Gary W. Cole, MD, FAAD
Dr. Cole is board certified in dermatology. He obtained his BA degree in bacteriology, his MA degree in microbiology, and his MD at the University of California, Los Angeles. He trained in dermatology at the University of Oregon, where he completed his residency.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
- What is acne?
- What causes acne?
- What other skin conditions can mimic acne?
- When should someone start acne treatment?
- What can people do to get rid of their acne?
- What are other things you can do for acne? Are there any home remedies for acne?
- What is a good basic skin regimen?
- How does a doctor treat acne? Is it possible to remove acne scars?
- How would you summarize current-day acne treatment?
- Acne (Pimples) FAQs
- Find a local Dermatologist in your town
What is acne?
Acne (acne vulgaris, common acne) is a disease of the hair follicles of the face, chest, and back that affects almost all teenagers during puberty -- the only exception being members of a few primitive Neolithic tribes living in isolation. It is not caused by bacteria, although bacteria play a role in its development. It is not unusual for some women to develop acne in their mid- to late-20s.
Acne appears on the skin as
- occluded pores ("comedones"), also known as blackheads or whiteheads,
- tender red bumps also known as pimples or zits,
- pustules (bumps containing pus), and occasionally as
- cysts (deep pimples, boils).
One can do a lot to treat acne using products available at a drugstore or cosmetic counter that do not require a prescription. However, for tougher cases of acne, one should consult a physician for treatment options.
What causes acne?
No one factor causes acne. Acne occurs when sebaceous (oil) glands attached to the hair follicles are stimulated at the time of puberty or due to other hormonal changes. Sebum (oil) is a natural substance that lubricates and protects the skin. Associated with increased oil production is a change in the manner in which the skin cells mature, predisposing them to plug the follicular pore. The plug can appear as a whitehead if it is covered by a thin layer of skin, or if exposed to the air, the darker exposed portion of the plug is called a "blackhead." The plugged hair follicle gradually enlarges, producing a bump. As the follicle enlarges, the wall may rupture, allowing irritating substances and normal skin bacteria access into the deeper layers of the skin, ultimately producing inflammation. Inflammation near the skin's surface produces a pustule; deeper inflammation results in a papule (pimple); if the inflammation is deeper still, it forms a cyst.
Here are some factors that don't usually play a role in acne:
- Food: Parents often tell teens to avoid pizza, greasy and fried foods, and junk food. While these foods may not be good for overall health, they don't cause acne or make it worse. Although some recent studies have implicated a high-carbohydrate diet, milk, and pure chocolate in aggravating acne, these findings are very far from established.
- Dirt: Blackheads are oxidized oil, not dirt. Sweat does not cause acne and is produced by entirely separate glands in the skin. On the other hand, excessive washing can dry and irritate the skin.
- Stress: Some people get so upset by their pimples that they pick at them and make them last longer. Stress, however, does not play much of a direct role in causing acne.
In occasional patients, the following may be contributing factors:
- Heredity: If one of your parents had severe acne, it is likely that your acne will be more difficult to control.
- Pressure: In some patients, pressure from helmets, chin straps, collars, suspenders, and the like can aggravate acne.
- Drugs: Some medications may cause or worsen acne, such as those containing iodides, bromides, or oral or injected steroids (either the medically prescribed prednisone [Deltasone, Orasone, Prednicen-M, Liquid Pred] or the steroids that bodybuilders or athletes sometimes take). Other drugs that can cause or aggravate acne are anticonvulsant medications and lithium (Eskalith, Lithobid). Most cases of acne, however, are not drug related.
- Occupations: In some jobs, exposure to industrial products like cutting oils may produce acne.
- Cosmetics: Some cosmetics and skin-care products are pore clogging ("comedogenic"). Of the many available brands of skin-care products, it is important to read the list of ingredients and choose those which have water listed first or second if one is concerned about acne. These "water-based" products are usually best for those with acne.
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