Acne Vulgaris, one the most common skin problems in North America affects 85% of adolescents and occurs more frequently in boys than in girls. Although most people experience acne between the ages of 9 -17 years, it can either persist until or occur during adulthood as well. Severe acne may lead to permanent scarring and can be a source of significant psychological effects including anxiety, embarrassment, and shame, especially during adolescence.

What causes acne?

Acne is a problem with the sebaceous glands, which are found in the skin. Ordinarily, these glands produce “sebum” an oily substance that lubricates and protects the skin. Just before puberty, many hormones are made in the body, some of which actually stimulate the sebaceous glands to produce more sebum. This blocks the glands’ openings or ducts and gives rise to a closed comedo (whitehead).

As the gland expands, it becomes an open comedo filled with darker material (blackhead). If bacteria (normally found on the skin), gets into the pimple, it will cause an infection creating pus and redness. In severe cases, the pimple becomes quite big and is called nodulocystic. Depending on the progression, acne can range from mild, with small whiteheads without scarring, to the nodulocystic type with severe scarring.

Is acne hereditary?

It is thought that the tendency to develop acne is hereditary although the exact genetic pattern is not well understood.

Does diet or stress make acne worse?

Many myths exist about diet and acne. These have been dispelled by studies that have shown that foods such as chocolate, cola drinks, milk, ice cream, fatty foods, and shellfish do not cause or worsen acne. However, although it is not clear why, emotional stress especially in girls, may make acne worse. On what part of the body does acne occur?

Since it is a problem of the sebaceous glands, acne affects areas of the body with the highest number of these glands including the face, neck, chest, and upper back.

What can make acne worse?

Repetitive pressure or rubbing of the skin by articles such as turtlenecks, bra straps, shoulder pads, and helmets may worsen acne. Tight clothing, and rubbing or picking the skin may also make acne worse.

How is acne treated?

The type and specific form(lotion, gel, cream, or oral) of the treatment depend on the severity of the acne: This can range from simple topical treatment such as Retinoids, to Benzoyl Peroxide and antibiotics, and to oral Isotretinoin in severe cases. Generally, the more severe cases are treated by a dermatologist. What is important, however, is that Acne Vulgaris, regardless of its severity, not be taken lightly if it becomes a source of emotional stress in teenagers.

Here are Some Practical Tips adapted from the American Academy of Dermatology:
  • Do wash your face gently twice daily with a mild soap cleanser
  • Do also wash after activities such as sports or exercise that make you sweat
  • Do use hair products, skin care products, and make-up that have ‘oil-free’ on the label
  • Do eat a healthy diet rich in fish, fruits, and vegetables. This can help make your skin less oily
  • Don’t scrub your face with a washcloth
  • Don’t squeeze or ‘pop’ the pimples, because this can leave scars
  • Don’t wear tight clothes that rub against your skin, or use sporting equipment such as shoulder pads, helmets, and chin straps

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Pediatrician DR.PAUL Roumeliotis is certified by the American Board of Pediatrics and Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. The information provided above is designed to be an educational aid only. It is not intended to replace the advice and care of your child’s physician, nor is it intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment. If you suspect that your child has a medical condition always consult a physician.