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Acne Definition Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Definition of acne

The acne is a skin disease characterized by the eruption of red pimples , blackheads and cysts. It affects most often the face and the thorax, but also the back, the torso even the scalp.

Acne is a reflection of reactions that take place in the sebaceous glands. Housed in the skin, these glands produce sebum, a lubricating substance. If it lacks sebum , the skin will be dry and easily chapped. If there is too much, the skin will become more oily and acne. Indeed, the excess of sebum obstructs the duct of the sebaceous glands. This facilitates the proliferation of bacteria normally present in the skin and in particular the bacteria Propionibacterium acnes, responsible for inflammation (red pimples). When the clogged follicle dilates too much, it causes retentional lesions (blackheads and microcysts).

The symptoms of acne are treated rather well in adolescents. They are sometimes more difficult to cure in adults.

Who is affected by acne?

In Western countries, acne is very common among adolescents  : it is estimated that 80% to 90% of them are affected at one time or another. Boys are more affected than girls . 10% to 20% of them consult a doctor for this reason. In the majority of cases, acne disappears at the age of 20 or 30 years, but sometimes it persists, it is called late acne.

Causes of acne pimples

The acne is multi factorial. Here are some elements that can contribute to its appearance.

The hormonal thrust at puberty . At the time of puberty, regardless of gender, sex hormones increase; especially androgenic hormones (which cause the appearance of male sexual characteristics). Under this effect, the sebaceous glands produce more sebum. This increase in sebum production creates a fertile ground for the multiplication of the Propionibacterium acnes bacteria that feed on it;

Hormonal fluctuations in women . Some women see acne pimples appear 2 to 7 days before they have their period. Contraception can also have a positive or negative role: women who start taking some contraceptive pills containing including gestodene, desogestrel, norgestrel, levonorgestrel, norgestrienone, norethisterone, lynestrenol … can see their acne to accentuate or, on the contrary, the cessation of contraception (for a desire of pregnancy for example) can also be provider of acne. The pregnancy and menopause can also be responsible;

A disorder of the functioning of the ovaries or the adrenal glands . Sometimes the woman’s acne can be attributed to ovarian or adrenal dysfunction , but this is exceptional. This most often causes signs other than acne (hair growth, irregular periods …)

Other factors can cause acne or worsen the symptoms. To find out, refer to the Risk Factors section .


Contrary to certain ideas that circulate, acne is not caused by poor hygiene of the skin, or by a great sexual activity;

The food is not considered a cause of acne. However, in some cases, acne can be aggravated by one or more specific foods. The association between acne breakouts and milk consumption is low, according to studies.

Possible complications

The deeper lesions (cysts) can leave scars . It is imperative to avoid piercing the lesions, as this can be acne prone and more likely to cause scarring.

The prolonged presence of many pimples or lesions on the face and on the body can harm the image and esteem of self , especially among adolescents. It can increase stress in social relationships. It is often possible to improve the appearance of the skin with daily care, the time that acne fades or disappears.

Symptoms of Acne

The  face, neck,  and  thorax  are the regions with the most sebaceous glands. That’s why acne focuses on it.

Open comedones or blackheads : a blackhead appears because the sebum-skin cell mixture changes color upon coming into contact with the air;

Closed comedones : come in the form of  white buttons . They are caused by congestion and dilation of hair follicles due to excess sebum;

Papules : These are  red buttons . Redness indicates inflammation. They can be sensitive to touch;

Pustules : These are  lesions  containing pus. They can be red at their base and sensitive to touch. They are formed when obstruction of the follicle results in an accumulation of bacteria.

Nodules : These lesions are larger, deeper and more painful to the touch than pustules. They are  hard  to the touch;

Cysts : like nodules, they form balls, but are located deeper under the skin. Sometimes they are painful and blush, a sign of infection.

People at risk for Acne

The teens . Boys are more affected than girls;

People whose parents have suffered from acne;

People who need to take certain medications , such as cortisone, lithium, isoniazid (an anti-TB drug);

Workers exposed to certain skin-blocking chemicals : for example, petroleum and tar products and by-products and halogenated aromatic compound such as chloronaphthalenes and polychlorinated biphenyls;

Employees who work in kitchens where there are tanks filled with cooking oil .

Risk factors for acne pimples

Anything that can irritate the skin, such as the friction of tight clothing or sports equipment (helmet or backpack, for example);

Direct and repeated exposure of the skin to greasy or oily products, blocking the pores, as some cosmetics fat or not non-comedogenic;

Although not all sources agree on this point, many believe that stress can be an aggravating factor;

A sweating Abundant;

Taking certain medications or anabolic steroids (substances that increase muscle mass and decrease body fat)

Exposure to chemicals at work, such as chlorine compounds, industrial machinery oil, and tar.

Hygiene of the skin

Gently clean affected areas 1-2 times a day with mild, unscented soap or cleanser . Washing too often or rubbing too hard can irritate the skin and cause tiny lesions in which the bacteria lodge;

The sun aggravates acne (it improves transiently and then there is a resurgence of acne after a few weeks). In addition, many products used to treat acne can make the skin more sensitive to sunburn. In this case, do not expose to sunlight. If you do not have a choice, you should use a non-comedogenic sunscreen , that is to say, that does not contribute to the formation of comedones ;

Does not touch, scrape, pinch, or pierce lesions . These manipulations can lead to the appearance of scars or brown spots on the skin.


  • Shaving only when it is necessary ;
  • Test the hand razor and the electric razor to check which is less irritating to the skin;
  • If using a hand razor, change the blades frequently to prevent a blunt blade from irritating the skin;
  • Soften his beard with mild soap and water before applying shaving cream;
  • Do not use aftershave containing alcohol.


  • Avoid thick foundations and oil-based cosmetics. Favor non-comedogenic and water-based cosmetics ;
  • To remove makeup before going to bed;
  • Discard containers of expired cosmetics;
  • Clean brushes or cosmetic applicators regularly.

Body hygiene

  1. Take a shower after doing a lot of physical work because the sweat-sebum mixture can help trap bacteria in the pores of the skin;
  2. When you have oily hair , wash them often;
  3. Wear loose clothing to reduce perspiration, which can irritate the skin.

Pay attention to what is in prolonged contact with the skin of the face: avoid pressing long his face on his hands. Also avoid cuts that make hair fall on the face;

If you tend to have acne, avoid work environments that expose the skin to pollutants or industrial oils.

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