Acne vulgaris (pimples)

Acne vulgaris commonly known to all as pimples is a common disorder affecting adolescent and young adults. However, it can occur at any age. It can affect both boys and girls equally. When it occurs in boys, it is sometimes of a greater severity when compared to girls. Three out of four teenagers have pimples to some extent as some point in their life.
Acne is characterized by skin eruptions starting from blackheads and whiteheads, to red raised pimples to pus filled boils, large nodules and cysts. All these often lead to bad scars if left untreated. It commonly affects the face, upper back, shoulders and chest.

Acne could also follow a hereditary pattern and hence children whose parents were affected with acne in their teens are more likely to develop acne.

Since it affects such a vulnerable group of people i.e. the teenagers, it often causes social and emotional embarrassment amongst their peers. This often lowers their self-confidence and sometimes may even lead to depression.

With so much research being done, patients need not go through this entire mental trauma because if treated by a good dermatologist acne can be treated very effectively.

What causes acne?

Acne is a disorder affecting the oil glands in our skin. These oil glands are connected to the hair follicle. These glands secrete an oily material which comes out on the surface of the skin through an opening (pores) and keeps the skin soft and lubricates it. These glands are almost inactive until puberty. At puberty these glands get active, enlarging and secrete a lot of oil which leads to the skin getting oily, excess production of oil could lead to blockage of pores. Accumulation of dead cells at the outlet of the oil gland leading to blocked pores.

The process is aggravated by bacteria on the skin, which interact with the oil and produce substances, which cause irritation of the surrounding skin. The plug (dead cells and oil) may reach the opening of the pore and appear as a black dot called blackhead. When the plug does not push to the surface but remains below the skin it appears a tiny, rounded whitish elevation, it is called as a whitehead. When the plugged follicle bursts, the oil may burst into the surrounding skin leading to formation of red bumps, pus pimples and cysts.

Some factors, which aggravate pimples, are as follows:

  • Stress
  • Hormonal imbalance
  • Exposure to extremes of weather
  • Using oily cosmetics and skin care products on the face
  • Oral contraceptive pills
  • Certain other medications like anti –TB drugs, drugs for fits or convulsions, steroids
  • Wearing tight helmets can lead to acne on the face due to friction

Some myths about acne

Only teenagers get acne.

False! Acne can occur at any age right from childhood to later in adult years. However it is more common during adolescence.

You do not need to take treatment for acne. It will get better with age.

False! Some situations may improve, but in the majority of cases, acne worsens if not treated by a good dermatologist. In addition, untreated acne leaves behind bad scars. Hence, if you treat your acne early from a dermatologist the chances of scarring could be reduced.

Squeezing your pimples occasionally will not cause you any harm

False! If you squeeze or try to remove your pimples by piercing it, you could land up with very bad scars. So avoid touching your pimples as far as possible.

Chocolates and fatty foods are bad for pimples.

Not necessarily! Diet has very little role to play in the causation of acne. However, if you feel that a particular food is definitely aggravating your acne then it is best to restrict it. A balanced diet containing adequate amounts of fruits, vegetables, milk, cereals pulses etc will definitely help in getting your skin back to normal faster. In addition, recent research has shown that it is not the chocolates but the nuts inside the chocolates, which is a culprit in worsening the acne. Any food when taken in moderation will not do you any harm but if taken in large quantities will flare the acne.

Acne is contagious

False! Acne is not at all infections.

Blackheads occur because of dirt blocking the pores.

False! Blackheads are caused due to the pores being blocked by excess oil and dead cells. This plug when exposed to air becomes oxidized and leads to the dark blackish colour and hence it is called a blackhead.

Washing your face several times a day will lead to improvement in pimples.

False! Washing your face many times a day can sometimes lead to rebound oiliness by irritating the oil glands and causing them to secrete more oil.

Treatment

  • Medical – oral antibiotics, isotretinoin and topical adapalene, clindamycin . benzoyl peroxide etc.
  • Dermatological treatments like
    • Chemical peels
    • Microdermabrasion
    • IPL for acne
    • Medicated clean- ups
    • Electroporation or mesotherapy