Acne – Types and Symptoms

What is acne?
Acne is a disorder that causes outbreaks of skin lesions commonly called pimples. It is caused by the skin’s oil glands making too much sebum, an oily substance, which leads to plugged pores. It also can be caused by the rapid production of a bacteria P. acnes.

Acne lesions occur mostly on the face, neck, back, chest, and shoulders. It is the most common skin disease. Although acne is not a serious health threat, severe acne can lead to disfiguring and permanent scarring.

How does acne affect women?
Most young women and men will have at least a few pimples over the course of their lives. But acne seems to affect men and women in different ways. Young men are more likely to have a more serious form of acne. Acne in young women tends to be more random and linked to hormone changes, such as the menstrual cycle.

As women get older, acne often gets better. But some women have acne for many years. Some women even get acne for the first time at age 30 or 40.

For many women, acne can be an upsetting illness. Women may have feelings of depression, poor body image, or low self-esteem. But you don’t have to wait to outgrow acne or to let it run its course. Today, almost every case of acne can be resolved. Acne also can, sometimes, be prevented. Talk with your doctor or dermatologist (a doctor who specializes in treating skin problems) about how you can help prevent acne and if treatment would help you.

What are the different types of acne lesions

  • Comedo (whiteheads or blackheads) or papules. The comedo is the basic acne lesion, which is a plugged pore. If the plugged pore stays under the skin, it’s called a closed comedo and forms a white bump or whitehead. Blackheads are comedos that open up and appear blackish on the surface of the skin. This black color is not due to dirt, but because the air reacts with the excess oil.
  • Pustules or pimples. Pustules or pimples are acne lesions that contain pus and are red at the base.
  • Nodules. These are more serious acne lesions. They lodge deeper in the skin, are painful, and can cause scarring.
  • Cysts. Like nodules, these lesions are deep within in the skin, are painful, and are filled with pus, and can cause scarring.

What triggers acne in women?
Many things can trigger acne in women:

  • Hormone changes during puberty. During puberty, girls have an increase in male sex hormones called androgens. This increase causes the glands to get larger and make more sebum.
  • Hormone changes as an adult. The menstrual cycle is one of the most common acne triggers. Acne lesions tend to form a few days before the cycle begins and go away after the cycle is completed. Other hormone changes, such as pregnancy and menopause, improve acne in some women. But some women have worse acne during these times. Stopping use of birth control pills can play a role as well.
  • Medicines. Certain medicines, such as those used to treat epilepsy and types of depression.
  • Make-up.
  • Pressure or friction on the skin. Friction caused by bike helmets or backpacks can make acne worse.
  • Family history. If other people in your family have acne, there is a greater chance you will have it.

Does poor hygiene cause acne?
It is a myth that women get acne because they don’t wash enough. Too much washing or scrubbing the skin harshly can make acne worse. And washing away surface oils doesn’t do much to prevent or cure acne, because it forms under the skin. The best way to clean the face is to gently wash it twice a day with a mild soap or cleanser. Be careful to remove make-up without harsh scrubbing.

Can stress cause acne?
Stress does not cause acne. But, acne may be a side effect of some medicines used to treat stress or depression. And in some cases, the social and emotional impact of acne lesions causes stress. Talk with your doctor if you have concerns.

Can eating chocolate or greasy foods cause acne?
While many women feel that eating chocolate or greasy foods causes acne, experts have not found a link between the diet and acne. Foods seem to have little effect on acne in most people. But, it’s important to eat a healthy diet for good health.

How is mild acne treated?
There are many treatments for mild acne. Mild acne can consist of whiteheads, blackheads and small pustules. At home, you can wash your face twice per day with warm water and a gentle cleanser or soap. Your doctor may suggest you also try an over-the-counter lotion or cream. These medicines may make your skin dry if you use them too much. Be sure to follow the directions.

If these medicines don’t work, your doctor may prescribe a cream or lotion with benzoyl peroxide, resorcinol, salicylic acid, or sulfur.

  • Benzoyl peroxide works to reduce oil made by the glands.
  • Resorcinol, salicylic acid, and sulfur help breakdown whiteheads and blackheads.

If your acne does not get better after six to eight weeks, talk with your doctor about changing your treatment.