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What Causes Acne?

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Acne is a result of an imbalance of two or more factors in skin physiology relating to the sebaceous gland and duct system. When our body physiology is working properly, small amounts of oil (called sebum) are produced in the sebaceous glands in the dermis or deeper part of the skin. These sebaceous glands share a duct or tubule that goes to the skin with a small hair. When either too much oil is produced or blockage of the tubule preventing the escape of oil occurs, the net result is acne. The most common causes of acne are an increased production of sebaceous material due to hormone imbalance or side effects of stress that cause an overproduction of sebaceous material.

However, almost always with the occurrence of acne, there is also a related phenomenon called retention keratosis. These two big words actually refer to the lining cells of the sebaceous duct not shedding properly and staying in place for a longer period of time. This builds up like rust in a pipe until the duct is closed or blocked. When this happens, it sets events occurring that proceed to inflammation or an irritation underneath the surface of the skin. If one imagines that the sebaceous duct were a small stream that got plugged up, retention keratosis causes a backup of everything upstream from the direction of flow.

Another factor is the presence of several different types of skin bacteria that normally don"t cause problems. However, when trapped beneath the skin, the bacteria begin to react chemically with the sebaceous material causing it to break down into free fatty acids. Free fatty acids are quite irritating to the deeper structure of the skin and result in inflammation.

The first signs of retention keratosis are redness, firmness, swelling, tenderness, and heat. On about the second or third day of inflammation, white blood cells increase in the area attempting to digest the bacteria and rid the body of them. This results in the formation of pustules and even more irritation extending sideways beneath the surface of the skin.

Does stress cause acne? Stress does not cause acne per se. Stress does stimulate our body enzyme and immune systems to cause a stimulation of the oil glands. It has been proven that lowering stress levels certainly can help to decrease oil production, and thus decrease the symptoms of acne.

Do fried foods cause acne? Fried foods in excess certainly can cause us to gain weight. However, fried foods have not been shown to be related to causing acne. In fact, there aren"t any specific foods that cause acne. Of course, skin health is directly related to a well balanced diet, adequate rest and general personal cleanliness. Many people have told me that a good order of tasty french fries properly cooked seemed to lower their stress level.

What part do hormones play in acne? Hormones play an indirect but active part in acne. The part they play is related to side effects of the hormones, rather than a direct effect. It's interesting that the male hormones (androgens) have a greater effect on skin oil production (acne) than female hormones. This said, It's important to say that male hormones and female hormones of the ovarian type are very similar in their structural configuration. One of the side effects of female hormones related closely to the ovarian monthly cycle in women is the stimulation of oil gland activity.

Is acne contagious? No, acne is not contageous to others. You can contaminate other areas of your skin by scratching an acne lesion, then scratching another area of your body where there is an uninfected sebaceous duct. Using the general principles of washing both hands and face on a regular basis and not picking at acne lesions will decrease the likelihood of new acne lesions developing.

Does acne occur anywhere else besides the face? Yes, it is possible for acne to occur anywhere on the body where there are sebaceous ducts. For example, Acne mechanica is a condition that occurs with athletes especially, such as football players in the hot summer months that wear shoulder pads or clothing that rubs continually on skin that is exposed to dust, perspiration, etc. Traditional acne does commonly occur on the chest, the back, arms and legs.

Will sun exposure help acne? Small amounts of sunlight exposure to skin certainly is healthy. Sunlight is necessary for certain vitamins to function, such as Vitamin D. If any aspect of the spectrum of sunrays has a helpful nature to acne, it would be bands close to the ultraviolet spectrum of light. For this reason, dermatologists have tried in the past to improve acne using sun lamps for the ultraviolet exposure. One problem with the exposure of the skin to ultraviolet light, however, is that ultraviolet light causes a damaging effect to the skin itself. For this reason, ultraviolet light therapy for acne has not been as popular in recent years as it was some years ago. Another negative effect of sunlight on the skin is that sunlight itself can cause an increased production of skin oils which may actually make acne worse.

If I stop using acne medication, will the acne return? The factors in life that predispose one to breakouts and acne probably will remain essentially unchanged. If an acne medication has been successful in controlling breakouts and then is no longer used, the acne certainly won"t instantly return. However, over time the factors and conditions may become optimum again for acne breakouts. Unless other changes occur in life some of those skin condition factors may cause acne to return. The good news is that those medications that had worked well in controlling acne should work well again if acne returns.

Will acne cause scarring? Any chronic wound or delayed healing process in the skin will cause scarring, whether it be from a surgical wound with complications, an embedded splinter that takes days, weeks or months to work its way out, or an acne pustule that cannot heal. If we look at what is causing the acne inflammatory process and its relation to a clogged duct or a clogged pore, we get a picture of events trying to occur that can"t occur.

By this I mean that if acne persists for several weeks as a pustule or infected area that cannot heal because of fluid being trapped under the skin, the probability of scarring increases. It is for this reason that dermatologists actually extract comedones or sebaceous plugs in follicles. This is done in order to open the outlet for debris to exit the skin. In cases of deep acne cysts, actually incising and draining may be necessary to minimize future scarring. Certainly controlling acne in its early stages to prevent the formation of fluid-filled pockets is the best way to prevent permanent scarring from acne. Information Courtesy Reversion