Acne vulgaris is a common skin disease characterized by pimples on the face, chest, and/or back. It occurs when the pores of the skin become clogged with oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria. It is a common problem for teenagers, but can affect a person of any age. It could be considered a nuisance and not a danger since it often goes away in time without treatment, but chronic acne can have a negative impact on self esteem and personal body image.
“It can be characterized by anything from whiteheads and blackheads, to tiny hard pimples you barely see, to pus-filled nodules, even fluid-filled cysts with roots deep in the skin,” says Sumayah Jamal, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of dermatology and microbiology at the NYU Medical Center in New York City.
- Crusting of skin eruptions
- Inflammation around the skin eruptions
- Red pimples often called “zits”
- Redness around the skin eruptions
- Scarring of the skin
Causes of acne
A medical explanation
Based on research done by the American Academy of Dermatology, acne usually starts to develop when hormonal shifts during puberty, or in women before a menstrual cycle or even prior to menopause, can cause an overproduction of oil and cells inside a skin follicle. Together, they can plug the opening of the pore which then causes the follicle beneath to swell.
This allows for the overgrowth of bacteria found normally on skin — Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes) — which produce irritating chemical substances and subsequently will further fuel the inflammation. The end result is acne.
A lifestyle explanation
Experts such as Dr. Julian Whitaker have come to the conclusion that acne is “a disease of Western civilization.” More specifically, our epidemic of acne rests squarely on the shoulders of our “civilized” diet, especially our unbridled consumption of high-glycemic (GI) carbohydrates, which is unprecedented in human history.
The good news is that indigenous societies don’t get acne. That tells us a lot about why we Americans do get acne.
Apparently acne is virtually nonexistent in cultures that eat plant-based diets. These diets consist of food relative to their surroundings with such items as wild game, fish, fruit, vegetables, rice, and tubers.
However, evidence also suggests that when these people migrate to western civilizations and acclimate to the way of eating – processed foods, denatured sugars, added and heated fats, and soft drinks- acne becomes as common for them as for Americans.
More possible causes of acne
The use of cosmetics on one’s skin, genetics, stress, one’s physical environment, the use of medications, legal drugs, and those that are illegal, may also be contributors to an acne problem and should all be considered possible causes of the breakouts.
When to contact a doctor
According to the experts, you should contact your doctor or a dermatologist if:
- Self-care measures and over-the-counter medicine have not helped after several months of use
- Your acne is severe (for example, you have lots of redness around the pimples or you have cysts) or getting worse
- You develop scars as your acne clears up
- If you are a parent and your baby has acne that does not clear up on its own within 3 months, call your pediatrician.
The following medically oriented sites deal with medical treatment for acne as well as offering other excellent information on the subject.
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