What is Acne?

What is Acne?

Acne is the term given to a skin condition that results when dead skin cells and oil plug hair follicles. Acne normally makes an appearance on the back, chest, face, neck and shoulders.

Acne can be surprisingly persistent, although there are a number of effective treatments that are currently available. Bumps and pimples take a long time to heal and others tend to arise as some go away.

Acne is particularly common in teenagers, with between 70 to 80 percent of teens suffering from some form of the condition at some stage of their adolescence. However, younger children are increasingly starting to suffer from the condition. Serious forms of acne can scar the skin and cause emotional distress.

The chance of lasting emotional and physical damage is lessened by starting acne treatment/medication as soon as possible.


The symptoms and signs of acne can vary based on the seriousness of the particular condition. Symptoms include:

• Open plugged pores known as blackheads, where the oil turns brown upon being exposed to the air

• Closed plugged pores known as whiteheads

• Papules, which are small, tender red bumps

• Nodules, which appear in the form of painful, solid and large lumps beneath the skin’s surface

• Cystic lesions, pus-filled and painful lumps underneath the skin’s surface

• Pustules, more commonly known as pimples, which are papules that have their tips filled with pus


There are four primary factors behind the emergence of acne – bacteria, clogged pores, dead skin cells, and oil production.

Acne generally appears on the areas of skin that possess the greatest concentration of oil glands, otherwise known as sebaceous glands. These areas are typically located on the face, chest, shoulders, neck and back. Acne tends to appear when dead skin cells and oil plug up hair follicles, which have a connection to oil glands.

Oil production

Oil glands are responsible for the secretion of a substance known as sebum, which helps to lubricate the skin and hair. Sebum is supposed to travel via the opening of hair follicles and through hair shafts onto the skin’s surface, but when both sebum and dead hair follicles are produced excessively by the body, this can cause a build-up of both within the hair follicles. The end result is a soft plug that creates an environment in which bacteria is able to thrive. Clogged pores that are infected by bacteria can then become inflamed.

Clogged pores

The follicle wall may bulge and form a whitehead as a consequence of the plugged pore, or the plug could be open on the surface of the skin and darken, producing a blackhead. A blackhead often makes it look as if the pores have dirt stuck in them, but in actuality it is congested with oil and bacteria, causing it to change colour when exposed to the air.


Raised red spots with white centres are known as pimples, and form when hair follicles that are already blocked become infected or inflamed.

Cystic lesions

Cyst-like lumps underneath the surface of the skin are the result of inflammation and blockages developing deep inside hair follicles. Other skin pores such as the openings to the sweat glands generally have no connection to acne.

Risk factors

There are a number of risk factors for developing acne, including:

• Hormonal changes, which are particularly common in girls, women and teenagers in general, as well as individuals who make use of particular medications, such as those featuring androgens, lithium and corticosteroids

• Oily or greasy substances such as creams and lotions, or grease in work areas such as kitchens with large fry vats

• Stress, although not responsible for acne, can make the condition worse

• A family history of acne, which makes its development more likely

• Pressure or friction on the skin, which can be the result of items such as cell phones, tight collars, backpacks, telephones and helmets

• Some dietary factors, such as foods that are rich in carbohydrates as well as dairy products, can trigger acne, and the consumption of chocolate is also thought to be a possible cause. However, the long held belief that greasy food can cause acne is now regarded as a myth.