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Acne is a common skin condition/problem that usually affects teenagers. However, adults in their 20s and even into their 40s can develop acne.
Acne consists of blackheads, whiteheads, pimples and, sometimes, deeper boil-like lesions called nodules. It is most common on the face but can also occur on the back, chest, shoulders and neck.
Acne usually clears up after several years, but for some people it can last a lot longer. Depending on how severe the acne is, special treatment with creams or medication may be needed to get rid of it.
Untreated acne can leave lifelong scars that can be upsetting and affect a person's confidence and self-image.
During puberty, both males and females have higher levels of a male hormone called testosterone in their blood. Testosterone triggers the acne by causing the sebaceous (oil) glands - which are connected to hair follicles on your face, neck, chest and back - to produce a lot of oil.
This extra oil causes the pores on your skin to become blocked. Bacteria can grow in this trapped oil in the glands. These bacteria produce chemicals that can cause the wall of the follicle to break. When the wall is broken, sebum (oil), bacteria and shed skin cells escape from the pores. This is how pimples and large bumps are formed.
If acne is to be controlled successfully, the treatment needs to be an ongoing process. The treatment your doctor will recommend will vary according to your type of acne.
Acne is not a disease caused by dirt. The blackness of a blackhead is not dirt, but is due mostly to dried oil and shed skin cells in the openings of the hair follicles. For the normal care of your skin, you should wash your face with soap and warm water twice a day. It's important not to wash too often as this may actually aggravate your acne. Regular shampooing of your hair is also recommended. If your hair is oily, you may want to wash it more often.
Your doctor will advise you on the best face and hair washing routine.
Males with acne who shave should try both an electric and a safety razor to see which is more comfortable. If you use a safety razor, soften your beard thoroughly with soap and warm water. To avoid nicking pimples, shave as lightly as possible. Shave only when needed and always use a sharp blade.
Acne is not generally caused by the foods you eat. Doctors have different opinions on the importance of diets in the management of acne. One thing is certain - following a strict diet will not clear your skin by itself. On the other hand, a few people find their acne seems to become worse when they eat certain foods. If that's the case, foods that worsen your acne should be avoided.
Acne may improve after you've been out in the sun, but sunlight only helps for the short term. In the long run, sunlight may actually worsen acne. Too much sun over many years could cause early aging of the skin and skin cancer.
No matter what special treatments your doctor may use, remember that you must continue proper skin care until the tendency to have acne has passed. There is no instant or permanent cure for acne, but it is controllable and proper treatment may prevent permanent scars.
Developed by the RCH Departments of Dermatology and General Medicine. First published 2003. Updated February 2013.