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About Acne

About 80 percent of teenagers are affected by acne between the ages of 13 and 17. However, about five percent of women and one percent of men aged 25 to 40 continue to get or develop acne (late-onset acne). Rarely, new-born infants develop acne from three to 24 months of age.

Symptoms of acne

Acne typically causes one or more of the following:

  • greasy skin
  • blackheads (open comedones)
  • whiteheads (closed comedones)
  • red or yellow spots (pustules)
  • deep inflamed lesions (nodules and cysts)
  • scars
Complications of acne

There are a number of things that can make your acne worse. These include the following.

  • If you pick and squeeze the spots, it may cause further inflammation and scarring.
  • Excessive production of male hormones may cause acne. For example, testosterone from conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome.
  • Some contraceptive pills may make acne worse. This is due to the type of progestogen hormone in some pills. However, some other types of contraceptive pills can improve acne (see Treatments). Ask your GP for advice about which contraceptive pill to take.
  • Some cosmetic products such as moisturisers can make acne worse if they are greasy.
  • Some medicines can make acne worse. These include some epilepsy medicines and steroid creams and ointments that are used for eczema. Don't stop a prescribed medicine if you suspect it's making your acne worse, but tell your GP. He or she may be able to recommend an alternative medicine.
  • Steroids can cause acne as a side-effect.
Causes of acne

Acne is caused by overactivity of the sebaceous glands that secrete oily substances on to your skin.

The surface of your skin has lots of small sebaceous glands just below the surface. These glands make sebum (a natural oil) that keeps the skin smooth and supple.

Tiny pores (holes in the skin) allow the sebum to come to the surface of your skin. Hairs also grow through these pores.

The sebaceous glands of people with acne are especially sensitive to normal blood levels of a hormone called testosterone, found naturally in both men and women.

If you are prone to acne, testosterone triggers the sebaceous glands to produce excess sebum. At the same time, the dead skin cells lining the openings of the hair follicles (the tubes that hold the hair) aren't shed properly and clog up the follicles.

The combination of these two effects causes a build-up of oil in your hair follicles. This causes blackheads and whiteheads to form.

For some people, their acne doesn't progress beyond this stage.

However, in other people the build-up of oil in the hair follicles creates an ideal environment for a bacterium called Propionibacterium acnes to grow.

These bacteria usually live harmlessly on your skin but when the conditions are right, they grow. They feed off the sebum and produce substances that cause an immune response. This inflames the skin and creates the redness associated with spots.

In more severe inflammatory acne, cysts develop beneath the skin's surface. If these cysts rupture, the infection can spread. This can result in scars.

Contrary to popular belief, acne isn't caused by diet or hygiene. However, acne can be hereditary.

Acne isn't infectious, so you can't catch it

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