What is acne?
Acne is an inflammatory condition which may include comedones (blackheads and whiteheads), red pimples, and even large nodules. Acne commonly affects the face, but may also appear on the shoulders, back, chest and arms. Acne is commonly a skin condition of adolescence, but it can affect adults as well.
There are three distinct types of acne, ranging from mild to severe:
- Comedonal acne is the mildest form of acne and is predominated by white heads (closed comedones) and blackheads (open comedones).
- Inflammatory acne is a moderately severe form of acne that consists of pink bumps (papules), and pustules (pink bumps with white pus).
- Cystic acne is the most severe form of acne and results in large, painful, swollen, deep red bumps that may heal with scarring.
What causes acne?
Acne is related to changes of the pilosebaceous unit — the hair follicle and oil gland – but there is no one single cause. The cause of acne is multifactorial and can include:
- Clogged skin pores
- Hormonal changes
- Genetic factors
- Excess oil production by the skin’s oil glands
- Environmental factors such as humidity or pollution
- Inflammation caused by the bacteria Proprionibacterium acnes
How can I treat acne?
Early and appropriately aggressive treatment is needed to control acne. Combination treatment is usually necessary. This may consist of topical antibiotics, sulfur, alpha hydroxy acids, benzoyl peroxide, and retinoids (vitamin A derivatives). Oral antibiotics may be required for a short period of time to control inflammatory acne. Severe cases may require an oral retinoid called isotretinoin (formerly the brand name Accutane), which requires monthly monitoring and blood tests.
There are many other medications that can help control acne. These include birth control pills, Spironolactone (which helps some women with acne), topical prescriptions, chemical peels, microdermabrasion, photodynamic therapy, Aerolase laser and blue light treatments. Your doctor will work with you to find the right combination of medications and procedures to control your acne.