Acne

What is Acne?

Acne is the term for plugged pores (blackheads and whiteheads), pimples, and even deeper lumps (cysts or nodules) that occur on the face, neck, chest, back, shoulders and even the upper arms. Acne affects most teenagers to some extent. However, the disease is not restricted to any age group; adults in their 20s – even into their 40s – can get acne. While not a life threatening condition, acne can be upsetting and disfiguring. When severe, acne can lead to serious and permanent scarring. Even less severe cases can lead to scarring.

Who gets acne?

Close to 100% of people between the ages of twelve and seventeen have at least an occasional whitehead, blackhead or pimple, regardless of race or ethnicity. Many of these young people are able to manage their acne with over-the-counter (nonprescription) treatments. For some, however, acne is more serious. In fact, by their mid-teens, more than 40% of adolescents have acne severe enough to require some treatment by a physician.

In most cases, acne starts between the ages of ten and thirteen and usually lasts for five to ten years. It normally goes away on its own sometime in the early twenties. However, acne can persist into the late twenties or thirties or even beyond. Some people get acne for the first time as adults.

Acne affects young men and young women about equally, but there are differences. Young men are more likely than young women to have more severe, longer lasting forms of acne. Despite this fact, young men are less likely than young women to visit a dermatologist for their acne. In contrast, young women are more likely to have intermittent acne due to hormonal changes associated with their menstrual cycle and acne caused by cosmetics. These kinds of acne may afflict young women well into adulthood.

Acne lesions are most common on the face, but they can also occur on the neck, chest, back, shoulders, scalp, and upper arms and legs.

 Normal distribution of acne

Acne Treatment

Today, virtually every case of acne can be resolved. The key to getting rid of acne lesions and preventing new ones from forming lies in knowing that:

  • Resolution takes time.
  • What works for one person may not work for another.
  • A dermatologist’s help may be required.

Resolution takes time. Treatments that promise “fast,” miraculous” or “overnight” results often capture the attention of acne sufferers hoping for quick resolution. However, the fact remains that acne does not clear overnight. On average, 6 to 8 weeks are needed to see initial results. Once acne significantly improves or clears, continued treatment is needed to keep acne from re-appearing. If acne does not improve in 6 to 8 weeks, treatment may need to be adjusted as not every acne treatment clears every case of acne.

What works for one person may not work for another. What is an appropriate treatment for one person may not clear another’s acne because many factors affect resolution, including the cause(s) of the acne, a person’s skin type and the kind of acne lesions present.

A dermatologist’s help may be required. With so many factors affecting clearance and a multitude of treatment options available (some only by prescription), a dermatologist’s help can make a difference. Before prescribing treatment, dermatologists consider several factors, including the severity of the acne, types of lesions present, co-existing conditions, as well as the patient’s age, skin type, lifestyle and motivation.

The knowledge gained from considering these factors allows dermatologists to create effective individualized therapy that will resolve the patient’s acne over time and prevent new lesions from forming.

Sometimes a dermatologist may combine two or more treatment options. A patient may be instructed to use one medication in the morning and the other at night. Or, two medications may be combined in one prescription medication. Due to possible side effects, over-the-counter medications should not be combined unless directed by a dermatologist or other medical practitioner.

Acne responds especially well to early treatment. Dermatologists recommend that acne be treated early to maximize effectiveness as well as help prevent scarring.