What is Acne and Why It Attacks During Puberty?

Tonight is the big night. You’ve been looking forward to the school dance all week. Now it’s almost time to go. You glance in the mirror while you’re washing your face.What’s that on the tip of your nose? It’s big and awful. It’s a zit! “Why me?” you cry.

If you have that common skin disorder called acne, you’re not alone. Close to 90 percent of all teenagers are bothered by acne sometime between the ages of twelve and seventeen.For some it’s only an occasional pimple or so. But for others it could mean painful red sores all over the face, neck, chest, and back.Most people grow out of acne by their late teens, but for some it can last until their twenties, thirties, and forties. Acne can also leave behind scars that cause psychological stress for a person’s whole life.

Most people don’t think of acne as a disease or a disorder. It’s just one of those awful things teenagers have to face while growing up, and there’s really nothing much you can do about it.

Not so! 

Why people get acne is still partly a mystery and, like the common cold, acne has no cure. But skin specialists and researchers know enough about acne so that almost every case is treatable.

Although doctors are not sure exactly why it starts, they have a pretty good idea of how it develops. After all, they’ve had a long time to study acne. This condition has been around for as long as there have been people—teenagers have been plagued by acne for thousands of years.

Even if you’re a pharaoh, you may still have problems with acne.

King Tut, the best-known Egyptian pharaoh, was only in his teens when he died. Scientists can tell that this famous teenager had the same problems with pimples as teens do today. Various medications were put in Tutankhamen’s tomb to help treat his acne problem in the afterlife.

Everyone knows what the blotches, blackheads, and pimples of acne look like, but there are many myths and misconceptions about this condition. Lots of people have lots of different ideas about what causes acne and how to get rid of it.

Generally, when we think of acne we think of acne vulgaris. (Vulgaris in Latin means “common.”) It is a disorder of the hair follicles and their attached oil glands in the skin, and its symptoms can vary from just a few pimples to many deep cysts.

Why Acne Attacks Teens and Adolescents

Most people get acne during adolescence. It seems unfair that this extra burden should be added, just when a boy or girl has so many other upsetting adjustments to cope with. But the acne process seems to be linked with the whole sweeping complex of changes that occur in the adolescent body.

During the teen years the body is flooded with hormones that stimulate many changes. Hormones are chemicals that help to control and coordinate body processes. Different hormones are produced to regulate nearly everything that goes on inside us. Growth hormones stimulate growth, for example, and sex hormones control sexual development. Adolescence is a time when both these types are produced in abundance.

At puberty the pituitary gland, the master gland that is found at the base of the brain, tells the body to start making sex hormones. In boys the main sex hormone that is produced is testosterone, which is made in the testes. In girls estrogen and progesterone are produced in the ovaries. Testosterone and progesterone are chemically very similar, and together with the estrogen’s, they belong to a class of compounds called steroids.

In addition to sparking a rapid growth and development of the sex organs, the sex hormones stimulate the formation of secondary sex characteristics, such as breasts in a woman and facial hair in a man. They also cause the oil glands in the skin to grow larger and secrete more oil. Sometimes, though, too much oil is produced. This may result in acne.

Most adolescents eventually outgrow acne. That is, it usually goes away by itself. But it may be years before it stays away. During that time, many teenagers often feel uncomfortable about their “spotty” complexions. They may feel awkward about the way they look and tend to shy away from people and activities because of their self-consciousness. Worse yet, in severe cases scars can remain behind to haunt a person for the rest of his or her life. Many people will try anything to get rid of their acne problems.
Unfortunately, there is no miracle cure for acne. No injection will cause pimples to disappear overnight and stay away. You can’t take a pill to banish unsightly spots. Controlling acne is something that has to be worked on every day, and treatments do not produce immediate results. Often it takes one to two months of treatment before an acne problem is finally under control. Even then you have to continue the treatment, or else the pimples may come back.

You may be able to keep an acne problem under control by yourself. Nearly 90 percent of all people with acne don’t go to a doctor. Instead, they try to deal with their acne by using one of the countless products available from supermarkets and drugstores. However, if you decide your acne is too much for you to handle on your own, you may wish to see your family doctor or a skin specialist, called a dermatologist, for help.

Even with a dermatologist, the battle against acne is a team effort. You will have to follow your doctor’s recommendations carefully every day.

Whether you fight acne with a doctor’s help or on your own, you should know as much as possible about it so that you can understand what’s going on in your body and how you can best help conquer those annoying spots. This book will help you by describing how pimples form and what today’s medical specialists know about the causes of acne. In later chapters you’ll find out how to treat pimples on your own, when you need to see a specialist, and what a dermatologist can do to help. But first let’s find out more about the part of the body that acne affects most directly—the skin.

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