Acne is one of the most widespread medical conditions in the world. More than 90% of all adolescents, nearly 50% of all adult women, and 25% of all adults suffer from acne, but what causes acne? Contrary to popular belief, acne is not caused by what you eat, how often you wash your face, or work out. The five causes of acne all occur beneath the surface of your skin.
1) Hormones. You already knew this, right? For most people, acne begins at puberty when the body begins to produce hormones called androgens. These hormones cause the sebaceous glands to enlarge. This is a natural part of the body's development, but in acne sufferers the sebaceous glands are overstimulated by androgens, sometimes well into adulthood. Androgens are also responsible for acne flare-ups associated with the menstrual cycle and, sometimes, pregnancy.
2) Extra sebum. When the sebaceous gland is stimulated by androgens, it produces extra sebum. As the sebum moves up the follicle towards the skin's surface, it mixes with common skin bacteria and dead skin cells that have been shed from the lining of the follicle. While this process is normal, the presence of extra sebum in the follicle increases the chances of clogging, leading to acne.
3) Bacteria. Remember that common skin bacteria mentioned above? The bacterium Propionibacterium acnes, (P. acnes for short) is part of the skin’s natural sebum maintenance system. However, once a follicle is plugged, P. acnes bacteria multiply rapidly, causing a chemical reaction we know as inflammation in the follicle and surrounding skin.
4) Inflammation. Speaking of inflammation, when your body encounters unwanted bacteria, it sends an army of white blood cells to attack the intruders. This process is called chemotaxis, or the inflammatory response. The inflammatory response is what causes pimples to become red, swollen and painful. Studies have shown that the inflammatory response is especially strong in adult women.
5) Follicle fallout. Normally, dead cells within the follicle shed gradually and are expelled onto the skin’s surface. However, in those people with overactive sebaceous glands, which includes nearly everyone during puberty, these cells are shed more rapidly. Mixed with a surplus of sebum, the dead skin cells form a plug in the follicle, preventing the skin from finishing its natural process of renewal.
The secret to managing acne is prevention and stopping this condition before pimples appear. Once you find an acne treatment that helps you accomplish this, it's important to stick with it. Even after pimples disappear, you may need to continue treatment to prevent new blemishes from appearing. It's also important to begin treatment as soon as the first signs of acne appear. The sooner you treat your acne, the less likely you are to experience permanent damage to your skin.
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