Acne, or the technical medical term, acne vulgaris, is the most common skin condition in the world. In fact, the American Academy of Dermatology reports that nearly 85% of people experience acne at some point in their lives.
The four-step acne process starts and ends inside the pore, the passageway from the bottom of the hair follicle to the skin's surface. When sticky skin oils mix with dead cells and form a plug, the stage is set for acne to begin. This plug acts like a cork in a bottle. It traps the oil inside the follicle, providing the ideal environment for acne-causing bacteria to "feed and breed," releasing inflammatory toxins. The body reacts with inflammation and swelling, producing what you see as a red throbbing pimple.
Your painful acne bump didn't happen overnight. In fact, the causes of acne can be hard at work two weeks or more before a pimple rears its ugly head. Believe it or not, this time lag can work in your favor—if you take steps to disrupt the cause of acne before the breakout becomes visible on your skin's surface.
Acne is mainly influenced by genetics and hormones. Other factors—including stress, medications, diet, cosmetics, excessive rubbing or friction against the skin, and a hot, humid climate—can be additional causes of acne.
Acne is not caused by how you wash your face. Sleeping on a dirty pillowcase, spreading germs by touching your face or occasionally eating a candy bar are also myths, suggesting that you are doing "something wrong" and therefore responsible for this problem. Acne is not, and never will be, your fault.
Your genetics determine how easily acne bacteria multiply on your skin; how much your body initiates a swelling response to the bacteria; how much oil your body produces; how easily your pores get plugged; and how quickly your skin cells turn over. Very few people never break out. Most people experience breakouts on and off throughout their lives.
Hormones are the primary cause of acne. During puberty, everyone begins to produce hormones called androgens. Androgens cause the sebaceous (oil) glands to enlarge, which is a natural part of the body's development. Even though hormones play a vital role in your overall well-being, whether you are 15 or 55, hormones are to blame for your breakouts.
Most women are aware of the impact of hormones on their complexion. Because of the hormonal fluctuations during their monthly cycle, 40% to 50% of women break out just before menstruation or during ovulation. The decline of estrogen with age is another key factor explaining the cause of acne in adult women.
As doctors we hate to tell anyone bad news. But here goes—unfortunately, there is no acne cure. It can last six to seven years in a teen and often 20 years in adult women. Fortunately, however, you absolutely can help prevent and control your blemishes so you never experience another "pimple panic." The key is to treat your entire face daily to stop acne before it becomes visible or has a chance to scar.
The physical and emotional impact of acne often lasts much longer than breakouts, sometimes forever. Acne often affects your life in more ways than you realize. Freeing yourself from this burdensome problem is the best gift you can give yourself!