‘THE SKINNY’ ON YOUR SKIN AND ACNE

by EMILY JOHNSON June 07, 2018 0 Comments

‘THE SKINNY’ ON YOUR SKIN AND ACNE

Acne is by far the most common type of skin condition all over the world. It is most prevalent in adolescents and young adults, but this skin ailment can affect you at any given age (as seen by the fact that many folks are still battling with this condition well into their fifties!). The magnitude of this condition calls for a deeper analysis. What is acne? How does it form? What are its causes? These are just a few questions that need to be addressed if we are going to have a breakthrough in dealing with this condition.

Acne (medically referred to as Acne Vulgaris) is a type of skin disease that is characterized by the clogging of the hair follicles (1). First, a quick lesson as to how this occurs.

The skin contains sebaceous glands that secrete sebum (an oily substance that moisturizes the skin's top layer and the hairs). Some of the body parts that have higher concentrations of the oil glands include the back, shoulders, chest, neck and the face (coincidentally, those are the sections where acne forms)(2).

Although sebum is beneficial to the skin, overproduction of it does more harm than good. Acne typically starts at as a result of a surge in hormone levels (predominant hormones being androgens and testosterone). These hormones unsettle the skin's usual processes preventing the normal shedding of the dead cells. This results in them piling up and sticking together on the skin's surface causing blockage, and consequently acne. Also, hormones stimulate the oil glands in the skin by making them over reactive which leads to the overproduction of sebum.

The moment the sebum combines with the already piled up dead skin, they clog up the skin follicles. A Whitehead (small, round and white acne bumps) will be formed if the blocked follicle is close to the skin's surface while a blackhead (a specific kind of dark acne lesion) is formed if the plug is on top of the follicle (2).

Also, bacteria such as Propionibacterium acnes, even though they are harmless under normal conditions, tend to thrive and be harmful when the skin pores are oily, and the follicles are plugged. When plugged pores expand, they are more likely to break, exposing them to the bacteria that then brings about an inflammatory reaction which causes swelling and redness (3).

If the inflammation occurs below the surface of the skin, many small red bumps known as papules appear (with or without pus). If the inflammation occurs above the skin, pus filled spots known as pustules or pimples will appear (3). The walls of the skin pores may also burst due to pressure, which leaks fluid and bacteria to the surrounding skin causing acne nodules (larger deeper lesions). To contain this damage, fluid sacs will be created by the immune system causing painful boil-like lesions called cysts. That how acne form, which introduces us to the post’s main topic; what are the causes of teenage and adult acne?

Causes of Teenage Acne

  • Puberty: during puberty, the levels of hormones such as testosterone, Gonadotropin- a releasing hormone (GnRH), Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH), and Luteinizing Hormone (LH) are high. These hormones cause an increase in the size of sebaceous glands, and stimulate the production of more sebum (2) (therefore causing acne pimples as highlighted above).
  • Genetics: The skin can be affected by hereditary factors. This means that if your parents had acne problems, you are more likely to have the same problems as you were genetically predisposed (4). Genes tend to influence a person’s skin sensitivity, androgen hormones levels, and anti-inflammatory chemicals the skin produces among others. All these contribute to the development of acne.

Causes of Adult Acne

  • Changes in hormone levels: adults, more so women, experience changes in hormone levels at different times which cause acne (4). For example, during periods and pregnancy, there are drastic changes in the hormonal levels which lead to acne. The bottom line is, changes in hormonal levels, both in men and women may result in acne breakouts.
  • Medical conditions: certain medical conditions have been found to trigger or exacerbate acne flare-ups (4). One such condition is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) which affects 5-10% of women. PCOS is a condition that affects the sex hormones progesterone, and estrogen of women is imbalanced leading to the growth of ovarian cysts. It affects the not only the appearance but also the cardiac function, fertility, and menstrual cycle. The hormone imbalance usually leads to acne breakouts.
  • Medications: medicines that contain steroids (also labeled prednisone if it is indigestible and hydrocortisone if topical) if overused lead to higher production of androgens. More androgen hormones production leads to secretion of more sebum thus ultimately leads to acne (steroid acne) (4). Many people will be surprised as to how their medicine cabinet have caused acne. Also, medications such as Lithium which is used to treat depression and bipolar disorder may also result in acne as they bring about hormonal imbalance. Contraceptives and anti-epileptic drugs have been known to cause acne breakouts.
  • Environmental factors: yes, it's true, the environment you live can impact your skin. For instance, if you live in a neighborhood that has constant air pollution, the highest probability is that your skin will be easily clogged causing acne flares (5). Also, being exposed to grease and oil may lead to acne as those products help in the closing of the pores. Besides, cosmetics that tend to have a higher greasy consistency value also clog pores causing acne.
  • Lifestyle habits: People with improper lifestyle habits such as alcohol addiction, smoking, bad dietary habits and improper cleansing routines tend to be more prone to skin acne than those living a proper lifestyle. This is because their hormonal levels will not only be balanced, but also the skin will be well protected thus avoidance of pore clogging which causes acne.

So, as you have seen, the causes of teenage and adult acne tend to differ—teen acne is predominantly brought about by puberty, while in adults is mostly about hormonal disruption. This information will be vital in helping you take proper care of your skin and to do away the many myths revolving around acne. If you find yourselves having persistent acne, it is advisable you check with your doctor for a deeper analysis. In the meantime, a healthy lifestyle and nutrition should keep acne issues in check.