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Acne (acne vulgaris) is a common skin condition characterized by whiteheads, blackheads, and inflamed red pimples or "zits." Acne is inflammatory, but can also manifest in non-inflammatory forms. It is generally found in areas of the body with the densest amount of sebaceous follicles, which includes the face, upper chest and back. Severe cases of acne can cause scarring. Acne occurs when the pores on the surface of the skin become clogged. Each pore is an opening to a canal called a follicle, which contains a hair and an oil gland. When glands produce too much oil, the pores can become blocked, accumulating dirt and bacteria. The blockage is called a plug (or comedone,) and may be white (whitehead) or dark (blackhead.) If the plug ruptures, the bacteria can spread to the surrounding area and cause an inflammatory reaction. If the inflammation is deep in your skin, the pimples may enlarge to form large, painful nodules. These nodules, called “cysts” or “boils” can appear on the buttocks, groin and armpit area, anywhere that sweat collects in hair follicles and perspiration ducts. Cystic acne affects the deeper skin tissue than does common acne.

Acne is most common in teenagers, but can happen at any age, even in a baby. Three out of four teenagers have acne to some degree, most likely caused by hormonal changes that stimulate oil production. For most, acne diminishes over time, but it can continue into adulthood. People in their 30s or even 40s and beyond may have acne. There is no way to predict how long it will take to disappear entirely. Acne tends to run in families and can be triggered by hormonal changes related to menstrual periods, pregnancy, birth control pills or stress. It can also be triggered by certain drugs (such as steroids, testosterone, estrogen, and phenytoin,) greasy or oily cosmetics and hair products, high levels of humidity and sweating. It is a myth that acne is caused by chocolate, nuts or other foods. There is no scientific evidence showing that this is true.

Aside from scarring, one of the main effects of acne is psychological, including reduced self-esteem and depression. This is especially true in teenagers, when people already tend to be very socially insecure and self-conscious. Early treatment is advocated to lesson the overall impact on teenagers.


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