This patient information and photographs on Acne is provided by John L. Meisenheimer, M.D. a board certified Dermatologist and skin care specialist based in Orlando, Florida. This information is not intended as a substitute for the medical advice of a dermatologist or other physician.
What is it? Acne is the most common skin disorder in the United States. About 40 million people are affected by the disorder. It commonly occurs in teenagers, but acne is also seen in women in the 20's and 30's. Acne usually begins shortly after puberty. It takes the form of blackheads, whiteheads, pustules, inflamed bumps and cysts. The face, chest and back are most frequently involved areas. Some people are severely involved while others may only have an occasional bump.
What causes it? Contrary to popular belief, acne is not caused by dirty skin, and you have probably already discovered that repeated washings have not helped. The pores of the skin continuously shed dead skin cells just like the regular skin surface. Normally these cells fall out of the pore without difficulty. For unknown reasons skin cells of acne patients stick together in the pore (this may be made worse by grease, pomades, makeup, etc.). These stuck cells create a blockage of the pore. Oxidation causes the plugged cells to turn black (similar to fine silver getting a black tarnish) this is a blackhead, not dirt. The plug causes oil glands that normally empty into the pore to backup and swell. The trapped oil is good for bacteria growth. Growing bacteria cause the swollen oil glands to rupture under the skin (this can also be caused by, picking at a pimple with your fingers), and this results in an inflamed pimple or cyst. Multiple factors contribute to the tendency for plugging, genetics hormones stress and external mechanical factors are the big four. Treatment is directed at prevention of plug formation, decreasing oil secretion and killing the bacteria.
Is it dangerous? It is not dangerous, but untreated inflammatory acne often leaves lifelong permanent facial scars. Acne is not a condition "that everyone must go through" it is a disease of the skin that is treatable and controllable.
Can it be cured? The treatment program I put you on will help control or clear this disorder, but it is not a cure. Even if the acne is totally cleared, you will still be predisposed to have repeat episodes. Don't expect a treatment that worked on a friend to be the best treatment for you. There are many varieties of acne and many different treatment plans. I will select a program that is best for your particular type of acne.
How long will it last? Most acne patients require continuous therapy for several years. Many teenagers outgrow their acne, but it is common for some women to need treatment into their late thirties.
Will it spread? Acne typically stays localized to the face, back and chest.
Is it contagious? Acne is not contagious and you cannot "catch it" from anyone.