What is acne?

Acne is a skin condition, mostly affecting teenagers, that is characterized by the appearance of blackheads, pimples and other blemishes on the surface of the skin. Although it mostly affects the face, neck, chest, back and shoulders, acne can appear on any part of the body. It can be annoyingly persistent, with new blemishes appearing just as the older ones are clearing up.

Acne results from pores becoming blocked with oil and dead skin. Hair follicles are connected to oil glands that produce a natural lubricant called sebum. Excess sebum combines with the dead skin cells that we all naturally shed, to form soft plugs that block the openings of the hair follicles.



Acne produces a variety of blemishes, including the following:

  • Whiteheads: closed plugs that push against the follicle wall, causing it to bulge
  • Blackheads: plugs that are open to the surface and darken as the oil is exposed to air
  • Papules: small red bumps that are tender to the touch
  • Pimples (pustules): papules that develop pus when the hair follicle becomes infected or inflamed
  • Cystic lesions: painful lumps below the surface of the skin, which are filled with pus due to an infection

Severe acne can have long-lasting impacts on the individual, including scars and areas of skin discolouration. For some people, particularly teenagers, acne can also create or contribute to problems related to self-esteem.


Not just a teenage problem

Acne affects up to ninety percent of adolescents, and is commonly regarded as a teenage problem. It is important to note that while acne does primarily affect teens, it can also affect people at other stages of their lives. Some of the factors that can trigger acne include the following:

  • Hormones: When children reach puberty, their bodies start to produce more androgens – hormones that result in higher levels of sebum. Hormonal changes resulting from pregnancy can have the same effect.
  • Medication: Certain prescription drugs can trigger or exaggerate acne. Examples include some oral contraceptives, and drugs containing corticosteroids and lithium.
  • Genetics: While there are environmental factors that can affect acne, some people are more genetically prone to it than others.
  • Skin type: Individuals whose hair follicles naturally produce more oil have a greater tendency to suffer from acne than those with drier skins.

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