Diseases & Conditions



What is acne? Acne is a skin condition that occurs when the oil-secreting glands in the skin are clogged and become inflamed or infected. Ninety percent of teenagers get acne. How does it occur? Acne is caused by inflammation of the oil glands in the skin and at the base of strands of hair. In the teenage years, hormones stimulate the growth of body hair, and the oil glands secrete more oil. The skin pores become clogged and bacteria grow in the clogged pores. When the body works to kill the bacteria, whiteheads and blackheads form in these areas. What are the symptoms? The symptoms of acne are: blackheads whiteheads pimples, some filled with pus. These skin eruptions may be painful. In severe cases, cysts (fluid-filled bumps larger than pimples) may develop under the skin. How is it treated? Treatment is aimed at cleaning out the pores, keeping oil and dirt out of the pores, and reducing inflammation. First you and your doctor will talk about how you are currently taking care of your skin. You will discuss which products, such as soaps and lotions, you should continue using and which you should stop using. Several products may be used to help prevent pimples or blackheads. Treatment usually begins with putting products containing benzoyl peroxide on the areas of skin with acne. If benzoyl peroxide alone is not effective, then you may also put antibiotic medications on your skin or your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to be taken by mouth. You may also need to use a skin cream or gel containing tretinoin (Retin-A). An oral medication called isotretinoin (Accutane) is available for severe acne. However, isotretinoin must be used very carefully because it causes birth defects in babies born to mothers who become pregnant while they are taking the drug or who have taken it 1 or 2 months before becoming pregnant. Large cysts may be injected with medicine by your doctor so there is less scarring. How long will the effects last? New whiteheads usually stop appearing after 4 to 6 weeks of treatment, but usually you will need to continue the treatment at least 6 to 8 weeks. If you are taking antibiotics, at some point your doctor will ask you to stop taking them to see if they are still necessary. Many factors may make acne worsen temporarily. For example, women may notice that their acne gets worse before each menstrual period. Thus, even if you are receiving the proper treatment, results may vary over time. Try to discover and change, when possible, the factors in your environment or lifestyle that make the acne worse. How can I take care of myself? Follow the full treatment prescribed by your doctor. In addition you can: Wash your face two times a day with a gentle soap. Dermatologists often recommend Dove or Lever 2000. Change your washcloth every day (bacteria can grow on damp cloth). Wash as soon as possible after you exercise. Wash your hands more frequently and avoid putting your fingers and hands to your face unnecessarily. Don't squeeze, pick, scratch, or rub your skin. Scars may form if you squeeze pimples. Don't rest your face on your hands while you read, study, or watch TV. Shampoo your hair at least twice a week. Pull your hair away from your face when you sleep. Style it away from your face during the day. Keep a record of the foods you eat and try to figure out if any foods make your acne worse. Avoid foods high in fat like chocolate, nuts, peanut butter, cheeses, potato chips, and popcorn if they seem to make your acne worse. Avoid working in hot kitchens where greasy foods are cooked. Avoid getting sunburned. Avoid extreme stress if possible. Practice stress reduction strategies such as exercise, meditation, and counseling if stress is extreme. Get physical exercise regularly. Keep your follow-up appointments with your doctor. Keep a record of what has been tried and how it has worked. There are many alternatives for you and your doctor to try, so don't give up!