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Acne, more than "just pimples"

Published on September 19, 2016 at 11:12 / Updated on May 8, 2018 at 20:53

In Canada, among young people aged 12 to 24, about 85% have acne. For some, only a few pimples come and go over time, without affecting their life. For others, acne is a severe skin problem that affects their skin’s appearance but also can cause major emotional distress.

Acne is a skin condition that arises mainly because there is too much sebum in the skin. Sebum is an oily substance essential for healthy skin when present in normal amounts. During adolescence, fueled by hormonal changes, the oil-producing glands can start to produce too much sebum. This sebum combined with dead skin cells clog the skin’s pores which causes the pimples. 

Acne most often affects the face, but it can also be present on the neck, the back, the chest and the shoulders. There are several types of “pimples”:

  • Open comedones are skin pores clogged with sebum and dead cells that remain partially open. They are also known as blackheads because of the small black cap on their surface.
  • Closed comedones are also blocked pores, but they are closed over at the surface. We often see a small white dot on their surface, hence their other name of "whiteheads".
  • Pustules are clogged skin pores filled with pus, and circled by redness (a sign of inflammation). Pustules may feel tender when touched.
  • Papules are small, red, hard, bumps. They may feel sore and sometimes have a rough sensation, like sandpaper. 
  • Cysts are pus-filled bumps that extend deep into the skin. They are red, swollen and painful. 
  • Nodules are large, red, solid bumps that extend deep in the skin and are often painful. 

A person is said to have mild acne if she only has pimples on the face, which may include open and closed comedones along with a few papules or pustules. When lesions are numerous and extend to other areas, it is most likely moderate acne, and if cysts or nodules are also present, severe acne. 

Mild acne can usually be managed with over the counter acne products. Don’t hesitate to ask your pharmacist to help you choose the right product. Because moderate and severe acne can leave permanent scars on the skin, it is recommended that those afflicted seek medical advice. A prescription treatment is probably best suited to their needs. It may be a topical cream or a pill, depending on severity. For women, taking a hormonal contraceptive (such as the pill) may help to normalize hormone levels and manage acne.

For more information about acne, talk to your pharmacist or visit the Acne and Rosacea Society of Canada’s website.

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