Acne Center

Acne vulgaris

Acne, pimples or zits can occur on a person's skin, regardless of ethnicity, sex, or age, etc. However, while acne is common, the skin condition can seriously affect a person's self-esteem.  In more serious cases, acne can even be disfiguring and/or yield life-long scars.  But what is acne? And when is acne considered part of normal skin function and when is acne serious?

What is acne?
Our bodies are covered in hair, sometimes fine and perhaps even tiny ones called lanugo.  The part of the skin that produces hair strands is called a hair follicle.  Sebum (an oily chemical) is produced around hair follicles by glands called sebaceous glands. Typically, the area of skin near hair follicles and sebaceous glands is the area of the body that produces and perpetuates acne.

Acne is a skin condition in which the pores of the skin get clogged up with excessive oil. Acne occurs when sebum (the oily chemical) is unable to pass from inside the skin where the sebaceous gland is located to the skin layer and the skin pore becomes clogged. Or the skin cells themselves grow in abundance and clog the pore. Either way, because sebum cannot exit the skin, and dead skin cells begin to pile up ... bacteria begins to start growing. This mixture of bacteria, excessive skin cells, and sebum results in skin inflammation and tenderness.  Eventually, the clogged skin pore, or hair follicle, may burst. The mixture of bacteria, skin cells, and bacteria is released and exits the skin.

Types of acne
Because acne is a skin disorder, it can occur anywhere on the body.  Usually, it affects the arms (upper), back, chest, face, legs, scalp, and shoulders.  It's most common, and noticeable, on the face, back, and chest. Acne can also range from mild to severe cases.  And, there are different ways that acne can manifest itself.  Plugged hair follicles may manifest as any of the following:

Comedo / comedones - Commonly known as blackheads or whiteheads, this form of acne is a result of an open or closed pore.  When the pore is open and black, it is called a "blackhead". The black color is not due to dirt, but is instead caused by the sebum's exposure to air.  When the comedo is closed, the skin may be tender, inflamed, and may appear white.  This is a called a "whitehead".  

Cysts - This form of acne is a result of more serious inflammation, and can occur deep within the skin. Because of inflammation, there is a greater chance for pain and, is a cyst is more likely to leave scarring.  The skin may be full of pockets of a mixture of bacteria, sebum, dead skin cells, and white blood cells in a liquid, or semi-liquid form. Cysts are larger than pustules (see below) and are the most severe form of acne.

Nodules - This form of acne is rounded.  Additionally, the mixture of skin cells, bacteria, sepum, and white blood cells is solid and may result in scarring.

Papule - This form of acne is small, and shows itself above the skin (in contrast to cysts), and may feel rough.  

Pustule - A pustule is the stereotypical form of acne:  skin that is rounded, dome-shaped, and within this skin is pus (perhaps white, green, or yellow in appearance).  

Who is at risk of developing acne?  And what causes this troublesome skin condition?  Learn what causes acne in the Causes and Risk Factors section now.


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