Inside your hair follicles, there are small glands producing oil called sebum. This oil mixes with skin cells in the follicle and joins them on the journey outward. But when there's too much sebum, too many dead skin cells or something on the surface that blocks their exit from the follicle, a blockage can occur. Bacteria joins the party, and the result is acne vulgaris, the most common form of acne.
Acne vulgaris is a chronic skin disease of the pilosebaceous unit and develops due to blockages in the skin's hair follicles. These blockages are thought to occur as a result of the following four abnormal processes: a higher than normal amount of oily sebum production (influenced by androgens), excessive deposition of the protein keratin leading to comedo formation, colonization of the follicle by Cutibacterium acnes (C. acnes) bacteria, and the local release of pro-inflammatory chemicals in the skin.
Isotretinoin is a standard prescription that you can get from your doctor. You may have heard of the brand names Absorica®, Accutane®, Amnesteem®, Claravis®, Myorisan®, Sotret® and Zenatane™. CBS News reports that Accutane has some pretty serious side effects, possibly even death. One man reported severe inflammatory bowel disorder that required removal of his colon. It’s been noted that it can cause miscarriage, birth defects, increased internal skull pressure, bone mineral density problems, depression, psychosis, suicide, aggressive or violent behaviors, acute pancreatitis, cardiovascular issues, deafness, hepatitis, bowel disease, excessive bone growth, night blindness and sight loss. (6)
Like acne on your face, back acne occurs when your pores become blocked with oil and dead skin cells. Exfoliating your back regularly might help remove these dead skin cells and pore-clogging debris before they have a chance to block pores. However, you want to take care not to scrub too hard, especially if you're experiencing an active breakout. Use a soft cloth to gently brush away surface impurities as you shower.
Salicylic acid is a topically applied beta-hydroxy acid that stops bacteria from reproducing and has keratolytic properties. It opens obstructed skin pores and promotes shedding of epithelial skin cells. Salicylic acid is known to be less effective than retinoid therapy. Dry skin is the most commonly seen side effect with topical application, though darkening of the skin has been observed in individuals with darker skin types.
Baby acne is usually mild, and it’s limited to the face 99 percent of the time, says Teri Kahn, MD, clinical associate professor of dermatology and pediatrics at University of Maryland School of Medicine and Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital in Baltimore. “Typically, baby acne appears in the form of little whiteheads and blackheads on the forehead, cheeks, and chin,” she says. Other skin conditions, like eczema, show up on other parts of the body.
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^ Hay, RJ; Johns, NE; Williams, HC; Bolliger, IW; Dellavalle, RP; Margolis, DJ; Marks, R; Naldi, L; Weinstock, MA; Wulf, SK; Michaud, C; Murray, C; Naghavi, M (October 2013). "The Global Burden of Skin Disease in 2010: An Analysis of the Prevalence and Impact of Skin Conditions". The Journal of Investigative Dermatology. 134 (6): 1527–34. doi:10.1038/jid.2013.446. PMID 24166134.
Efforts to better understand the mechanisms of sebum production are underway. The aim of this research is to develop medications that target and interfere with the hormones that are known to increase sebum production (e.g., IGF-1 and alpha-melanocyte-stimulating hormone). Additional sebum-lowering medications being researched include topical antiandrogens and peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor modulators. Another avenue of early-stage research has focused on how to best use laser and light therapy to selectively destroy sebum-producing glands in the skin's hair follicles in order to reduce sebum production and improve acne appearance.
Topical antibiotics deemed safe during pregnancy include clindamycin, erythromycin, and metronidazole (all category B), due to negligible systemic absorption. Nadifloxacin and dapsone (category C) are other topical antibiotics that may be used to treat acne in pregnant women, but have received less study. No adverse fetal events have been reported from the topical use of dapsone. If retinoids are used there is a high risk of abnormalities occurring in the developing fetus; women of childbearing age are therefore required to use effective birth control if retinoids are used to treat acne. Oral antibiotics deemed safe for pregnancy (all category B) include azithromycin, cephalosporins, and penicillins. Tetracyclines (category D) are contraindicated during pregnancy as they are known to deposit in developing fetal teeth, resulting in yellow discoloration and thinned tooth enamel. Their use during pregnancy has been associated with development of acute fatty liver of pregnancy and is further avoided for this reason.
To many parents’ dismay, their beautiful newborn’s face breaks out with red bumps at around 3 to 4 weeks of age. This is called baby acne. It tends to occur at about the same age as the baby’s peak gas production and fussiness. How attractive! (This all coincides with parents’ maximum sleep deprivation.) Parents are often quite concerned both about how these bumps look and about their significance.
There are a number of mild chemical peels available over the counter, but acne scar removal requires a stronger peel typically administered by a doctor or dermatologist. Trichloroacetic acid (TCA) peels are slightly stronger than alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) peels and may be used for acne scar treatment. The strongest type, phenol peels, may cause significant swelling and require up to two weeks of recovery time at home. Neither are recommended for people with active severe acne.
Blackheads appear as small black dots on the skin. They usually occur on the face – especially the nose and T-Zone – but can also be seen on the back, neck, chest, shoulders and arms. Blackheads are one of two types of comedones, or acne lesions caused by clogged pores. Blackhead comedones are open versus closed, leaving the plug at the top of the clogged pore exposed to air on the skin’s surface. It’s this exposure to oxygen that accounts for their color, which can not only be black but also gray, yellow or brown. When melanin – a pigment produced by oil glands and found within sebum – makes contact with air, it oxidizes and turns dark. Blackheads are a mild, usually painless form of acne, as there’s less inflammation associated with this type of lesion.
Minocycline is available in generic form or the branded formulation, Solodyn. The most-prescribed oral antibiotic acne medication for moderate to severe inflammatory acne like cystic acne, Solodyn is a minocycline like those mentioned above. However, it comes in an extended release formula that allows it to work to clear skin over the course of the day with just one daily dose.
“You unfortunately cannot determine the strength of a product strictly by the percentage of its active ingredients because how well a product works depends on how well its inactive ingredients help it penetrate the skin,” explains Dr. Green. “In other words, a 2 percent benzoyl peroxide may be more effective than another brand’s 5 percent benzoyl peroxide because there are other ingredients helping out.”
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Hydrated skin provides the right moisture and balance the skin needs to thrive. Additionally, water helps flush out toxins, something we need on a daily basis. And those omega-3s are pretty awesome at providing a reduction in inflammation. Wild-caught salmon is one of my favorite sources, in addition to sardines, walnuts, flaxseed oil and almonds. (10)
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Medical conditions that commonly cause a high-androgen state, such as polycystic ovary syndrome, congenital adrenal hyperplasia, and androgen-secreting tumors, can cause acne in affected individuals. Conversely, people who lack androgenic hormones or are insensitive to the effects of androgens rarely have acne. An increase in androgen and oily sebum synthesis may be seen during pregnancy. Acne can be a side effect of testosterone replacement therapy or of anabolic steroid use. Over-the-counter bodybuilding and dietary supplements are commonly found to contain illegally added anabolic steroids.
Genetics is thought to be the primary cause of acne in 80% of cases. The role of diet and cigarette smoking is unclear, and neither cleanliness nor exposure to sunlight appear to play a part. In both sexes, hormones called androgens appear to be part of the underlying mechanism, by causing increased production of sebum. Another frequent factor is excessive growth of the bacterium Cutibacterium acnes, which is normally present on the skin.