The medical term — acne vulgaris — captures the condition pretty well: an
ugly, vulgar scourge that ravages the faces of many unfortunate adolescents.
Acne can leave lifelong scars, both physical and emotional. However, it’s
something that most guys assume is behind them once they hit their
But for some, that’s not the case. For some men, acne is like a bad credit
rating — no matter what they do, it won’t go away, and it keeps on humiliating
them. And like that of a bad credit rating, the cause of acne may not be
apparent. Stress, diet, too little sleep — all have been implicated. But
dermatologists usually can’t identify the cause for each patient.
Give it up, Ponce de León — there are no magical fountains of youth out
there, no miraculous ways to achieve a longer life. But while medical experts
caution against hormone supplements, vitamin overdoses, anti-aging pills,
extreme diets, and other dubious life extension tricks, there are some sound
ways for men to increase their chances for a long and healthy life. Much of the
advice is obvious: Don’t smoke, eat wisely, drink moderately, exercise
regularly, and get annual medical check-ups...
The result, however — the inflamed spots on the face and maybe the back too
— are plain for all to see. At least our credit ratings aren’t stamped on our
Adult acne may not be as severe as that experienced by adolescents, but it
can be bad enough to give men high school flashbacks and send them scrambling
for treatment. Fortunately, acne treatment is better than ever for teens and
adults. Why allow your self-worth to suffer when you can fight back?
The gross anatomy of a zit
No matter how smooth the skin on your face may look to the naked eye, it
actually consists of millions of follicles, each containing a tiny, almost
invisible hair. These follicles exude…stuff. For example, a fatty substance
called sebum empties into the follicles. Water from sweat glands climbs out of
them too. So does the skin’s natural oil.
As long as this stuff flows all the way out of the follicles, your skin will
look smooth and clear. Sometimes, however, the stuff gets stuck. If it gets
stuck below the surface of the skin, the back-up produces a whitehead. If the
stuff breaks through the top layer of skin and comes into contact with air,
oxygen will turn it black, transforming it into a blackhead. (Shaving too close
can produce an infection of the hair follicle known as folliculitis, which is
not typical acne even though it can be just as unsightly.)
When the trapped stuff gets backed up, pressure grows, stretching the walls
of the follicle. This may give bacteria a chance to multiply in the clogged
follicle, known as a comedo or sometimes incorrectly as a comedone. If the
follicle wall ruptures, your immune system will respond by sending cells to
attack the bacteria and other foreign matter in the comedo. In the ensuing
battle, the surrounding skin becomes red and inflamed. You might even see a
little pus full of dead bacteria and immune cells.
While acne in men may not be dangerous, it certainly can be distressing —
and it’s surprisingly common too. 17 million adults in the U.S. have acne, with
25% of them being men. Acne is also affecting more people after adolescence.
One 1999 study published in the Journal of the American Academy of
Dermatology found thatthe median age of people with acne has risen by
almost 23%, from 20.5 years to about 26.5 years.