Tuesday, February 16, 2016

What is acne? Acne explained

Acne is something you wouldn’t wish on anybody. Yet many of us will have to contend with it sometime in our lives. It can be debilitating and embarrassing and can cause real psychological scars that stay with us for a long time. Unfortunately, the scars can be physical as well. Here, I am not proposing a cure or some miracle program to stop acne from occurring, but I will explain what acne is and provide some suggestions for coping with this disease.

As a teenager, I had (what I remember to be) perfect skin. It wasn’t until I was 23 that I developed a case of acne that lasted for a few years, a time period that I will never forget. It doesn’t matter when it hits you, if it does it is devastating. So I hope you never have to go through what we acne sufferers have gone through. And if you have acne now (or know someone who does), hopefully there will be some information here that you find helpful, which can lead you to a path of healthier skin—for a lifetime.

What is acne? The following has been reprinted with permission from a Johnson & Johnson, Inc. pamphlet on acne. They so clearly explain how acne develops, I wanted to pass the information along to you as it was written.

Long before blemishes appear on your skin, trouble has been building up beneath the surface—in the hair follicles and their attached oil glands. Each follicle contains a number of sebaceous or oil glands. The oil you see on your skin is sebum, which comes from these glands.

Cells that line the follicle surrounding the hair are being constantly replaced. The mix with sebum and work their way to the surface of the skin. Eventually they are washed away. Sometimes, however, this process goes haywire. For reasons not completely understood, the follicle begins to produce cells that stick together so tightly that they are not shed. Accumulated cells, bound up in sebum and mixed with other skin materials, including pigment and bacteria, stick together and form a plug. This plug clogs up the pore, obstructing the opening to the skin. But the sebaceous gland keeps producing sebum, and this is how acne begins. The initial buildup is called a microcomedo. It lies deep within the follicle and starts forming many weeks before you notice any disturbance on your skin.

The sebaceous gland continues to put oil into the blocked system, and the follicle begins to swell and forms a closed comedo or whitehead. A whitehead is usually visible as a slight bump on the skin. If the follicle doesn’t break, the whitehead may turn into an open comedo or blackhead. The familiar blackhead is like a whitehead except that the exit to the skin surface is open. Some of the materials in the follicle cause it to darken. This material, and not dirt, gives the blackhead its dark color. Often the follicle bursts or leaks from the pressure in the plugged system. A papule or pimple forms when the follicle begins to release its contents into the surrounding tissue, causing inflammation. That’s why the skin surface surrounding a pimple usually appears reddened and swollen. 

The white cells in the body attack this material and pus develops. These pus-filled inflammations are called pustules and in about 10 days will usually disappear by themselves as the body disposes of this material.

You might suffer from whiteheads, blackheads, papules or pustules or a combination of all of them. Keep in mind that these blemishes are just expressions of acne at different stages of development. But every one originated from a microcomedo hidden within the follicle—which is why we say acne is a problem that works against you from the inside out.

Acne is certainly no fun. If you’re a teenager, it is probably just a matter of time (although this could mean years) before your hormones balance out and your skin problems go away. If you are a teenager or an adult and have true acne—or even just simple breakout—you must look to your diet and lifestyle to find out how these areas of your life are contributing to your skin woes.

For more information, see: