Acne, otherwise known as pimples or zits, affects nearly everyone at some point or another in their life. It’s a highly common condition that often begins at puberty, when hormones trigger the secretion of excess oil, which clogs hair follicles and results in blackheads or whiteheads.
Both types may eventually develop into inflamed and swollen pimples or cyst-like nodules or lumps. In severe cases, the swellings may even become infected.
Who Does it Affect?
Acne continues to mostly plague people during their teenage years, beginning between the ages of 10 and 13 and continuing until the early 20s. In one out of every five cases of acne, though, the sufferer is an adult. Acne affects men and women equally, though women are more likely to experience acne that lasts past adolescence. Acne disproportionately affects people who have oily skin. It is most likely to appear on the face, chest, back, and neck.
Popular beliefs suggest that embarrassing and sometimes painful skin issue is caused by a poor diet, improper hygiene, or a surging sex drive. These beliefs are not true. In fact, hormones and heredity are major factors which determine who develops acne and who doesn’t. Swearing off junk food or washing your face several times per day won’t change your likelihood of developing pimples.
What Causes Acne?
Researchers don’t understand exactly what causes acne. Though several factors, including stress, can activate it, there is no single cause. Some other factors which may result in acne include:
- Hormones. Acne begins at puberty, when we begin to produce reproductive hormones. Throughout puberty, both girls and boys produce high levels of androgens, or male sex hormones in particular, and is responsible for signalling to glands in the skin to produce more oil.
- Bacteria. Excess oil can block the openings to the hair follicles, especially those on acne-prone areas. Bacteria start to grow in these blocked follicles, creating blackheads or whiteheads on the surface of the skin. At times, these blockages cause the wall of the follicle to collapse under the pressure. As a result, oil leaks into the tissues surrounding the follicle, creating a pustule that becomes inflamed.
- Medication. Oral contraceptives, also known as the birth control pill, do not always have the same effect. Oral contraceptives may be used to suppress acne, but in other cases they may activate it. It depends on the type of pill. Intrauterine birth control devices (IUDs) can also contribute to acne, as can steroids taken by athletes and body builders.
Not having acne during your teenage years is not a guarantee that you won’t experience it later. Adult-onset acne can occur at any time, and may have more to do with how the body responds to increases in oil production or acne-causing bacteria. It’s normal and healthy to have bacteria in the hair follicles, but when there’s too much of them, they can cause plugged follicles. Some people appear to be more sensitive to the effects of plugged follicles than others, though this can change over time.