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Acne Causes and Risk Factors

Acne vulgaris or commonly called acne is a common skin condition characterized by pimples on the face, chest, neck or back. This condition is not life-threatening, but it can cause scarring if left untreated.

Acne affects up to 50 million Americans yearly. While acne can develop at any age, but it is most common in teenagers and young adults. An estimated 85 percent of people develop acne between the ages of 12 and 24 years old. Some people in their forties and fifties still get acne.

What Causes Acne?

The exact causes of acne is unknown, however experts believe that the main cause of acne is the increased levels of androgen (a type of hormone). Androgen levels increase when adolescence begins. In women, it gets converted into estrogen.

An increased androgen levels cause the sebaceous glands to produce more sebum, an oily substance that is produced naturally to keep the skin moisturized and supple.

Excess sebum can trap dead skin cells and dirt in the pores, leading to clogged pores. Also, too much sebum can nourish the P. acnes bacteria that lives on the skin, resulting in pimples and inflammation.

Types of Pimples

There are many types of pimples. The most common types are:

  • Whiteheads
    Whiteheads form when a pore is completely blocked, entrapping sebum (oil), bacteria and dead skin cells. Since the pores completely blocked, the air unable to reach the follicle, causing a white appearance on the surface. Whiteheads is usually disappears within shorten life cycle than blackheads.
  • Blackheads
    Blackheads form when a pore is only partially blocked, allowing some trapped sebum and dead skin cells to gradually appear to the surface. However, blackheads are not caused by dirt, it from certain skin pigments in the cells of the pores. Blackheads tend to be more stable and take much longer times to clear than whiteheads.
  • Papules
    Papules are the least dangerous types of pimples. They are small, firm conical bumps that do not contain any pus. They are painless, but they often become tender and irritated if touched.
  • Pustules
    Pustules are similar to whiteheads but they are inflamed and appear as a red circle with a white or yellow center.
  • Nodules
    Nodules are large, solid pimples under the skin’s surface. It can be very painful and sometimes can last for months.
  • Cysts
    Cysts are similar to nodules but they are pus-filled and described as having a diameter of 5mm. They can be painful too. Scarring is common with this form of pimple. Squeezing cysts pimples may cause infection and inflammation that will last longer than if you had left it alone.

Risk Factors for Acne

  • Hormonal changes
    Teenagers and pregnant women tend to get acne because of hormonal changes which stimulate the sebaceous glands to make more sebum. When there is too much sebum, that oil clogs the pores and leads to acne.
  • Family history
    Individuals with a family history of acne have greater risk of getting acne. One study has found that if both your parents had acne, you’re more likely to get more severe acne at an early age. It also found that if one or both of your parents had adult acne, you’re more likely to get adult acne too.
  • Oily cosmetics and lotions
    Oily cosmetics and lotions may worsen acne by clogging the pores. Try using water-based cosmetics instead.
  • Environmental Factors
    The environment you live in can affect your skin. If you live in humid areas, you may find your skin is clogged more easily, resulting in more acne breakouts. Exposure to oil in the home or at workplace can also have an effect on your acne.
  • Stress
    Several studies have shown that those with high stress levels faced three times the risk of acne compared to those who were less stressed. When our body is stressed, there is a hormone fluctuation that causes an increase in the production of cortisol and adrenaline, which exacerbate acne.

  • Medications
    Certain medications, such as steroid medications, anti-epileptic drugs (used to treat epilepsy), and antidepressants (amoxapine, lithium), can aggravate acne.