cured by injecting them with steroids. While thinning of the injected area is a common side-effect of this treatment, it provides quick improvements and reduction of pain.
Apart from these, there are a whole host of home remedies such as diets rich in vitamin A/E and zinc, topical application of tea-tree oil and moisturizers, and consumption of green tea which have proven effective against treating acne.
There is no reason for acne patients to lose hope and confidence. Through medication and modern therapies, this condition can be effectively cured. You can download the mfine app and start a consultation with a Dermatologist right from the comfort of your own home. Get on the app today and wish your acne goodbye!