ACNE

ACNE

Acne is most prevalent during adolescence period because, hormonal changes stimulate the sebaceous glands (oil glands) into producing more sebum (oil), increasing the chance of acne.

All acne is a disorder of the pilosebaceous unit, which is made up of a hair follicle, sebaceous gland, and a hair. These units are found everywhere on the body except on the palms, soles, top of the feet, and the lower lip. The number of pilosebaceous units is greatest on the face, upper neck, and chest. Sebaceous glands produce a substance called sebum, which is responsible for keeping the skin and hair moisturized. During adolescence sebaceous glands enlarge and produce more sebum under the influence of hormones, also called androgens. After about age 20, sebum production begins to decrease.

Acne & Bacteria

A bacteria, known as Propionibacterium acnes, is a normal inhabitant of the skin. It uses sebum as a nutrient for growth, therefore increases in follicles during puberty. People with acne have more Propionibacterium acnes in their follicles than people without acne. The presence of bacteria attracts white blood cells to the follicle. These white blood cells produce an enzyme that damages the wall of the follicle, allowing the contents of the follicle to enter the dermis. This process causes an inflammatory response seen as papules (red bumps), pustules, and nodules. The bacteria also cause the formation of free fatty acids, which are irritants, increasing the inflammatory process in the follicle.

Normal Follicles

Sebum produced by the sebaceous gland combines with cells being sloughed off within the hair follicle and "fills up" the hair follicle. When the follicle is "full", the sebum spreads over the skin surface giving the skin an oily appearance. When this process works correctly, the skin is moisturized and remains healthy.

 

Obstructed Follicles

Problems arise when the sebum is trapped in the hair follicle. For reasons that are still unclear, some hair follicles become obstructed. The sebum is produced but gets trapped on the way out, and the cells that are normally sloughed off become "sticky", plugging up the follicle. The process of obstructing follicles is called comedogenesis. It causes some follicles to form a type of acne called comedones, also known as blackheads and whiteheads.

Types of Acne

Not all acne is the same. Simplistically, acne can be divided into red bumps and blackheads/whiteheads. This division is important because each type is treated differently. Blackheads and whiteheads, known as comedones, can be more numerous on the face and shoulders than red bumps filled with pus. Good, consistent skin hygiene can help improve this condition. Therefore, knowing more about what causes comedones and how to treat them is a step towards clearer skin.

Blackheads

Blackheads, also known as open comedones, are follicles that have a wider than normal opening. They are filled with plugs of sebum and sloughed-off cells and have undergone a chemical reaction resulting in the oxidation of melanin. This gives the material in the follicle the typical black color.

Blackheads (comedones)

 

Blackheads (comedones) Close up View

Whiteheads

Whiteheads, also known as closed comedones, are follicles that are filled with the same material, but have only a microscopic opening to the skin surface. Since the air cannot reach the follicle, the material is not oxidized, and remains white.

Skin Care for Blackheads and Whiteheads

The key to skin care for acne is consistency. An overnight cure has not been found. But using good skin care methods aids in the daily, steady improvement of follicle health. Since acne is not caused by eating certain foods, restricting the diet is not helpful. Since it is also not caused by "dirty" skin, excessively scrubbing does not help and can even make the skin more irritated. .

The best skin care for comedones consists of once-a-day cleansing with a mild soap or facial scrub to aid in the removal of excess sebum and dead skin cells. Oil-based makeup should not be used since these can contribute to the buildup of oil in the follicles. Water-based makeup labeled as non-comedogenic can be used safely.

Treatment of Blackheads and Whiteheads

Treatment of whiteheads and blackheads takes time. Most treatments take several weeks to months before a noticeable change is seen.

Benzoyl Peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide has an antibacterial effect and may also decrease the chemical reaction that changes the lining of the hair follicle. This may help reduce the plugging that causes comedones. Benzoyl peroxide may be used for a mild case of comedones or to help prevent formation of others.

 

Tretinoin (Retin-A)

Tretinoin (Retin-A, Avita, Renova) is the mainstay of treatment for whiteheads and blackheads. Tretinoin is a derivative of vitamin A and works by increasing cell turnover and reducing the "stickiness" of the sloughed cells. It helps expel the plugged material returning the pore to normal. Tretinoin can be irritating, so specific instructions on how to use it can be found here.

 

Antibiotics

Prescription topical antibiotics or oral antibiotics might be used if some of the blackheads and whiteheads are infected, but antibiotics do not help with comedones that are not infected.

 

Isotretinoin (Accutane)

Isotretinoin (Accutane) is used for severe cystic acne and has many side effects. It is very effective for comedones when used properly, but is not usually prescribed for mild acne of either type.

 

Extraction

Extraction may be used by a health care provider on open comedones. This process is performed using a device called a comedone extractor. This is a small, metal, circular instrument that is centered on the comedone and pushes down the surrounding skin, causing the plug to extrude.

 

No Need to Suffer

Whiteheads and blackheads are types of acne that affect many people. There are good treatment options available, so there is no need to suffer with this condition in silence. A primary care provider can initiate treatment for acne and follow mild to moderate cases. Severe cases or those resistant to treatment should be seen by our dermatologist.

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