What is acne?
Primarily a hormonal condition driven by male or ‘androgenic’ hormones, acne is a localized skin inflammation produced by an over activity of the oil glands at the base of hair follicles. It is characterized by the appearance of skin lesions as a result of folliculitis, an inflammation and subsequent infection of follicular pores (hair outlet). Both men and women have testosterone circulating in the blood, but in the acne sufferer, testosterone has a profound effect on the skin.
Acne typically presents in adolescence, acne affects 80% of this population group due to an interaction between hormones, sebum and bacteria living on the skin or inside of it and also in the hair. During puberty, acne increases the activity of the sebaceous glands of the skin with an excessive sebum production. Scaly debris and bacteria can accumulate in the pores of the skin forming a comedo, which prevents the sebum from hair follicles flow through the pores. If the blockage is incomplete blackheads are formed; if complete, white spots appear.
Acne manifests clinically with different types of injuries, and several of them may occur in the same client. These lesions may be inflammatory and non-inflammatory. Bacteria normally present in the skin, multiplies in the clogged follicle and results in inflammation. The bacteria break down the oil to very inflammatory chemicals which cause redness, pus formation and pain. If the inflammation is right near the surface, you get a pustule; if it’s deeper, a papule (pimple); deeper still and it’s a cyst. If the pore of the affected hair follicle is closed to the surface, the result is a “whitehead.” If the pore is wide open, oil becomes oxidized (that is, acted on by oxygen in the air), the oil changes from white to black, and the result is a “blackhead.”
Acne can leave scars which are permanent. Acne attacks two structures:
- the pore; blocking it and
- the sebaceous gland -more oil is produced, which gives an oily complexion
If the inflammation is deep and severe, or if the spot is squeezed and pus bursts deep into the skin rather than onto the surface then this inflammation and infection could result in scarring and cyst formation.
Although commonly considered to be an adolescence problem, 25% of people affected by acne in their teens will go on to develop permanent scars.
The effects on personal appearance caused by acne and the resultant scarring can cause significant psychological, social and occupational problems if left untreated.
It has been shown that the major cause of acne, Propionibacterium Acnes can be destroyed by the application of light. Blue light (wavelength ~400nm) is most efficient at destroying the bacteria, however, at these short wavelengths, skin penetration depths are very small and it is difficult for light to penetrate the skin sufficiently to target bacteria in deep blocked pores.
Recent studies seem to indicate that yellow light (~585nm), which has a greater skin penetration depth than blue light, is more effective in vivo at targeting the bacteria that causes acne. Infrared wavelengths (greater than ~750nm) have also been shown to combat acne. These long wavelengths can penetrate the skin to cause heating of the overactive sebaceous glands. It is thought that reversible thermal damage to sebaceous glands can result in long-term remission from acne.
Broadband light sources such as the Lumina can offer shorted wavelengths from optimum surface bacterial destruction, whilst also getting to the deep-seated bacteria existing in pustules and papules and damaging the sebaceous glands themselves. This treatment is also very effective on adult acne.