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Acne is a skin condition that causes pimples or "zits." This includes whiteheads, blackheads, and red, inflamed patches of skin (such as cysts).
Acne occurs when tiny holes on the surface of the skin become clogged. These holes are called pores.
Each pore opens to a follicle. A follicle contains a hair and an oil gland. The oil released by the gland helps remove old skin cells and keeps your skin soft.
When glands produce too much oil, the pores can become blocked. Dirt, bacteria, and cells build up. The blockage is called a plug or comedone.
If the top of the plug is white, it is called a whitehead.
If the top of the plug is dark, it is called a blackhead.
If the plug breaks open, swelling and red bumps occur.
Acne that is deep in your skin can cause hard, painful cysts. This is called cystic acne.
Acne is most common in teenagers, but anyone can get acne, even babies. Three out of four teenagers have some acne. Hormonal changes may cause the skin to be more oily.
Acne tends to run in families. It may be triggered by:
Hormonal changes related to puberty, menstrual periods, pregnancy, birth control pills, or stress
Greasy or oily cosmetic and hair products
Certain drugs (such as steroids, testosterone, estrogen, and phenytoin)
High levels of humidity and sweating
Research does not show that chocolate, nuts, and greasy foods cause acne. However, diets high in refined sugars may be related to acne.
The word acne comes from the word acme meaning "the highest point", which comes from the Greek akme meaning "point" or "spot" - it was originally mispelt, with an 'n' rather than an 'm' in 1835.
Dermatologists (skin specialists) say that approximately three-quarters of 11 to 30 year-olds will get acne at some time. Acne can affect people of all races and all ages. It most commonly affects adolescents and young adults. There are people in their fifties who still get acne. According to Brown University, USA, approximately 17 million Americans are estimated to have acne at any one time.
Although acne affects both men and women, young men suffer from acne for longer - probably because testosterone, which is present in higher quantities in young men, can make acne worse.
What causes acne?
Nobody is completely sure what causes acne. Experts believe the primary cause is a rise in androgen levels - androgen is a type of hormone. Androgen levels rise when a human becomes an adolescent. Rising androgen levels make the oil glands under your skin grow; the enlarged gland produces more oil. Excessive sebum can break down cellular walls in your pores, causing bacteria to grow.
Some studies indicate that susceptibility to acne could also be genetic. Some medications which contain androgen and lithium may cause acne. Greasy cosmetics may cause acne in some susceptible people. Hormone changes during pregnancy may cause acne to either develop for the first time, or to recur.