By Howard J. Bennett
Has this ever happened to you? You’re sitting at the dinner table admiring a juicy cheeseburger that’s begging to be eaten. As you reach down to grab the burger, your 15-year-old sister lets out a bloodcurdling scream from the upstairs bathroom. The scream is so piercing that you wonder if Freddie Kruger is in the house. Then, seconds later, your sister runs into her bedroom proclaiming that her life is over because she found a huge zit on her cheek!
Your skin does lots of things to keep you healthy. It keeps germs out, it produces sweat to help you cool off, and it makes oils that keep you smooth and soft on the outside. To accomplish this, your skin contains different types of glands that lie beneath its surface.
As far as acne goes, it’s the oil (sebaceous) glands that are to blame. When kids become adolescents, hormones stimulate their sebaceous glands as well as other parts of the body. When sebaceous glands are stimulated, they produce more oil (sebum). Although we have sebaceous glands all over our bodies, they are most prominent on the face, shoulders and upper part of the chest and back.
A pimple forms when excess sebum and dead skin cells become trapped within your pores, the tiny holes in your skin. In addition, a particular type of bacteria that lives on the skin has a field day feasting on these oils. (The scientific name of this obnoxious microbe is Propionibacterium acnes.) When P. acnes chows down on sebum, it creates byproducts that cause inflammation. Plugged pores and inflammation lead to the different types of lesions acne is famous for: blackheads, whiteheads, and pus-filled bumps.
Doctors treat acne by a using various products that kill P. acnes and thin the skin to eliminate and prevent more blackheads from forming.
Here are some additional things to know about acne.
• Wash your face once or twice a day with mild soap and water. Special pads that remove “hidden” dirt from your skin aren’t necessary.
• Don’t pop your pimples! Although you may succeed in spraying pus all over your mirror, the pimple will also pop beneath the surface, which can lead to a bigger, uglier zit.
• Eating fatty foods does not make acne worse.
• If you use acne medication that thins your skin, you will be more prone to sunburn. Don’t forget to use sunscreen when you go outside.
• Blackheads are not caused by dirt. They result from oil, black pigment (melanin) and dead skin cells that get trapped in pores.
• Acne creams take three or four weeks before they start to work and have to be used daily to continue to work.
• If you take oral antibiotics for acne, make sure you swallow the pill with plenty of water. If medicines like doxycycline dissolve in your esophagus (swallowing tube), you will develop a horrible sore throat. Also, don’t take the pill before bedtime because it could wash back into your esophagus, causing the same problem.
© 2012 Howard J. Bennett. All Rights Reserved.
(First published in the Washington Post 6/21/10.)
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