Zoe (her name has been changed to protect confidentiality) couldn't wait for school to start to see all her friends again. She had just had her long hair trimmed and picked out the perfect outfit to wear. But when she walked past the hall mirror that morning, she noticed a bump on the side of her nose. As she peered in the mirror, a giant, red pimple glared back at her. She panicked. What would her friends say? Surely, they'd never seen anything this horrible! Finally, with some coaxing from her mother, Zoe gently washed her face, applied an acne cream, and was dressed in time for the school bus.
If there's one thing you can count on as a teen, it's acne. More than 85% of teenagers suffer from this skin problem, which is marked by clogged pores (whiteheads, blackheads), painful pimples, and, sometimes, hard, deep lumps on the face, neck, shoulders, chest, back, shoulders, and upper arms.
If your mom and dad had acne, the chances are good that you will, too. But there are many ways to prevent (and treat) acne today to keep the condition minimal, prevent scarring, and leave your skin glowing.
What Causes Acne?
To understand acne, you need to know how your skin works. The pores in your skin contain oil glands. At puberty, there is an increase in sex hormones called androgens. The excess hormones cause the oil glands to become overactive, enlarge, and produce too much oil, or sebum. When there is too much sebum, the pores or hair follicles become blocked with skin cells. The increase in oil also results in an overgrowth of bacteria called Propionibacterium acnes.
If blocked pores become infected or inflamed, a pimple -- a raised red spot with a white center -- forms. If the pore clogs, closes, and then bulges, you have a whitehead. A blackhead occurs when the pore clogs, stays open, and the top has a blackish appearance due to oxidation or exposure to air. (This has nothing to do with skin being "dirty").
When bacteria grow in the blocked pore, a pustule may appear, meaning the pimple becomes red and inflamed. Cysts form when the blockage and inflammation deep inside pores produce large, painful lumps beneath the skin's surface.
Hormonal changes related to birth control pills, menstrual periods, and pregnancy can trigger acne. Other external acne triggers include heavy face creams and cosmetics, hair dyes, and greasy hair ointment -- all of which can increase blockage of pores.
Clothing that rubs the skin may also worsen acne, especially on the back and chest. So can heavy sweating during exercise, and hot, humid climates. Stress is known to trigger increased oil production, which is why many teens have a new crop of pimples on the first day of school or just before that big date.