Acne is one of the most common skin disorders in the United States. It affects 8 out of 10 adolescents and about 17 million people in the United States have it.

Acne is a skin disorder that occurs when hair follicles become clogged. Hair follicles contain sebaceous glands that make sebum, an oil that protects the skin from bacterial infection and reduces water loss. The oil reaches the skin’s surface through the opening of the follicle called the pore. However, sometimes the hair, sebum, and skin cells can produce a plug that blocks the pore. The trapped oil and cells allow bacteria to grow in the follicle, which causes inflammation.

What are the Different Types of Acne?
There are different kinds of acne depending on how the clogged pore responds. If a clogged pore closes up and bulges out from the skin, it is called a whitehead. A blackhead occurs when the clogged pore stays open and the sebum turns black when exposed to the air. You can get pimples, a small, red infection, if the walls of the follicle break down and allow the bacteria to get under your skin. If the clogged follicle opens up deep in the skin, you can get a bigger infection called a cyst.

What Causes Acne?
Doctors aren’t sure what causes acne, but they believe that it is related to hormones and genetics. An increase in hormones called androgens causes the sebaceous glands to make more sebum, which can clog the pores and cause acne. Teens are more prone to acne because of the hormonal changes experienced during puberty. Pregnancy and starting or stopping birth control pills can also cause acne.

Genetics also play a part. If your parents had acne, you are more likely to have problems with acne too. Studies have shown that many school-age boys with acne have a family history of acne.

Certain drugs, including androgens and lithium, and greasy cosmetics can also cause acne. However, despite popular belief, eating greasy foods or chocolate does not. While stress doesn’t cause acne, it can make it worse. So can pressure on the skin from sports equipment or tight clothing, pollution, high humidity, picking at blemishes, working with greasy substances (like fast food), scrubbing the skin too hard, and hormonal changes before the female menstrual period.

How Do I Prevent Acne?

-Wash your face one to two times daily, or after you’ve been sweating a lot, with a mild cleanser to prevent oil buildup.

-Make sure you wash your skin gently so as not to irritate the skin. Scrubbing can make the problem worse.

-Wear only oil-free or noncomedogenic makeup and moisturizer.

-Keep hairspray and gel away from your face.

-Keep hair away from your face and wash it regularly.

-Avoid hats if they are causing pimples along your hairline.

-Avoid touching your face.

-Don’t touch or pick at blemishes. This can make it worse and lead to scaring.

-Shave carefully.

Sitting out in the sun will not help clear up your acne. A suntan may temporarily make the acne less obvious, but it does not get rid of acne. Sun exposure also increases the risk of developing skin cancer and wrinkles.

You can also try an over-the-counter product. There are several types and you may need to try a couple to find one that works for you. The most common are benzoyl peroxide, resorcinol, salicylic acid, and sulfur. You probably won’t see results immediately; it may take up to eight weeks before you notice any significant improvement. Contact your pediatrician if you have any questions or need any advice. Be sure to follow the instructions and try a little first to be sure you are not allergic to the product. You should report to your doctor any severe or long lasting side effects.

When Should I Seek Help?
If over-the-counter products do not seem to help, see your doctor. Your doctor can recommend additional over-the-counter products, prescribe stronger medicine or refer you to a dermatologist if needed. The best way to prevent scarring is by seeking treatment early.

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