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Acne Vulgaris (commonly called Acne) is an inflammatory disease of the skin, caused by changes in the pilosebaceous units (skin structures consisting of a hair follicle and its associated sebaceous gland). Acne lesions are commonly referred to as pimples, spots, or zits.
Acne is most common during adolescence, affecting more than 85% of teenagers, and frequently continues into adulthood.  For most people, acne diminishes over time and tends to disappear, or at least decrease, after one reaches his or her early twenties. There is, however, no way to predict how long it will take for it to disappear entirely, and some individuals will continue to suffer from acne decades later, into their thirties and forties and even beyond.
The term acne comes from a corruption of the Greek άκμή (acme in the sense of a skin eruption) in the writings of Aëtius Amidenus. The vernacular term bacne or backne is often used to indicate acne found specifically on one's back.
The most common form of acne is known as "acne vulgaris", meaning "common acne." Many teenagers get this type of acne.
The face and upper neck are the most commonly affected, but the chest, back and shoulders may have acne as well. The upper arms can also have acne, but lesions found there are often keratosis pilaris, not acne. The typical acne lesions are comedones and inflammatory papules, pustules, and nodules. Some of the large nodules were previously called "cysts" and the term nodulocystic has been used to describe severe cases of inflammatory acne. 
Aside from scarring, its main effects are psychological, such as reduced self-esteem and, according to at least one study, depression or suicide. Acne usually appears during adolescence, when people already tend to be most socially insecure. Early and aggressive treatment is therefore advocated by some to lessen the overall impact to individuals.
Causes of acne
Acne develops as a result of blockages in follicles. Hyperkeratinization and formation of a plug of keratin and sebum (a microcomedo) is the earliest change. Enlargement of sebaceous glands and an increase in sebum production occur with increased androgen (DHEA-S) production at adrenarche. The microcomedo may enlarge to form an open comedo (blackhead) or closed comedo (whitehead). In these conditions the naturally occurring largely commensual bacteria Propionibacterium acnes can cause inflammation, leading to inflammatory lesions (papules, infected pustules, or nodules) in the dermis around the microcomedo or comedo, which results in redness and and may result in scarring or hyperpigmentation.
There are many misconceptions and myths about acne.
Exactly why some people get acne and some do not is not fully known. It is known to be partly hereditary. Several factors are known to be linked to acne:
Several hormones have been linked to acne: the androgens testosterone, dihydrotestosterone (DHT) and dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS), as well as insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-I). In addition, acne-prone skin has been shown to be insulin resistant.
Development of acne vulgaris in later years is uncommon, although this is the age group for Rosacea which may have similar appearances. True acne vulgaris in adults may be a feature of an underlying condition such as pregnancy and disorders such as polycystic ovary syndrome or the rare Cushing's syndrome. Menopause-associated acne occurs as production of the natural anti-acne ovarian hormone estradiol fails at menopause. The lack of estradiol also causes thinning hair, hot flashes, thin skin, wrinkles, vaginal dryness, and predisposes to osteopenia and osteoporosis as well as triggering acne (known as acne climacterica in this situation).
A recent study, based on a survey of 47,335 women, did find a positive epidemiological association between acne and consumption of partially skimmed milk, instant breakfast drink, sherbet, cottage cheese, and cream cheese. The researchers hypothesize that the association may be caused by hormones (such as several sex hormones and bovine IGF-I) present in cow milk. Though there is evidence of an association between milk and acne, the exact cause is unclear. Most dermatologists are awaiting confirmatory research linking diet and acne but some support the idea that acne sufferers should experiment with their diets, and refrain from consuming such fare if they find such food affects the severity of their acne.
Seafood often contains relatively high levels of iodine. Iodine is known to make existing acne worse but there is probably not enough to cause an acne outbreak. Still, people who are prone to acne may want to avoid excessive consumption of foods high in iodine.
High carbohydrates/High GI
It has also been suggested that there is a link between a diet high in refined sugars and other processed foods and acne. The theory is that rapidly digested carbohydrate food such as white bread and refined sugars produces an overload in metabolic glucose that is rapidly converted into the types of fat that can build up in sebaceous glands. According to this hypothesis, the startling absence of acne in non-westernized societies could be explained by the low glycemic index of these cultures' diets. Others have cited possible genetic reasons for there being no acne in these populations, but similar populations shifting to these diets do develop acne. Note also that the populations studied consumed no milk or other dairy products. Further research is necessary to establish whether a reduced consumption of high-glycemic foods (such as soft drinks, sweets, white bread) can significantly alleviate acne, though consumption of high-glycemic foods should in any case be kept to a minimum, for general health reasons. Avoidance of 'junk food' with its high fat and sugar content is also recommended. On the other hand there is no evidence that fat alone makes skin oilier or acne worse.
One study[specify] suggested that chocolate, french fries, potato chips and sugar, among others, affect acne. Its results suggested that a high GI (glycemic index) diet that causes sharp rises in blood sugar worsens acne.  If this study's conclusions are verified then a low GI diet may help acne also, but a 2005 review of somewhat dated scientific literature cannot affirm either way. A study in November 2006 in Australia gave a 50% reduction in 12 weeks in mild-moderate facial acne by introducing its subjects to a high protein, low GI diet. 
The American Medical Association says chocolate does not contribute to acne. 
A recent study shows that a diet high enough in sugars triggers the liver to convert these sugars into lipid; as a side-effect this stops production of Sex hormone binding globulin- a chemical which reduces the level of testosterone in the blood. Since high testosterone levels generally trigger acne, the researchers believe that this can be a cause.
Vitamins A and E
Studies have shown that newly diagnosed acne patients tend to have lower levels of vitamin A circulating in their bloodstream than those that are acne free. In addition people with severe acne also tend to have lower blood levels of vitamin E.
Acne is not caused by dirt. This misconception probably comes from the fact that blackheads look like dirt stuck in the openings of pores. The black color is not dirt but simply oxidised keratin. In fact, the blockages of keratin that cause acne occur deep within the narrow follicle channel, where it is impossible to wash them away. These plugs are formed by the failure of the cells lining the duct to separate and flow to the surface in the sebum created there by the body.
There are many products sold for the treatment of acne, many of them without any scientifically-proven effects. Generally speaking successful treatments give little improvement within the first week or two; and then the acne decreases over approximately 3 months, after which the improvement starts to flatten out. Many treatments that promise big improvements within 2 weeks are likely to be largely disappointing. However short bursts of cortisone can give very quick results, and other treatments can rapidly improve some active spots, but not usually all active spots.
Modes of improvement are not necessarily fully understood but in general treatments are believed to work in at least 4 different ways (with many of the best treatments providing multiple simultaneous effects:
A combination of treatments can greatly reduce the amount and severity of acne in many cases. Those treatments that are most effective tend to have greater potential for side effects and need a greater degree of monitoring, so a step-wise approach is often taken. Many people consult with doctors when deciding which treatments to use, especially when considering using any treatments in combination. There are a number of treatments that have been proven effective:
Local heating may be used to kill the bacteria in a developing pimple and so speed healing. 
Widely available OTC bactericidal products containing benzoyl peroxide may be used in mild to moderate acne. The gel or cream containing benzoyl peroxide is rubbed, twice daily, into the pores over the affected region. Bar soaps or washes may also be used and vary from 2 to 10% in strength. In addition to its therapeutic effect as a keratolytic (a chemical that dissolves the keratin plugging the pores) benzoyl peroxide also prevents new lesions by killing P.acnes. Benzoyl peroxide often gives clearance rates of 60-70% after 6 weeks, improvements often continue with longer use.Unlike antibiotics, benzoyl peroxide has the advantage of being a strong oxidizer (essentially a mild bleach) and thus does not appear to generate bacterial resistance. However, it routinely causes dryness, local irritation and redness. A sensible regimen may include the daily use of low-concentration (2.5%) benzoyl peroxide preparations, combined with suitable non-comedogenic moisturisers to help avoid overdrying the skin.
Care must be taken when using benzoyl peroxide, as it can very easily bleach any fabric or hair it comes in contact with.
Other antibacterials that have been used include triclosan, or chlorhexidine gluconate but these are often less effective.
Prescription-strength benzoyl peroxide preparations do not necessarily differ with regard to the maximum concentration of the active ingredient (10%), but the drug is made available dissolved in a vehicle that more deeply penetrates the pores of the skin.
Externally applied antibiotics such as erythromycin, clindamycin, Stiemycin or tetracycline aim to kill the bacteria that are harbored in the blocked follicles. Whilst topical use of antibiotics is equally as effective as oral, this method avoids possible side effects of stomach upset or drug interactions (e.g. it will not affect the oral contraceptive pill), but may prove awkward to apply over larger areas than just the face alone.
Oral antibiotics used to treat acne include erythromycin or one of the tetracycline antibiotics (tetracycline, the better absorbed oxytetracycline, or one of the once daily doxycycline, minocycline or lymecycline). Trimethoprim is also sometimes used (off-label use in UK). However, reducing the P. acnes bacteria will not, in itself, do anything to reduce the oil secretion and abnormal cell behaviour that is the initial cause of the blocked follicles. Additionally the antibiotics are becoming less and less useful as resistant P. acnes are becoming more common. Acne will generally reappear quite soon after the end of treatment—days later in the case of topical applications, and weeks later in the case of oral antibiotics.
It has been found that sub-antimicrobial doses of antibiotics such as minocycline also improve acne. It is believed that minocycline's anti-inflammatory effect also prevents acne. These low doses do not kill bacteria and hence cannot induce resistance. Oral antibiotics such as Doxycycline have better results on the treatment of acne. and generally will work better if started with at a higher dose.
In females, acne can be improved with hormonal treatments. The common combined oestrogen/progestogen methods of hormonal contraception have some effect, but the anti-testosterone, Cyproterone, in combination with an oestrogen (Diane 35) is particularly effective at reducing androgenic hormone levels. Diane-35 is not available in the USA, but a newer oral contraceptive containing the progestin drospirenone is now available with fewer side effects than Diane 35 / Dianette. Both can be used where blood tests show abnormally high levels of androgens, but are effective even when this is not the case. Along with this, treatment with low dose spironolactone can have anti-androgenetic properties, especially in patients with polycystic ovarian syndrome.
If a pimple is large and/or does not seem to be affected by other treatments, a dermatologist may administer an injection of cortisone directly into it, which will usually reduce redness and inflammation almost immediately. This has the effect of flattening the pimple, thereby making it easier to cover up with makeup, and can also aid in the healing process. Side effects are minimal, but may include a temporary whitening of the skin around the injection point; and occasionally a small depression forms, which may persist, although often fills eventually. This method also carries a much smaller risk of scarring than surgical removal.
A group of medications for normalizing the follicle cell lifecycle are topical retinoids such as tretinoin (brand name Retin-A), adapalene (brand name Differin) and tazarotene (brand name Tazorac). Like isotretinoin, they are related to vitamin A, but they are administered as topicals and generally have much milder side effects. They can, however, cause significant irritation of the skin. The retinoids appear to influence the cell creation and death lifecycle of cells in the follicle lining. This helps prevent the hyperkeratinization of these cells that can create a blockage. Retinol, a form of vitamin A, has similar but milder effects and is used in many over-the-counter moisturizers and other topical products. Effective topical retinoids have been in use over 30 years but are available only on prescription so are not as widely used as the other topical treatments. Topical retinoids often cause an initial flare up of acne and facial flushing (physiology).
A daily oral intake of vitamin A derivative isotretinoin (marketed as Accutane, Sotret, Claravis) over a period of 4-6 months can cause long-term resolution or reduction of acne. It is believed that isotretinoin works primarily by reducing the secretion of oils from the glands, however some studies suggest that it affects other acne-related factors as well. Isotretinoin has been shown to be very effective in treating severe acne and can either improve or clear well over 80% of patients. The drug has a much longer effect than anti-bacterial treatments and will often cure acne for good. The treatment requires close medical supervision by a dermatologist because the drug has many known side effects (many of which can be severe). About 25% of patients may relapse after one treatment. In those cases, a second treatment for another 4-6 months may be indicated to obtain desired results. It is often recommended that one lets a few months pass between the two treatments, because the condition can actually improve somewhat in the time after stopping the treatment and waiting a few months also gives the body a chance to recover. Occasionally a third or even a fourth course is used, but the benefits are often less substantial. The most common side effects are dry skin and occasional nosebleeds (secondary to dry nasal mucosa). Oral retinoids also often cause an initial flare up of acne within a month or so, which can be severe. There are reports that the drug has damaged the liver of patients. For this reason, it is recommended that patients have blood samples taken and examined before and during treatment. In some cases, treatment is terminated or reduced due to elevated liver enzymes in the blood, which might be related to liver damage. Others claim that the reports of permanent damage to the liver are unsubstantiated, and routine testing is considered unnecessary by some dermatologists. Blood triglycerides also need to be monitored. However, routine testing are part of the official guidelines for the use of the drug in many countries. Some press reports suggest that isotretinoin may cause depression but as of September 2005 there is no agreement in the medical literature as to the risk. The drug also causes birth defects if women become pregnant while taking it or take it while pregnant. For this reason, female patients are required to use two separate forms of birth control or vow abstinence while on the drug. Because of this, the drug is supposed to be given to females as a last resort after milder treatments have proven insufficient. Restrictive rules (see iPledge Program) for use were put into force in the USA beginning in March 2006 to prevent misuse. This has occasioned widespread editorial comment.
'Blue' and red light
It has long been known that short term improvement can be achieved with sunlight. However, studies have shown that sunlight worsens acne long-term. More recently, visible light has been successfully employed to treat acne (Phototherapy) - in particular intense violet light (405-420nm) generated by purpose-built fluorescent lighting, dichroic bulbs, LEDs or lasers. Used twice weekly, this has been shown to reduce the number of acne lesions by about 64%; and is even more effective when applied daily. The mechanism appears to be that a porphyrin (Coproporphyrin III) produced within P. acnes generates free radicals when irradiated by 420nm and shorter wavelengths of light. Particularly when applied over several days, these free radicals ultimately kill the bacteria. Since porphyrins are not otherwise present in skin, and no UV light is employed, it appears to be safe, and has been licensed by the U.S. FDA. The treatment apparently works even better if used with red visible light (660 nanometer) resulting in a 76% reduction of lesions after 3 months of daily treatment for 80% of the patients; and overall clearance was similar or better than benzoyl peroxide. Unlike most of the other treatments few if any negative side effects are typically experienced, and the development of bacterial resistance to the treatment seems very unlikely. After treatment, clearance can be longer lived than is typical with topical or oral antibiotic treatments; several months is not uncommon. The equipment or treatment, however, is relatively new and reasonably expensive to buy initially, although the total cost of ownership can be similar to many other treatment methods (such as the total cost of benzoyl peroxide, moisturiser, washes) over a couple of years of use.
In addition, basic science and clinical work by dermatologists Yoram Harth and Alan Shalita and others has produced evidence that intense blue/violet light (405-425 nanometer) can decrease the number of inflammatory acne lesion by 60-70% in 4 weeks of therapy, particularly when the P.acnes is pretreated with delta-aminolevulinic acid (ALA), which increases the production of porphyrins. However this photodynamic therapy is controversial and apparently not published in a peer reviewed journal.
Laser surgery has been in use for some time to reduce the scars left behind by acne, but research has been done on lasers for prevention of acne formation itself. The laser is used to produce one of the following effects:
Since lasers and intense pulsed light sources cause thermal damage to the skin there are concerns that laser or intense pulsed light treatments for acne will induce hyperpigmented macules (spots) or cause long term dryness of the skin.
The FDA has approved several companies, such as Candela Corp. to use a cosmetic laser for the treatment of acne. However, efficacy studies have used very small sample sizes (fewer than 100 subjects) for periods of six months or less, and have shown contradictory results., Also, laser treatment being relatively new, protocols remain subject to experimentation and revision,, and treatment can be quite expensive. Also, some Smoothbeam laser devices had to be recalled due to coolant failure, which resulted in painful burn injuries to patients.
Less widely used treatments
History of some acne treatments
The history of acne reaches back to the dawn of recorded history. In Ancient Egypt, it is recorded that several pharaohs were acne sufferers. From Ancient Greece comes the English word 'acne' (meaning 'point' or 'peak'). Acne treatments are also of considerable antiquity:
A 2007 microbiology article reporting the first genome sequencing of a Propionibacterium acnes bacteriophage (PA6) said this "should greatly enhance the development of a potential bacteriophage therapy to treat acne and therefore overcome the significant problems associated with long-term antibiotic therapy and bacterial resistance."
Preferred treatments by types of acne vulgaris
Severe acne often leaves small scars where the skin gets a "volcanic" shape. Acne scars are difficult and expensive to treat, and it is unusual for the scars to be successfully removed completely.
Physical acne scars are often referred to as "Icepick" scars. This is because the scars tend to cause an indentation in the skin's surface. There are a range of treatments available.
Although quite rare, the medical condition Atrophia Maculosa Varioliformis Cutis results in "acne like" depressed scars on the face.
Ice pick scars - Deep pits, that are the most common and a classic sign of acne scarring.
Pigmented scars is a slightly misleading term, suggesting a change in the skin's pigmentation, and that they are true scars. Neither is true. Pigmented scars are usually the result of nodular or cystic acne (the painful 'bumps' lying under the skin). They often leave behind an inflamed red mark. Often, the pigmentation scars can be avoided simply by avoiding aggravation of the nodule or cyst. When sufferers try to 'pop' cysts or nodules, pigmentation scarring becomes significantly worse, and may even bruise the affected area. Pigmentation scars nearly always fade with time taking between 3 months to two years to do so, although rarely can persist.
On the other hand, some people, particularly people with naturally tanned skin do develop brown hyperpigmentation scars which is caused by a local increased production of the pigment melanin. These too typically fade over time.
There are multiple grading scales for grading the severity of acne vulgaris, three of these being: Leeds acne grading technique: Counts and categorises lesions into inflammatory and non-inflammatory (ranges from 0-10.0). 'Cook's acne grading scale: Uses photographs to grade severity from 0 to 8 (0 being the least severe and 8 being the most severe). Pillsbury scale: Simply classifies the severity of the acne from 1 (least severe) to 4 (most severe).
|This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Acne_vulgaris". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.|