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Acne Information

  • Acne vulgaris is an inflammatory disease of the skin, caused by changes in the pilosebaceous units (skin structures consisting of a hair follicle and its associated sebaceous gland). Acne lesions are commonly referred to as pimples, spots, plukes or zits...
  • The condition is most common in puberty. It is considered an abnormal response to normal levels of the male hormone testosterone. The response for most people diminishes over time and acne thus tends to disappear, or at least decrease, after one reaches his or her early twenties. There is, however, no way to predict how long it will take for it to disappear entirely, and some individuals will continue to suffer from acne decades later, into their thirties and forties and even beyond. Acne affects a large percentage of humans at some stage in life.

    The term acne comes from a corruption of the Greek άκμή (acme in the sense of a skin eruption) in the writings of A?tius Amidenus. The vernacular term bacne or backne is often used to indicate acne found specifically on one's back.

    The most common form of acne is known as "acne vulgaris", meaning "common acne." Many teenagers get this type of acne. Excessive secretion of oils from the sebaceous glands accompanies the plugging of the pores with naturally occurring dead skin cells (corneocytes) blocking hair follicles. The accumulation of these corneocytes in the duct appears to be due to a failure of the normal keratinization process in the skin which usually leads to shedding of skin cells lining the pores. Oil secretions are said to build up beneath the blocked pore, providing a perfect environment for the skin bacteria Propionibacterium acnes and the lipophilic (oil/lipid-loving) yeast Malassezia to multiply uncontrollably. Under the microscope, however, there is no evidence of pooled trapped sebum. Indeed the oil percolates through the plugged duct onto the surface. In response to the bacterial and yeast populations, the skin inflames, producing the visible lesion. The face, chest, back, shoulders and upper arms are especially affected. The typical acne lesions are: comedones, papules, pustules, nodules and inflammatory cysts known as cystic acne, one of the more severe forms. These are more inflamed and pus-filled or reddish bumps, that can easily lead to scarring or serious infections. Non-inflamed 'sebaceous cysts', more properly called epidermoid cysts, occur either in association with acne or alone but are not a constant feature. After resolution of acne lesions, prominent unsightly scars may remain.

    Aside from scarring, its main effects are psychological, such as reduced self-esteem and, according to at least one study, depression or suicide. Acne usually appears during adolescence, when people already tend to be most socially insecure. Early and aggressive treatment is therefore advocated to lessen the overall impact to individuals.

    There are many products sold for the treatment of acne, many of them without any scientifically-proven effects. Generally speaking successful treatments give little improvement within the first week or two; and then the acne decreases over approximately 3 months, after which the improvement starts to flatten out. Treatments that promise improvements within 2 weeks are likely to be largely disappointing. Short bursts of cortisone, quick bursts of antibiotics and many of the laser therapies offer a quick reduction in the redness, swelling and inflammation when used correctly, but none of these empty the pore of all the materials that trigger the inflammation. Emptying the pores takes months.

    Exfoliating the skin can be done either mechanically, using an abrasive cloth or a liquid scrub, or chemically. Common chemical exfoliating agents include salicylic acid and glycolic acid, which encourage the peeling of the top layer of skin to prevent a build-up of dead skin cells which combine with skin oil to block pores. It also helps to unblock already clogged pores.[citation needed] Note that the word "peeling" is not meant in the visible sense of shedding, but rather as the destruction of the top layer of skin cells at the microscopic level. Depending on the type of exfoliation used, some visible flaking is possible. Moisturizers and anti-acne topicals containing chemical exfoliating agents are commonly available over-the-counter. Mechanical exfoliation is less commonly used as many benefits derived from the exfoliation are negated by the act of mechanically rubbing and irritating the skin.

    Widely available OTC bactericidal products containing benzoyl peroxide may be used in mild to moderate acne. The gel or cream containing benzoyl peroxide is rubbed, twice daily, into the pores over the affected region. Bar soaps or washes may also be used and vary from 2 to 10% in strength. In addition to its therapeutic effect as a keratolytic (a chemical that dissolves the keratin plugging the pores) benzoyl peroxide also prevents new lesions by killing P.acnes. Unlike antibiotics, benzoyl peroxide has the advantage of being a strong oxidizer (essentially a mild bleach) and thus does not appear to generate bacterial resistance. However, it routinely causes dryness, local irritation and redness. A sensible regimen may include the daily use of low-concentration (2.5%) benzoyl peroxide preparations, combined with suitable non-comedogenic moisturisers to help avoid overdrying the skin. This has occasioned widespread editorial comment.

    It has long been known that short term improvement can be achieved with sunlight. However, studies have shown that sunlight worsens acne long-term, as the skin's natural reaction is to produce more oils. More recently, visible light has been successfully employed to treat acne (Phototherapy) - in particular intense blue light generated by purpose-built fluorescent lighting, dichroic bulbs, LEDs or lasers. Used twice weekly, this has been shown to reduce the number of acne lesions by about 64% and is even more effective when applied daily. The mechanism appears to be that a porphyrin (Coproporphyrin III) produced within P. acnes generates free radicals when irradiated by blue light. Particularly when applied over several days, these free radicals ultimately kill the bacteria. Since porphyrins are not otherwise present in skin, and no UV light is employed, it appears to be safe, and has been licensed by the U.S. FDA. The treatment apparently works even better if used with red visible light (660 nanometer) resulting in a 76% reduction of lesions after 3 months of daily treatment for 80% of the patients; and overall clearance was similar or better than benzoyl peroxide. Unlike most of the other treatments few if any negative side effects are typically experienced, and the development of bacterial resistance to the treatment seems very unlikely. After treatment, clearance can be longer lived than is typical with topical or oral antibiotic treatments; several months is not uncommon. The equipment or treatment, however, is relatively new and reasonably expensive.

    Laser surgery has been in use for some time to reduce the scars left behind by acne, but research has been done on lasers for prevention of acne formation itself. The laser is used to produce one of the following effects: to burn away the follicle sac from which the hair grows; to burn away the sebaceous gland which produces the oil; to induce formation of oxygen in the bacteria, killing them.

    Acne is also known as blackhead, keratosis pilaris, pimples, and rosacea.

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