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Acne is a type of skin condition affecting millions of people all over the world characterised by spots or on the skin. Though it is commonly seen to affect people going through puberty, it can affect individuals of all age groups.

By Able Health I Medically reviewed by Dr. Alireza Estedlal

Page last reviewed: February 2024 I Next review due: February 2026

Acne: What it is and How it can Occur

Acne is a severe inflammatory skin condition that occurs when hair follicles get clogged with dead skin cells and oil. It usually develops during puberty when your body passes through several hormonal changes though it may be triggered with other factors such as diet, genetics and stress. The exact cause of acne is not known, yet it is the combination of many factors which include presence of bacteria on your skin, excess production of sebum and skin inflammation.

Sebum is an oily substance which gets produced through the sebaceous glands and has a vital role in developing acne. Due to sebum overproduction, it can combine with dead skin cells and then clog hair follicles. This creates a suitable environment for the bacteria known as Propionibacterium acnes to flourish. The presence of bacteria will trigger immune response, leading to the formation of pimples and skin inflammation.

Different Kinds of Acne

Acne may be visible in several forms, each with their own characteristics and level of severity. The common types include:

  • Blackheads: These are small and dark spots on your skin surface which occur due to clogged hair follicles.
  • Whiteheads: These are quite similar to blackheads, but covered with a thin layer of skin, giving them a white appearance.
  • Papules: These are small, red bumps that are be tender totouch.
  • Pustules: These are similar to papules though filled with pus.
  • Nodules: These are larger, more painful bumps which form deep under the skin.
  • Cysts: These are large, pus-filled, painful lumps under the skin which can lead to  scarring.

The severity of acne may differ from person to person, and the treatment options will depend on the kind and severity of the condition. Mild acne can be dealt with over-the-counter treatments but severe acne may require prescription medication and intervention from a dermatologist.

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Lifestyle Factors Contributing to Acne

Though hormones and genetics have a significant role in developing acne, certain lifestyle factors might lead to this condition. Diet, stress, and other environmental factors can influence the frequency and severity of acne breakouts.

Diets, particularly the ones rich in refined carbohydrates and dairy products, may be related to increased risk of acne. These foods may trigger hormonal changes and inflammation in the body, leading to acne flare-ups. On the other hand, the diet which is rich in vegetables, fruits, lean proteins and whole grains may decrease the risk of acne.

Stress is another factor which might worsen acne. When you feel stressed, the bodies produce more cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone that can stimulate the sebaceous glands to produce more sebum. This excess sebum can clog your hair follicles and lead to acne development. Managing stress by means of relaxation techniques, daily exercise, and seeking necessary support will decrease the impact of stress on acne.

There are other lifestyle factors for acne which include – exposure to irritants, certain medications and smoking.

Prevent the Problem of Acne: Great Tips to Keep Your Skin Clear and Healthy

There are certain steps you may take to lessen the occurrence of acne and keep your skin clear and healthy. Here are some tips to follow:

  • Moisturize: Apply appropriate moisturiser to keep the skin hydrated without clogging pores.
  • Keep hair clean: Wash your hair regularly and do not let it get in contact with your face, as hair products and oils can lead to the formation of acne.
  • Do not touch your face: Touching your face might spread bacteria and oils from your hands to the skin. This may possibly worsen acne.
  • Protect skin from the sun: Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen having an SPF of 30 or higher to protect skin from harmful ultra violet rays. Sun exposure might worsen acne.
  • Do not pick or pop pimples: Picking or popping pimples may cause scarring and further inflammation. It is advisable to leave them alone and let them heal in a naturally.

Psychological Impact of Acne

People who have acne may experience feelings of embarrassment and low self-confidence due to its visible nature.

Seeking support from family or a mental health expert in managing emotional impact of acne is important.