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Factors Aggravating Acne

Acne (acne vulgaris) affects about 17 million people, mostly people between ages 12 and 25 (85%) in the US, which makes it the most common skin disorder. It involves the sebaceous glands, commonly referred to as oil glands and may occur on the face, chest, back and neck where these glands are most numerous. While sebaceous glands are supposed to produce oil, and indeed keeps the skin pliant and soft, it is at the onset of puberty that this becomes a problem.

Hormones prompt the glands into greater activity while inducing a more rapid shedding of dead skin. The dead skin cells are thought to build up and form whiteheads or blackheads (comedones), which alone will just produce bumps. Combined with the natural bacteria of the skin, however, the pores may become inflamed to become red and infected. Sometimes cysts may form. It may be of interest to know that the “black” in blackheads is not because it is dirty, but because it is oxidized, so having blackheads does not mean lack of hygiene.

Eventually, the hormones subside or the hygiene improves, but what seems safe to say is that acne breakouts are less common and severe in people beyond their late twenties. In general, the severity of the acne is a combination of several factors. Heredity is one of them. Another is friction and sweating, which increases acne lesions and bacteria. Identified items that will make acne worse are sweatbands or ball caps, tight helmets, backpacks and shoulder straps. Working in a warm and humid environment is also believed to exacerbate acne because it increases sweat production if allowed to dry on the skin and not cleansed properly. These include kitchens and construction sites as well as most gyms.

Some medications also have an effect on acne such as birth control pills, although estrogen is actually helpful in controlling acne. Progesterone only makes it worse, which is why women may notice more acne before onset of their periods. Some steroids, asthma and anti-epilepsy medications and lithium also seem to have an adverse effect on acne. Women who have vitamin b12 deficiency also appear to be peculiarly prone to the inflamed acne. This is often the case for anemic women.

It is widely believed that anxiety, emotional and physical stress is one of the major factors that make acne worse, but this has yet to be definitively established. Many sufferers observe that stressful events appear to accompany a fresh breakout of acne although poor skin care (i.e. regular exfoliation, even good old face washing!) as a result of prolonged stress may be the culprit.

A diet loaded with chocolates and milk-base products are also widely believed to make acne worse, but again there is no study that proves the relationship between food intake and acne. However, if chocolate or sardines seem to make the acne worse, stop eating it.  Some maintain that iodine-rich foods such as spinach aggravate acne, although Popeye seems to have weathered it well.

One should also consider the effect of cosmetics and other beauty products that are applied to the face and other parts of the body, including the hair. While the oil in the products per se will not cause acne, it may clog the skin more and produce more comedones. Cleanse face thoroughly of all traces of makeup, but avoid over washing as this may lead to drying the skin unnecessarily and still have acne. Keep hair clean as well.

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