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Beauty For Life

What Is Acne?...continued

The hair, sebum, and keratinocytes that fill the narrow follicle may produce a plug, which is an early sign of acne. The plug prevents sebum from reaching the surface of the skin through a pore. The mixture of oil and cells allows bacteria Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes) that normally live on the skin to grow in the plugged follicles. These bacteria produce chemicals and enzymes and attract white blood cells that cause inflammation. (Inflammation is a characteristic reaction of tissues to disease or injury and is marked by four signs: swelling, redness, heat, and pain.) When the wall of the plugged follicle breaks down, it spills everything into the nearby skin sebum, shed skin cells, and bacteria leading to lesions or pimples.

People with acne frequently have a variety of lesions, some of which are shown in the diagrams below. The basic acne lesion, called the comedo (KOM-e-do), is simply an enlarged and plugged hair follicle. If the plugged follicle, or comedo, stays beneath the skin, it is called a closed comedo and produces a white bump called a whitehead. A comedo that reaches the surface of the skin and opens up is called an open comedo or blackhead because it looks black on the skin's surface. This black discoloration is due to changes in sebum as it is exposed to air. It is not due to dirt. Both whiteheads and blackheads may stay in the skin for a long time.

Types of Lesions

Illustration of lesion, Microcomedo
Illustration of lesion, Open Comedo (Blackhead)
Illustration of lesion, Closed Comedo (Whitehead)
 

Other troublesome acne lesions can develop, including the following:

  • Papules inflamed lesions that usually appear as small, pink bumps on the skin and can be tender to the touch

  • Pustules (pimples) papules topped by white or yellow pus-filled lesions that may be red at the base

  • Nodules large, painful, solid lesions that are lodged deep within the skin

  • Cysts deep, painful, pus-filled lesions that can cause scarring.

Part 1: What is acne?

Part 2: What is acne? ...continued

Part 3: What causes acne?

Part 4: How is acne treated?

Part 5: How should I care for my skin?

Part 6: Current research for acne?

 

Source: Adapted from National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS)

 
 
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