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THE CAUSES:
Understanding the progress of acne


Is your skin oily? Do you have many blackheads on your nose? Does your skin break out frequently? Is your skin both flaky and shiny?

If you answered yes to three out of these four questions, you probably suffer from what is commonly known as "teen skin" or teenage acne. However, not only teenagers have this type of skin. Increasingly more adults, especially in the 25-30 age group, exhibit these symptoms. Known as adult acne, this condition can continue well into the forties. Among adults, more women are affected by this condition than men.

       

The exact cause of acne in unknown. It has been shown, however, that certain people may be genetically pre-disposed to develop it. More than likely, hormonal imbalance is the primary cause of acne among adult women. It is also known that emotional stress, although unlikely to cause acne, can aggravate the condition. Some forms of acne, such as cystic breakouts, may also result from the use of certain kinds of medications such as lithium, corticosteroids, anti-epileptic drugs and anti-tuberculosis agents. Also, the use of certain cosmetics containing clogging oils can contribute to acne.

There are many myths and misconceptions about acne and its causes. A popular one is that certain foods cause acne. The truth is that foods such chocolate, pizza and potato chips do not cause acne. But they can make it worse. Another well known myth is that sun bathing can clear up acne. Although the sun can dry out pimples, it also thickens the top layer of skin and contributes to the clogging of pores. This can result in even more breakouts, especially whiteheads, which typically form a week or two after sun exposure.


SO HOW DO PIMPLES FORM?

Pimples are caused by a collection of oil, bacteria, and dead cells trapped in the lining of the pore. Normally, the lining of the hair follicle sheds a layer of dead skin cells every day. These cells are carried to the surface of the skin by secretions from the sebaceous (oil) glands. In skin prone to breakouts, excessive oil production causes these dead cells to clump together, forming a plug at the opening of the pore. This plug blocks the movement of oil to the surface of the skin. If this plug is visible at the opening of the pore, it is a blackhead. If the plug sits below the surface, it is a whitehead.


When a whitehead forms, bacteria naturally present within the hair follicle, proprionobacterium acnes, starts to break down the material accumulated within the clogged pore into irritating fatty acids. As the pore enlarges and pressure builds inside the follicle, the material within it will often leak through the oil-gland walls into the dermis below. This infection forces blood cells to dilate, causing redness. When white blood cells respond to the infection, inflammation occurs. This process results in the appearance of pimples (which are red and tender), pustules (white-capped pimples) and, in more severe cases, large cysts and boils.