Updated 18 October 2017

What is acne?

Acne is a common skin condition, which occurs when the sebaceous glands in the skin become clogged, infected and inflamed.

What is acne?

Acne vulgaris is a skin condition that occurs when the sebaceous (oil-secreting) glands in the skin and along hair shafts become clogged and inflamed, and infected by bacteria.

Blackheads and whiteheads form in the clogged pores. Blackheads are small, usually flat spots with black centres. Whiteheads are similar, but because they are closed, they don't have dark centres. Both blackheads and whiteheads may develop into swollen, tender papules (pimples) and pustules.

Read: how a pimple is born

The stages of acne are:

1. Whiteheads (clogged pores not open to the surface and medically known as closed
2. Blackheads (clogged pores open to the surface and medically known as open         
3. Breakage of these structures lead to the development of all other lesions – the real
    pimple. When whiteheads rupture the hair follicle wall, pimples are formed. Solidified
    sebum, dead cells from the pore and bacteria are released into the skin, creating a pimple
    (pustule). This stage is called inflammatory acne.
4. If pustules become infected, the infection may penetrate deep into the skin and form cysts
    (cystic acne).
5. The cysts may rupture and leave temporary or permanent scars.

Acne usually makes its appearance during puberty when the sebaceous glands in both males and females are stimulated by male hormones (androgens) to produce more oil.

Read: Androgen insensitivity syndrome

Having acne is not dangerous, but it can cause sufferers to feel socially embarrassed and inhibited.

About 75% of people between 11 and 30 will suffer from acne at some stage in their lives.

Some people may be genetically more susceptible to acne than others.

Acne is not limited to teenagers, and affects people of all races. Occasionally babies are born with acne, and some people get acne for the first time after reaching adulthood. Most people outgrow acne, but in women it may last until menopause. At the age of 40, 5% of women, but only 1% of men, have acne.

Acne can develop on your face, neck, chest, shoulders or back. The severity may differ from person to person and may fluctuate over time.

There is no cure for acne, but effective treatment is available. Things like squeezing, heavy makeup, greasy hair, and anxiety and stress can exacerbate the problem.  Severe acne requires medical treatment.

Read more

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