Acne is a very common inflammatory skin condition, which commonly starts at the time of puberty and can continue through life. It most commonly affects the face, as well as the back, shoulders, upper arms, and chest.
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Fast facts on acne
Here are some key points about acne.
- According to the American Academy of Dermatology, acne affects as many as 50 million Americans each year
- Girls aged 14-17 and boys aged 16-19 are most affected by acne, though it can occur at any age
- People should avoid popping, squeezing, or picking at blackheads
People with blackheads should avoid popping, squeezing, rubbing, touching, or picking at affected areas.
There are many gels, lotions, and cleansing pads available to treat blackheads.
Not all acne is treated the same. To treat blackheads, a healthcare provider may recommend over-the-counter or prescription medications depending on a particular situation.
Topically applied therapy for those affected by mild acne and blackheads may include the use of:
- Benzoyl peroxide
- Salicylic acid
Depending on the remedy, they may be purchased in the form of gel, lotion, cream, soaps, or pads.
In some cases, a healthcare provider may recommend extraction, in which they will manually extract blackheads with special tools.
For some women, the use of oral contraceptives, low-dose corticosteroids, or spironolactone may improve hormonally driven acne, even in mild cases.
Treatment and prevention of blackheads and acne
Things to avoid:
- Avoid vigorous cleaning and scrubbing of the skin
- Avoid using very hot or very cold water when washing
- Avoid the use of toners, exfoliants, astringents, strong soaps, or scrubbing pads unless told otherwise
- Avoid popping, squeezing, rubbing, touching, or picking at affected areas
- Avoid getting sunburn or tanning
- Avoid the use of pore-clogging skin care products
Things to do:
- Gently wash the face or affected area once or twice per day using a mild cleanser and lukewarm water
- Shampoo hair often
- Remove all make-up in the evening before going to bed
- Consider using oil-free skin care products, including sunscreen
- For people with dry skin, fragrance-free, water-based emollients are recommended
- Use care when shaving
People should speak with their healthcare provider for recommendations for treating their particular skin condition.
Types of acne
Acne is classified by healthcare providers as inflammatory or non-inflammatory. Acne can also be classed as mild, moderate, or severe.
Acne is caused by skin oil called sebum clogging up pores.
Milder forms of acne include non-inflammatory acne. This acne includes the presence of blackheads and whiteheads. These blemishes are caused by a skin oil called sebum clogging the pores.
While sebum may seem like a problem, it is vital for moisturizing the skin. Sebum leads to various forms of acne when a layer of dead skin cells blocks the body's release of sebum from the skin's pores.
Sebum is made by the sebaceous glands. Areas that have lots of these glands such as the face, chest, back, and shoulders are at a higher risk of acne formation.
Inflammatory acne is characterized by moderate and severe forms of acne. This can lead to blemishes such as pimples, papules, pustules, nodules, and cysts.
Mild acne is characterized by the presence blackheads or whiteheads, as well as few or small pimples.
Moderate acne is characterized by the presence of papules and pustules, which are caused by bacteria. The presence of bacteria leads to skin irritation and inflammation.
Severe acne is a more harsh form of moderate acne and additionally features the presence of nodules and cysts.
Not all acne spots are given the same name due to their characteristics and include:
- Blackheads: Blackheads are not black due to the presence of dirt. Their black appearance is due to the skin's pigment's contact with oxygen. This contact occurs because the surface of the blackhead is open and exposed to the air.
- Whiteheads: Whiteheads are closed, firm, and are characterized by a white bump. Squeezing them will not release the clogged material.
- Papules: Papules are characterized by inflamed, pink or red, sore, and tender bumps on the skin. They are typically small in size.
- Pustules: Pustules are small, inflamed, pink or red, and tender lesions with a center core filled with yellow or white pus.
- Nodules: Nodules are characterized by deeply embedded, large, painful, and firm skin lumps.
- Cysts: Similar to nodules, cysts are deeply embedded, pus-filled acne lesions that resemble a boil. These may cause permanent scars.
Risk factors for developing acne
As with many physical conditions, acne is caused by or worsened by several factors. These factors include:
Squeezing or picking blackheads can make the acne worse.
- Overactive oil glands
- Hormonal status
- Psychological issues such as stress
- Certain medications
- Pore-clogging skin care products
- Pressure from sports helmets, sports equipment, tight-fitted collars, and other sources of rubbing
- Exposure to pollution or humid temperature conditions
- Squeezing or picking at skin lesions
- Excessive or hard skin scrubbing