Acne vulgaris, or pimples, are nothing more than plugged-up skin pores (see diagram). Whether they are white heads, black heads, big or small, they are all just different stages of the same problem: blocked skin pores. The best way to understand acne is to understand the changes your skin undergoes with the release of sex hormones at puberty. - Oil production in the sebaceous glands (sebum) fills up the pores inside and seals them on the surface. - More solid skin debris (keratin) is produced and plugs the pore opening. Because these changes occur more on the face, shoulders, back, and chest, that's where acne is worst.


Blocked hair follicle pore builds up
skin oil and becomes infected.

Once the outlet for your skin oil gland is closed, the oily/waxy sebum builds up beneath the surface and causes a "white head." If the sebum is exposed to air but still stuck in the pore, it darkens into a "black head." Infection from bacteria or irritation causes swelling, redness, and pus. These infected cysts are the worst form of acne and can spread infection and cause permanent scarring.

Anything affecting the amount of skin oil, dead skin cells, dirt and other debris, or infectious bacteria will affect your acne in that area. Of course, the best way to prevent big, red, painful pimples is to stop squeezing and picking! This often just bursts the acne pore deep inside, enlarging and spreading the pimple.

Squeezing a pimple

Squeezing an infected pimple
or cyst causes infection to burst out
both above and below the skin,
spreading the infection and causing scars.

Try to think of acne prevention as one goal: keeping your pores open. You'll have to follow several steps every day for the best results:

An important note about tanning: it may temporarily improve your complexion, but it probably does so by damaging your skin and follicles. Premature aging and wrinkles can be visible in your 20's. So don't tan for the temporary improvement of acne.

By turning the suggestions above into consistent everyday habits, you may improve acne. If you don't get good results, OTC topical medication is the next step.

OTC treatment is aimed at breaking down solid debris blocking the pores and removing it. Following the suggestions below will help you achieve that goal.

Remember, consistency is very important in treating acne. So be sure to make the above routine a habit! Self-treating your acne with OTC medicines can improve your complexion, but not cure it. If you are not satisfied with the results, the next step is to see a doctor.

We must note that the active ingredient benzoyl peroxide is no longer a Category I agent. It remains highly effective and available in both prescription and OTC forms. However, the FDA has not seen evidence to conclusively prove its long-term safety. Since there is no firm evidence that it is unsafe, it remains available and widely used by physicians and the public.

Despite your best efforts as outlined above, sometimes acne gets out of control. If there are more than ten white heads and/or black heads on one side of the face, you should consult a physician. If there are more than three or four red, inflamed, pustular lesions on either side of the face, back, or chest, a doctor visit is also recommended. Combinations of certain prescription medications can be more effective than OTC products if your acne reaches this level of severity.

Additional Reading:
We have additional pages on such topics as acne cures and the causes of cystic acne. If your looking for alternative treatment, then our home remedies for curing acne and our blue light therapy acne treatment sections are definitely worth reading. Two of our most popular features are acne treatment coverup and natural ways to get rid of acne. If you're interested in natural acne skin care or acne laser treatment, be sure to take a look at those sections. Finally, for extensive information on acne treatments on all skin types including acne african american skin, be sure to look at our specialty skin care acne and how to get rid of blackheads pages. For information on acne scars treatment, take a look at our newest page on getting rid of acne scars.

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