What is acne?Acne is a disorder of the hair follicles and sebaceous glands. With acne, the sebaceous glands are clogged, which leads to pimples and cysts. Acne is very common - nearly 80 percent of individuals in the US between 11 and 30 years old will be affected by this condition at some point. Acne most often begins in puberty. During puberty, the male sex hormones (androgens) increase in both boys and girls, causing the sebaceous glands to become more active - resulting in increased production of sebum.
How does acne develop?The sebaceous glands produce oil (sebum) which normally travels via hair follicles to the skin surface. However, skin cells can plug the follicles, blocking the oil coming from the sebaceous glands. When follicles become plugged, skin bacteria (called Propionibacterium acnes, or P. acnes) begin to grow inside the follicles, causing inflammation. Acne progresses in the following manner:
- Incomplete blockage of the hair follicle results in blackheads (a semisolid, black plug).
- Complete blockage of the hair follicle results in whiteheads (a semisolid, white plug).
- Infection and irritation cause whiteheads to form.
Acne can be superficial (pimples without abscesses) or deep (when the inflamed pimples push down into the skin, causing pus-filled cysts that rupture and result in larger abscesses).
What causes acne?Rising hormone levels during puberty may cause acne. In addition, acne is often inherited. Other causes of acne may include the following:
- hormone level changes during the menstrual cycle in women
- certain drugs (such as corticosteroids, lithium, and barbiturates)
- oil and grease from the scalp, mineral or cooking oil, and certain cosmetics may worsen acne
- bacteria inside pimples
What are the symptoms of acne?Acne can occur anywhere on the body. However, acne most often appears in areas where there is a high concentration of sebaceous glands, including the following:
- upper back
- pus-filled lesions that may be painful
- nodules (solid, raised bumps)
Treatment of acne:The goal of acne treatment is to minimize scarring and improve appearance. Specific treatment will be determined by your adolescent's physician based on:
- the severity of the acne
- your adolescent's age, overall health, and medical history
- your adolescent's tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
- expectations for the course of the condition
- your opinion or preference
Topical medications to treat acne:Prescription topical medications are often prescribed to treat acne. Topical medication can be in the form of a cream, gel, lotion, or solution. Examples include:
Systemic medications to treat acne:Systemic antibiotics are often prescribed to treat moderate to severe acne and include the following:
Treatment for severe, cystic, or inflammatory acne:Isotretinoin (Accutane®), an oral drug, may be prescribed for individuals with severe, cystic, or inflammatory acne that cannot be effectively treated by other methods to prevent extensive scarring. Isotretinoin reduces the size of the sebaceous glands that produce skin oil, increases skin cell shedding, and affects the hair follicles, thereby reducing the development of acne lesions. Isotretinoin can clear acne in 85 percent of patients. However, the drug has several potential side effects, including psychiatric side effects. It is very important to discuss this prescription medication with your child's physician.
Isotretinoin must not be taken by women who are pregnant or who are able to become pregnant, because there is a very high likelihood of birth defects occurring in babies whose mothers took the medication during pregnancy. Isotretinoin can also cause miscarriage or premature birth. Because of these effects and to minimize fetal exposure, isotretinoin is approved for marketing only under a special restricted distribution program approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This program is called iPLEDGE.
The goal of the iPLEDGE program is to prevent pregnancies in females taking isotretinoin and to prevent pregnant females from taking isotretinoin. Requirements of the iPLEDGE program include:
Isotretinoin must only be prescribed by prescribers who are registered and activated with the iPLEDGE program.
Isotretinoin must only be dispensed by a pharmacy registered and activated with iPLEDGE.
Isotretinoin must only be dispensed to patients who are registered with and meet all the requirements of iPLEDGE.
Female patients who can get pregnant are required to use birth control for one month prior to treatment, during treatment, and for one month after stopping treatment.
Pregnancy tests are required before, during, and after treatment.
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