What Is Acne?

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Acne, or acne vulgaris, is a common skin condition that causes blackheads, whiteheads, pimples, and scars. It can vary from mild to severe and can affect the skin anywhere but especially the skin of your face, back, shoulders and chest. It usually develops for the first time in the teenage and adolescent years but it can be seen for the first time in people who are in their 20s or 30s. It’s rarely seen in young children but it is more likely in people with oily skin. It majorly affects parts of the skin that have a high number of oil-producing glands. It occurs when the hair follicles are clogged with dirt, oil, and dead skin cells. Stem cell therapy is now used by dermatologists and scientists in some countries to fill acne scars and produce a more even and smooth skin

Causes Of Acne

  1. Genetics – This is a major factor in most cases. Children of parents who had severe acne for a long period of time are more likely to also have to deal with acne possibly because of their skin type.
  2. Puberty – Almost everyone has to deal with acne during puberty, this is because there are lots of hormonal changes going on and there’s a surge in production of hormones like testosterone. The sebaceous glands are very sensitive to hormones, this causes the glands to produce more oil than the skin needs leading to clogging.
  3. Gender – Women are more likely to develop acne in adulthood because of the frequent hormonal changes they go through.
  4. Periods – Some women have a flare-up of acne just before or during their periods because of hormonal changes.
  5. Pregnancy – For the same reasons listed previously, some women develop acne during their pregnancy especially during the first trimester when lots of changes occur.
  6. Steroid Medications- These contain many substances found in hormones and they can stimulate the sebaceous glands as well causing a build-up of oil.
  7. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome – This is a medical condition found in women which can cause acne, weight gain, increased hair production in uncommon parts of the skin. It is due to the formation of many cysts in the ovary.
  8. Cosmetic products – Some products are regarded as comedogenic. This means that they sit into the skin and can clog it. This isn’t as much of a problem anymore since most products are now well tested and there are many deep cleansing products in the market that remove the build-up of make-up from the pores.

Research hasn’t proven that poor diet, smoking or poor hygiene plays a role in acne development. The bacteria that causes it (Propionibacterium acne) can be found on everyone’s skin. Excessive growth of this bacteria can lead to acne.

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Types Of Acne

  1. Blackheads – These are bumps that develop on the skin. They are black because the inner lining of the hair follicle produces pigmentation.
  2. Pustules – These are the ones that are usually referred to as pimples. They contain pus and may feel tender or sore.
  3. Whiteheads – They are similar to blackheads but they won’t empty when squeezed.
  4. Papules- These are small red bumps that are similar to pustules but they don’t contain pus and so they don’t have a white tip. They can also feel tender when touched.
  5. Cysts – These cause a very severe form of acne. They are similar to boils, they are usually large and sometimes joined together. They are most likely to lead to scars.
  6. Nodules- These are hard lumps that are usually large and can be painful when touched.

How Is Acne Treated?

   There are several types of lotions, creams, tablets, oil, capsules and laser treatments in the market today that claim to help prevent and cure acne. They work in different ways and it is best to see a medical practitioner to diagnose the type of acne you might have and the best treatment for it. The options include:

  • Lifestyle Changes – A change in diet and frequent exercise has been said to improve the outcome of acne, however, there is no sufficient scientific information backing it. It would definitely lead to an overall improvement in health.
  • Benzoyl Peroxide – This is usually in cream form and is commonly used over the counter to treat mild and moderate acne. It can cause mild side effects like skin irritation, dryness, redness, and occasional peeling. However, it is effective at breaking down blackheads and whiteheads and preventing scarring. It may be used together with a topical antibiotic or retinoid.
  • Topical Retinoids – These work by exfoliating the skin thereby preventing a build-up of dead skin cells and dirt in the hair follicles. They are not suitable for use by pregnant women as they might cause some birth defects.
  • Topical Antibiotics – These are usually paired with either Benzoyl Peroxide or Retinoids or both. They can help to kill the Propionibacterium acne that can be excessively produced in some cases leading to clogging of the pores. Side effects are rare but can include irritation of the skin, redness, and burning of the skin especially after too much exposure to the sun.
  • Azelaic acid – This works in two different ways. It gets rid of the dead skin and helps in killing bacteria as well. It’s usually available as a cream or gel and is applied topically for about a month before results are visible.
  • Hormonal therapies – If the acne is related to a hormonal imbalance or overproduction like in Polycystic ovarian syndrome or women who have flare-ups around the time of their period, medications like the combined oral contraceptive pill might be prescribed. This helps to control hormonal production and release which subsequently helps to improve acne.
  • Isotretinoin – This helps to prevent clogging of the hair follicles by regulating how much sebum is produced. It could also help to reduce the number of bacteria on the skin in the affected area. It is usually prescribed in severe cases because it can cause inflammation, dryness and even changes in the blood sugar level. Pregnant women should also avoid using it.
  • Chemical peels – This is used to remove the layer of dead skin allowing new skin to replace it and preventing clogging.
  • Comedone extractor – Dermatologists use this instrument to manually clean out blackheads and whiteheads.

     How Stem Cell Therapy Can Be Used To Treat Acne

Stem cell therapy is now used by dermatologists and scientists in some countries to fill acne scars and produce a more even and smooth skin. Some researchers have developed a way of stabilizing stem cells in Hyaluronic acid. Hyaluronic acid is one of the basic building blocks of skin. If done properly, it does not have the same side effects of scarring, dryness or inflammation that other treatments have.

References

Black, M. and Marshman, G. (2010). Dermatology and pemphigus vulgaris: Association or coincidence?. Australasian Journal of Dermatology, 52(2), pp.e11-e14.

Greenberg, S. (2014). Sustained autoimmune mechanisms in dermatomyositis. The Journal of Pathology, 233(3), pp.215-216.

Lam, C. and Vleugels, R. (2012). Management of cutaneous bruises. Dermatologic Therapy, 25(2), pp.112-134.

Scadden, D. and Srivastava, A. (2012). Advancing Stem Cell Biology toward Stem Cell Therapeutics. Cell Stem Cell, 10(2), pp.149-150.

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