Acne is the single most common skin condition in the United States. It is characterized by pimples that appear on the face, back and chest. Each year, approximately 80% of adolescents have some type of acne and around 5% of adults experience acne.
Acne comes in the form of two types of blemishes:
- Whiteheads/Blackheads, which are also known as comedones, are non-inflammatory and typically show up more on the face and shoulders. As long as they do not become infected, they usually will not lead to scarring.
- Red Pustules or Papulesare inflamed pores that fill with pus. These types of blemishes can lead to scarring.
In normal, healthy skin, oil glands underneath the skin, known as sebaceous glands, form an oily substance called sebum. The sebum moves from the bottom to the top of each hair follicle and then streams out onto the surface of the skin, taking sloughed-off skin cells with it. With acne, the structure through which the sebum flows becomes blocked. This blockage traps sebum and sloughed-off cells under the skin, preventing them from being released onto the skin’s surface. When a pore’s opening is completely blocked, it will produce a whitehead. If the pore’s opening is open, it will produce blackheads. If whiteheads or blackheads become inflamed, they can turn into red pustules or papules.
It is important for patients to know not to pick or scratch at individual lesions because it can make them inflamed which can result in long-term scarring.
Treating acne is a fairly slow process and there is no quick remedy. Here are some treatments:
- Benzoyl Peroxide: Used in mild cases of acne, benzoyl peroxide is very effective in reducing the blockages in the hair follicles.
- Oral and Topical Antibiotics: Used to treat just about any infection in the pores.
- Hormonal Treatments: Often used for adult women with hormonally induced acne.
- Tretinoin: A derivative of Vitamin A, tretinoin can help unplug the blocked-up material in whiteheads and blackheads. It has become a linchpin in the treatment of acne.
- Extraction: Removal of whiteheads and blackheads using a small metal instrument which is centered on the comedone and pushed down, expelling the blocked pore.