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Acne vulgaris

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Overview of Acne vulgaris

Acne vulgaris, commonly known as acne or pimples is the most common skin disorder that affects about 80% of the teenagers and about 40–50% of the adult women.1

This condition is characterized by the appearance of whiteheads, blackheads and red pimples.

Acne generally begins to appear when one attains puberty and gradually resolves as he/she completes the teenage. Some women may continue to have acne even during their age 40s and 50s.2 Although the condition is not life-threatening, it causes a significant amount of psychological and social consequences, which may result in poor self-esteem, social inhibition and depression.

Contrary to the belief, acne vulgaris is more common in men than women during adolescence.3

How acne develops

What causes acne is a million dollar question for the adolescents who are most bothered about their appearance!

The skin consists of millions of pilosebaceous units; each pilosebaceous contains a hair and an oil gland that helps to keep the skin lubricated. When these units are blocked due to overproduction of the oil, it tends to enlarge and accumulate dust, dirt and bacteria. These enlarged units may be either visible as a whitehead (closed comedone) or as a blackhead (open comedone).

A bacterium called Propionobacterium acnes is responsible for the production of inflammation and pus within these comedones that causes the commonly noted red pimples.2

Acne is triggered by a variety of factors including the following:

  • Hormonal changes
  • Genetic factors
  • Excessive sweating
  • Use of certain medications such as corticosteroids and oral contraceptives

Have you heard about "body builders acne" ? Body builders who use steroids often tend to develop acne.4

Mechanical obstruction such as due to helmets, shirt collars; occupational exposures and cosmetics may also trigger the formation of acne by blocking the pilosebaceous units on the face. Oil from hair products and sunscreen lotions can also increase the occurrence of acne.6

The good news is that the appearance of acne as popularly believed is not associated with the type of diet, eating chocolates, lack of exercise or hygiene, greasy hair hanging over the face and masturbation.2

Types of Acne

Another question is that are there any types of acne? The answer is yes! Clinically there are four types of skin eruptions may be identified.

They include the following:

  • Acne vulgaris: characterized by the formation of blackheads, whiteheads or pimples.
  • Rosacea: refers to the reddened areas over the cheeks, forehead and nose. It is common in women between the age group of 20–60 years. More common in women of European origin. 
  • Folliculitis: inflammation of the hair follicles on the skin.
  • Perioral dermatitis: appearance of small eruptions on the chin or near the nose, around the mouth.1

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Why is Acne More Common in Teenagers?

The formation of acne has been attributed to the overactive pilosebaceous glands as discussed earlier. These units (which are seen during infancy due to the effect of maternal hormones) generally regress during childhood. But during adolescence that is characterized by increased production of the hormone known as androgens, these units resurface and may result in acne owing to the triggering factors.7

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Acne?

As mentioned before, acne is characterized by the formation of blackheads, whiteheads or pimples on the face. Acne is commonly noticed on the face, while it may also occur on the shoulders, chest and trunk region, arms, legs and buttocks.

These skin eruptions may at times be painful when they are filled with cell debris and bacteria. Hardening (crusting) of these skin eruptions and scarring of the face is noticed in many individuals.4 

Acne may persist for many years and the areas of increased pigmentation left behind by the inflamed sebaceous glands may last for a few months. Small scars may eventually settle after a period of about 6–12 months.5

Are there any Home Remedies for Acne?

Mild cases of acne can be managed effectively with simple steps at home.

These include the following:

  • Cleansing the skin gently with some mild, non-drying soap to remove the dirt and make up. This should be done only once or twice a day as excessive scrubbing may worsen the condition
  • Squeezing, scratching or rubbing the pimples should be avoided, as this tends to infect the acne and may result in scarring.
  • Constantly touching the face with hands or fingers may also result in infection.
  • Greasy or oily cosmetics should be avoided and makeup should be cleansed during nighttime.4

If the acne still persists then either certain over the counter (OTC) medications might be used or consulting a specialist to get the condition assessed.

Elderly women who are affected by acne should consult with the doctor, as it may also be a sign of certain underlying disorder.2

What are the OTC Medications Available for Acne?

OTC medication for acne

What are the Other Treatment Options for Acne?

Treatment options for acne

What are the Social Impacts on Individuals with Acne?

Individuals with acne may suffer from poor self-esteem, social isolation and depression. The presence of acne or the change in the appearance of the facial skin and may give rise to a changed body image that in turn may lead to anger, fear, shyness , anxiety, depression, embarrassment and bullying and stigmatization within peer groups. Lack of confidence, social withdrawal, feelings of insecurity and inferiority, limited employment opportunities, functional and interpersonal difficulties at work and suicidal tendencies have also been reported in individuals with acne.2,6

Can Acne be Prevented?

No specific measures for the prevention of acne have been enumerated. However, the spread of acne can be prevented by following the correct duration of treatment, taking precautions to prevent its spread and consulting a dermatologist. Early care can prevent the condition from becoming severe and other complications such as scarring on the face.

You May Also Like To Read

Common acne triggers

Home remedies for pimples

9 bad habits that cause pimples

Ways to fight acne naturally

Cystic acne

Tips to treat pimples on the face


1. Cheung MJ, Taher M, Lauzon GJ. Acneiform facial eruptions: A problem for young women. Can Fam Physician. 2005; 51: 527–533.
2. Ayer J, Burrows N. Acne: More than skin deep. PostgradMedJ2006; 82: 500–506.
3. Federman DG, Kirsner RS. Acne Vulgaris: Pathogenesis and Therapeutic Approach. AmJ ManagCare. 2000; 6(1): 78–89.
4. MedlinePlus. Acne. [homepage on Internet]. Bethesda, MD: U.S. Nationa Library of Medicine; [updated 2007 Oct 17; cited 2008 Jan 07]. Available from: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000873.htm
5. Purdy S. Acne. BMJ. 2006; 333: 949–953.
6. Feldman S, Careccia RE, et al. Diagnosis and treatment of acne. Am Fam Physician. 2004; 69(9): 2123–2130.
7. Russell JJ. Topical therapy for acne. Am Fam Physician. 2000;61(2):357-66.

Written by: healthplus24.com team

Date last updated: December 09, 2014

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