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Acne vulgaris, or common acne, is very prevalent in adolescents and young adults because the level of testosterone and other male hormones rises in both males and females as they reach puberty. This stimulates the sebaceous glands within each hair follicle to increase production of an oily substance called sebum. Sebum generally lubricates the skin, but if there is an overproduction of oil, some may become trapped in a follicle, allowing ever-present bacteria to multiply. When the area becomes red and inflamed it is called a pimple; if it becomes pus filled it is called a whitehead. Most people occasionally get a pimple somewhere on their bodies. Acne is diagnosed if you have several such spots, usually on the face, neck or upper back, which come and go for months or years. Severely infected pimples or cystic acne may take weeks to clear up and may leave noticeable scars.

Almost all males age 14-18 years have some acne. It is slightly less common in females, although many women develop pimples around the time of their period. Other exacerbating factors include exposure to grease, steroids or certain medications. Acne does not endanger your general health, but it may cause extreme psychological distress and embarrassment. It may help to remember that acne is neither a disorder nor shameful. It is a normal accompaniment to developing sexual maturity.

Treatment covers a large spectrum. Self-help includes keeping your skin clean. Wash twice daily with an unscented soap and avoid creams, lotions or make-ups. An over-the-counter abrasive scrub such a Pernox can be tried once a day. Remember that squeezing or picking pimples is likely to increase the possibility of deeper infection. Professional help usually involves a topical antibiotic solution or an oral antibiotic in small, regular doses for a period of months. Special ointments that make the skin peel may also prevent pimples from forming. For very severe acne or scarring (cystic acne), dermatologists might prescribe Acutaine, which is highly effective but may produce adverse side effects such as hair loss, joint pain, sore eyes, blood abnormalities, and fetal malformations if taken while pregnant.

Remember: pimples often seem uglier to you than to others. Over-vigorous treatment of any kind can do more damage to your skin than just leaving it alone.