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Acne is the most common skin problem that young people have. Almost everyone will develop acne to some degree, but some people have more pimples than others. Acne is not a skin problem that is treated quickly and then never comes back again. It requires time, patience, and consistent use of any medications you are given.
The exact cause of acne is unknown. It is usually the result of several factors combined:
A pimple starts when a pore (an opening in the skin) gets plugged up. The pore has a tiny hair in it and oil glands at its base (Picture 1). During adolescence the skin cells lining the pores are shed quickly. The cells and oil stick together to form sebum, which plugs the pore. If the pore is open, the result is a blackhead. If the pore is closed, a whitehead is formed.
The whitehead is the beginning of a pimple. It forms when the sebum escapes from the pore wall and gets under the skin. The body tries to clean out the sebum and brings in the white blood cells to do the work. The result is a pimple. When the sebum gets deeper under the skin, a cyst can form. A cyst is a deep and uncomfortable swelling of the skin.
Unless they are squeezed, blackheads do not usually cause pimples. Blackheads are not black from dirt, but from certain skin pigments (coloring) in the cells of the pores.
There are many different medicines used to treat acne.
Medicated creams or gels that are put on the skin are used often. The doctor will tell you when to apply the medication. Generally a thin layer of the medicine is spread to all areas where the acne can be. For many patients the medications can be used for areas of acne on the back and chest as well as the face. Sometimes the medicines can make your skin red and dry, especially at first.
It often takes 1 to 2 months before you can see real improvement in your acne. At first your skin may actually seem worse. Be patient. Don't give up!
The doctor may also prescribe an antibiotic for you to take by mouth. Be sure to read the special instructions and warnings on the medicine's label. Let your doctor know if you are taking any other medicines including birth control pills, antihistamines, asthma medicines and vitamins. Also, let your doctor know if you may be pregnant or are planning a pregnancy.
If you have any questions, be sure to ask your doctor or nurse, or call your doctor’s office.
HH-I-48 11/85, Revised 9/11 Copyright 1985-2011, Nationwide Children's Hospital