What Is Acne?

What is acne?

Acne is one of the most common skin diseases in the world today. It affects millions of people around the world and the surprising fact is that most people who have it do not even realize what it is, its symptoms, effects, what causes it or even how to treat it. This is quite unfortunate since the key to treating acne and effectively managing it lies in understanding the skin disease. 

The fact that most people do not even realize that they are victims of the disease means that they will start their treatments late, by which time it is will be too late. To avoid being one of the many, it is important that you know the answer to the simple question: what is acne?

So, what is acne? Acne is a skin disease that normally manifests itself as pimples, scaly red skin, pinheads, whiteheads and blackheads. It usually occurs on the areas of the human body which have the most skin pores such as the face, a person’s neck, the back area, chest and shoulders. Because acne occurs on various parts of the body, people sometimes classify it depending on the part that it affects, that is face acne, chin acne, chest acne, forehead acne, back acne, arm acne and so on.

In order to clearly understand what is acne, it is important to know what causes acne.

How Acne Arises

Simply put, it arises when the pores of the skin get blocked. This therefore prevents oil, which is usually produced by the inner skin layers, from passing to the skin surface. Other waste materials which the body gets rid of through the skin may also accumulate in the pores.

The clogging of this passage and the accumulation of oil and other material creates a perfect condition for bacteria to develop. Bacterial activity in the region under the skin is what then results to acne. The bacteria in the region and the length of time they have been allowed to stay there, determine the various types of acne.

The difference between inflammatory acne and non inflammatory acne solely depends on whether the follicular walls break or not. Where the walls break, the acne will be inflammatory. Where the walls do not break, the acne will be non inflammatory. This will largely depend on how severe it is.

Various terminologies are used to refer to acne. Most medical professionals refer to it as Acne Vulgaris, which is a technical term. It is also referred to as cystic acne in some quarters. Most people however prefer to it depending on what effects acne has on their skin. Most people refer to it as pimples though.

Who does Acne Affect?

Acne is a skin disease that mostly affects people undergoing puberty. It is believed that this is so because of the act that at this stage, most people are experiencing hormonal variations, most of which are responsible for causing acne. While it is true that it mainly affects adolescents, this does not mean that adults cannot get it.

Usually, acne is not a permanent skin condition. In most of the people affected by the disease, it clears up on its own. The period within which it clears varies, however, with some people carrying it way into adult hood.
This pretty much sums up the answer to the question what is acne.  Looking at acne pictures will help you to get a better idea of what acne is.

Causes of Acne

What Causes Acne?

Blockage of skin pores is what causes the development of acne in the skin. When the skin pores get blocked, oil (sebum) which is usually produced by the skin glands gets trapped below the skin surface. At this point, the acne may manifest in the form of non-inflammatory acne which is basically whiteheads and blackheads.

The oil and other unwanted materials that the body usually gets rid of through the skin form a perfect environment for a bacterial attack. When this bacteria attacks the clogged pores, this results in inflammation of the skin. This is what causes acne to be painful and to have a reddened look. With time, the bacteria may infect deeper layers of the skin, and when this happens, an acne cyst will form. 

An acne cyst is usually painful when touched and usually occurs when acne is at an advanced stage. The scars left on the skin after this type of acne clears tend to be more visible. Acne cysts sometimes tend to leave permanent acne scars on the skin of the person infected.

However, this seems to be just the process of acne formation an development and not really the underlying causes of acne. The real causes of acne have to do with things that in the first place cause the excessive production of sebum and the resultant clogging. There are various factors which dermatologists have identified to be causes of acne. The following are the most common causes of acne.

Hormones and Acne

This is believed to be one of the reasons why acne is prevalent in people undergoing puberty. During puberty, a person experiences rapid growth. This growth is triggered and sustained by hormones released by the body. 

Some of the hormones released during this stage of growth and development cause an increase in the level of sebum produced. They also cause hair follicles to grow. The increased rate of growth of hair follicles and the excessive production of sebum thus results in the skin pores being clogged.

In later stages of life, although acne vulgaris may develop, it is rare. Similar symptoms to those caused by acne vulgaris may occur due to rosacea, but this is not true acne. However, in adult women, acne vulgaris may occur when they are pregnant, undergoing menopause or when experiencing other disorders due to the hormonal changes that may result.

Genetics and Acne

Studies have conclusively found that there is a connection between can and genetics. People whose parents or close relatives have acne tend to also develop the skin disease. This is so especially in cases in which people develop it early in life or whose acne never clears up with time.

Stress and Acne

While there are conflicting studies as to whether stress actually causes acne, most of the studies agree that stress causes an increase in acne severity. Therefore, people who have acne and continuously subject themselves to stressful situations are likely to have their condition worsen.

Stress has been pointed out by The National Institutes of Health (USA) as one of the factors that can trigger an acne flare. Given this relationship between acne and stress, it is advisable for people who get exposed to stressful situations to learn how to manage stress so as to avoid making their conditions worse.

Acne and Bacteria

Propionibacterium acnes, usually abbreviated as P. acnes, is the bacterium that is believed to cause acne. This bacterium is believed to be the cause of increased acne inflammation. However, other strains of bacteria have been associated with acne, although the studies are not conclusive.

Bacteria are however responsible for most of the resulting acne complications. Their negative effects on acne affected skin may be worsened if one does not keep clean.

Diet and Acne

Most studies carried out have associated sugars with severe acne conditions. A relationship has also been found to exist between the intake of milk and worsening of acne conditions.

There have also been other associations between acne and chocolate and also acne and salt, but all these studies have been inconclusive with others giving conflicting results. Most people associate these foods with acne mainly because they contain some of the substances that are thought to enhance acne. Other than that, there is actually o evidence linking a particular food to acne (see Diet and Acne).

Effects of Acne

Generally, the effects of acne fall into two broad categories. They include:

  •      Physical effects
  •      Psychological Effects.

The physical effects of acne are effects that can easily be seen by the human eye. They are the effects that are visible to the naked eye.  Psychological effects of acne are effects that affect ones psychology. These effects are not visible to the naked eye. It is the impact that acne has on ones thinking and how they view or feel about themselves.

Physical Effects of Acne

Acne Scars

Acne scars aye the most common visible physical effects of acne. Acne scars occur due to the fact that the skin does not heal completely after an acne infection. They occur due to the fact that the skin tissue is usually damaged after having an acne infection. 

The body repairs this damaged skin tissue through white blood cells and other inflammatory molecules. After this process, the repaired skin rarely regains its original state. The resultant effect is that acne scars will form on the skin.

However, this does not mean that all people get the same scars. The scarring that one develops largely depends on the type of acne that one has and its severity. It is also genetic since some people’s acne completely clears up, while some people live with acne scars for most f their lives.

Some scars take a shorter time to clear than others. Scars also differ in terms of their color, size and appearance. All this depends on the severity of the acne, how long it took to clear, the type of pimple and whether there was a secondary infection or not.

Acne scars are of two major types of scars that develop in acne patients. One has either atrophic scars or hypertrophic scars. A person may also develop flat pigmented marks, but these are rare.

Atrophic acne scars appear as indentations on the skin surface. They appear as small pits on the surface of the skin once acne clears. This type of scarring usually develops as a result of the continued contraction of the skin layers while the skin attempts to heal after an acne infection. 

Atrophic scars vary in depth and width. The depth and width of the scars usually depends on the severity of the acne. It is usually a reflection of the amount of collagen and fat that has been lost from the kin surface as a result of acne. 

Atrophic acne scars are the most common type of scars in people with acne. They are sometimes referred to as depressed scars. This is because they appear like depressions on the skin of a person. They are sometimes referred to as pitted scars for the same reason.

Hypertrophic acne scars are the other common type of acne scars. They appear as raised masses of tissues. They appear as bumps on the skin surface. They usually appear as a result of overproduction of collagen during the healing process of the skin. This mass of collagen collects under the skin and thus causing the bumps.

Pain and increased sensitivity

Pain and increased sensitivity of the skin surface is another common effect of acne. Skin with acne can be very painful when touched and thus may cause excruciating pain to the patient.

However, not all types of acne are painful. Only the inflammatory types of acne are painful. The intensity of the pain will largely depend on the severity of the acne. 

The more severe the acne, the more painful it is likely to be. The less severe the acne, the less painful it is likely to be. Secondary infections may also increase the pain that one feels. This is the reason why it is always advisable to maintain high standards of hygiene when one has acne.

Psychological Effects of Acne

The psychological effects of acne are a huge concern mainly because acne commonly affects people in their teen years. This is a crucial stage in the development of a person since it is the age of self awareness. At this stage, physical appearance plays a huge role in determining a person’s opinion about themselves and society in general. 

Acne affects the physical appearance of a person and thus having various psychological effects on persons with acne. However, this does not however mean that only teens are susceptible to the psychological effects of acne. Adults too are vulnerable to the psychological effects.

Self esteem and body image

Acne scars are visible to the outside world. Persons with acne therefore tend to feel that they are less beautiful or less attractive than their peers with no acne. Not having flawless skin due to acne therefore affects their self esteem and negatively impacts their body image.

Social withdrawal and relationship building

Social withdrawal is common among most people with acne. In the case of teenagers, they may be taunted by their peers and thus making them to feel out of place. This may cause one to further withdraw into themselves and thus preventing them from relating normally with their peers.

The fact that acne affects a person’s self esteem also means that he or she will tend to be shy or unreasonably hostile around the opposite sex. People with acne may feel inadequate to develop the social bonds necessary to develop meaningful relationships.

Education and Work 

Studies show that self confidence plays a huge role in determining a person’s success at the home, school and work. The fact that acne may cause negative self-esteem means that it eventually leads to one not reaching their true potential. 

Acne may also limit a person’s options in terms of career choices especially ones that put emphasis on appearance such as modeling. 


Studies show that depression is common in most acne patients. In fact, acne has been associated as one of the causes for suicides. 

Signs of depression may include: loss of appetite, spontaneous crying, mood swings, lethargy and insomnia. It is important to detect and manage depression as soon as these signs manifest.

Types of Acne

Acne may be classified depending on the part of the body it affects. Acne which affects the face will then be referred to as face acne. Acne which affects the arms will be referred to as arms acne. The one affecting the buttocks will be referred to as buttocks acne and so on.

The other categorization of acne has to do with the types of people that the acne affects. The age of the persons affected is considered when coming up with the classes of acne under this categorization so that we end up with: baby acne, teenage acne and adult acne.

Acne may also be classified depending on how severe it is i.e. the level of acne infection. Under this classification of acne, the following types of acne are to be found: mild acne, normal acne and severe acne.

The above are the major classifications of acne and although there are no significant differences in the types of acne, there may be variations in the common causes of the acne, the appearance or even the type of treatment to be adopted.

What you should keep in mind is that the different categorizations are not exclusive, that is: baby acne may be mild, severe or normal. It may also be face acne, buttocks acne, arms acne etc. Also, face acne may be mild, normal or severe depending on the level of infection that one experiences.

Acne Scars

After a person suffers from acne, there are usually some scars that are left on the person’s face. These scars are what are called acne scars. The scars vary in appearance and size from person to person and also depending on the severity of the acne infection.

Generally, there are two broad types of acne scars that an infected person can have. Some people have pigmented scars on their skins while others have what are commonly referred to as pitted scars. The difference in the scars has to do with the extent of skin damage that was caused by the infection.

Where the acne is very intense, it can cause extensive damage to the tissue below the upper layer of the skin. This usually happens in cases where it is not detected early enough and the treatment is delayed. The result is usually that there will occur on the skin scars which almost resemble small pits. These can cause a lot of changes on the person’s skin texture. They may also end up extensive psychological damage.

Pigmented scars occur due to a less severe acne infection as compared to one which causes pitted scars. This type of scarring is usually associated when a normal acne infection clears up. The scars usually appear as pigments which are of either brown or red color. 

Although they are not conspicuous as the pitted scars, they still cause a change in the appearance of one’s skin. One may however still need to use treatment in order to clear the scars.

It has been observed that most of the acne scars occur due to pinching or squeezing of acne or when it has been left untreated for a long time. Depending on the person and the intensity of the infection causing the scarring, the scars take different periods to heal. They may sometimes take 12 months to disappear, while in other instances, they may last the person’s lifetime.

While there is no known instant cure of acne scars, using acne scar treatments may actually help in making the scars disappear. This is because most of these treatments have been specially designed to help the skin heal. 

Diet and Acne

Diet plays an important role in our general wellbeing. It practically influences every aspect of our lives as it determines how efficient and effective our bodies will be in carrying its normal functions. The question that most people suffering from acne ask is: is there a relationship between acne and diet?

The truth is that the research carried out in this area is inconclusive with some offering conflicting results. While some nutrients or food substances have been found to either worsen or improve acne conditions, the evidence for these conclusions either does not exist or is not comprehensive enough.

Study Shows: There is a Possible Relationship between Acne and Diet

While some label claims of there being a relationship between acne and diet as one of the many acne myths, some hold that this is true. People who believe that there ought to be a relationship between acne and diet base their argument on the fact that the food we take affects each and every aspect of our lives including our immune system and general health.

The RMIT University of Australia together with the Royal Melbourne Hospital Department of Dermatology conducted a study sometimes back on whether there can be any link between acne and diet. The studies carried out found out that foods which had a high glycemic index had an impact on acne. 

They concluded so given the fact that they were responsible for the increase of in the levels of insulin and glucose. Foods with a lower glycemic index were found to substantially decrease the level of severity of the persons having acne.

Foods likely to cause Acne

In carrying out the study above, the researchers fed one group with foods such as pasta, whole grain bread, legumes and other foods with high protein content. The other group was put on a diet that encompassed sugary drinks, potatoes, white bread and other snacks.

At the end of the study period, 12 weeks, the people in the first group were found to have an estimated 50% in acne levels. People in the other groups were not as lucky.

While the results of the study are said to be preliminary and that further research is needed, it established a relationship between acne and diet. Some foods are more likely to trigger an acne flare up than others.

What this Acne-Diet Relationship Implies to People with Acne

The studies conducted over the last few years have not been conclusive, but this does not mean that people suffering from acne should not take care of what they eat. A healthy diet will definitely improve your health, even with regard to acne.

Most of the studies tend to increasingly point out that highly processed foods, with a lot of sugars and fats, somehow affect the severity of acne while a diet with a lot of fresh vegetables, fresh fruits and whole grains is likely to help clear up acne.

This should definitely give you a guideline as to what foods you should avoid when suffering from acne and which foods you should include in your diet. The fact that the studies on acne and diet are not conclusive does not mean that people suffering from acne should live blindly.

There are acne free diets that have been developed by various nutritionists and dermatologists that have been based on the various findings of like studies. These acne dietshave been helpful to some people in helping them get rid of acne.