While we traditionally think of acne as a problem limited to adolescence and early adulthood, the truth is that anyone can get acne, from infants to adults. An estimated 17 million Americans suffer from acne -- let's break down the different types of acne and talk about who gets which type and when.
First let's talk about baby acne. Babies are prone to rashes and redness, but baby acne is harmless and clears up on its own after several weeks without treatment. Prepubertal acne is a form of acne that you've probably never heard about because it's rare and it occurs in children before they hit puberty, caused by a premature release of sex hormones called androgens. And then there's rosacea, which is a chronic adult skin condition that causes flushing and acne-like bumps on the face. And what about pimples? Let's talk about those zits.
To understand why we get the most common form of acne, acne vulgaris, we first need to understand a little bit about our skin.
The outermost layer of the skin is called the epidermis. Anywhere from 40 million to 60 million old, dying skin cells make their way to the outermost layer of your epidermis -- the surface of your skin -- every day, to fall off [source: Nemours].
Beneath the epidermis is the dermis, where our hair follicles, sweat glands and sebum glands (oil glands) are located. Here's where the trouble begins. When the combination of too much sebum and too many dead skin cells begin to plug our follicles a bacteria known as Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes) begins to take advantage of the situation. With the presence of the bacteria, the pore becomes inflamed. If the wall of the blocked pore collapses and allows the plug of skin cells and sebum to go deeper, into the dermis layer of the skin you might find you've developed a pimple, whitehead or blackhead, or a more severe form of acne such as a papule, pustule (we all know pustules as "zits"), nodule or suppurative nodule.
One of the best ways to keep acne away is to clean up your skin care routine (contrary to popular belief, what you eat and what's in your genes won't make your odds of an acne breakout any better or worse). Wash your face with a gentle cleanser and warm water twice every day to clear away those dead skin cells and excess sebum that, if left behind, could clog pores. The point here isn't removing dirt from the surface of the skin -- it's a myth that being dirty causes acne -- and too much scrubbing or over-washing can irritate your skin. Irritation can cause breakouts, as can the physical stress caused by tight clothing and the emotional stresses of daily life.
When breakouts do occur, many people are able to successfully treat them with topical over-the-counter acne medications containing benzoyl peroxide, to kill the P. acnes bacterium and dry out the skin, or salicylic acid, to help clear dead skin cells out of the pores.
When it comes to treating acne, what works for one person might not work at all for someone else. So if over-the-counter methods for acne fail, hope is not lost -- there are plenty of other options to try. Professional-grade treatment options range from topical and oral antibiotics, retinol, oral contraceptives, isotretinoin, chemical peels containing an exfoliating ingredient such as glycolic acid, microdermabrasion, laser treatments and light and heat treatments.