What is Acne Vulgaris?

Young man with acne vulgaris
Photo: Darren Robb / Getty Images

You've just seen your doctor about your skin problem.  The diagnosis: acne vulgaris.

Wait, what?  You thought you just had run-of-the-mill pimples. 

Actually, the more you think about it, you start to get nervous.  You've never heard of this type of acne before.  What is acne vulgaris?  And how did you get it?

Acne Vulgaris is the Medical Term for Common Acne

Relax, you don't have a strange form of acne.

In fact, quite the opposite. Acne vulgaris is the term used to describe common acne. Rest assured, most people have suffered from acne vulgaris at some point in their lives.

People with acne vulgaris get blackheads, whiteheads, and pimples (zits). Acne vulgaris may be mild for some people, with just a few blemishes here and there. For others, acne vulgaris becomes more severe.

Breakouts aren't always limited to the face. You may find yourself breaking out on the neck, chest, back, shoulders, maybe even on your bum.  Rest assured, body acne is normal, too.

Many Factors Contribute to the Development of Acne Vulgaris

First off, know that you didn't do anything to cause your acne vulgaris.  Acne isn't caused by bad hygiene, or touching your face

You didn't catch it from someone else, either.  Acne is not contagious.

What you're eating isn't causing acne vulgaris either, although some doctors now theorize that certain foods may worsen existing acne cases.

The most commonly linked foods include milk and dairy and carbohydrates.

No, you're likely not doing anything to cause your acne. There are many factors contribute to acne development, and none of them are really in your control.

Hormones play a big role. Androgen hormones rev up oil production. Excess oil and sticky skin cells become trapped in the pore, creating a blockage called a comedo.

This comedo can progress to a more serious breakout if the follicle ruptures. The acne-causing bacteria, propionibacteria acnes, also plays a role, irritating the skin and causing inflamed pimples.

Why some people go through life relatively unscathed by acne while others battle severe breakouts is still a mystery.

We do know that acne tends to run in families. So, if your parents or siblings had acne, you're more likely to get it too.

And it's is not just a teenage problem.  Acne can occur at most any age, from preteens through adult.  Many who sailed through high school without a blemish find they start breaking out for the first time well into adulthood.

Adult women especially seem to develop breakouts on the chin and jaw line, often around the time of their menstrual cycle.

Acne Vulgaris can be Treated

Acne vulgaris isn't a fun problem to have, but it is treatable. Your doctor can give you a prescription medication that will help. If your acne is fairly mild, you may even be able to get it under control with over-the-counter products.

It's also important to stick to a regular skin care regimen. Acne isn't caused by a lack of cleansing or bad hygiene, but good daily skin care is always helpful.

Even though acne vulgaris is common, you don't want to ignore it. Mild cases sometimes progress into more serious forms. Severe acne can damage the skin to the point of scarring. It's a great reason to start treatment now.

Medications that work brilliantly for one person may have no effect on another, so it can take a while to find the right treatment. This can be thoroughly frustrating, but it's important to stick with your treatment long enough to see results.

Sources:

Lavers I.  "Therapeutic strategies for acne vulgaris."  Nurs Times. 2013 Dec 4-10;109(48):16-8.

"Questions and Answers About Acne." National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS). Jan 2006. National Institutes of Health.

Zaenglein AL, Pathy AL, Schlosser BJ, Alikhan A, Baldwin HE, et. al. "Guidelines of Care for the Management of Acne Vulgaris." Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 74.5 (2016): 945-73.

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