What is Acne?

Acne is a chronic skin disorder in which spots of one or more characteristic types develop on the skin of affected areas of the body. Acne most commonly occurs on the face, but may develop on almost any part of the body, including particularly the back, chest and genitals. This opening statement about acne is clear, concise and accurate, but it needs a bit of teasing out if one is really going to understand what acne is, how it damages skin and why it causes spots.

Acne is a Chronic Condition

Acne is described as a chronic skin disorder. Chronic is a medical term which implies that the condition will persist for a long time in an individual patient. In the case of acne, the condition will usually persist for months, and may even last for a number of years, in spite of appropriate acne treatment. You cannot catch acne by touching, kissing or having sex with someone who has acne Skin disorder is a useful term to use for acne, as it rightly suggests that it is a disruption of the skin's normal function which leads in acne to the formation of spots. The terms skin disease or skin condition may also be correctly used to describe acne, but skin disorder is preferred. Describing acne as a skin disease may cause people to wrongly assume that acne is an infective process, perhaps even that acne is contagious. Acne is neither infectious nor contagious, which means you cannot develop acne as a result of contact with someone suffering from acne. To re-iterate the point, you cannot get acne by touching, kissing or having sex with someone who has acne. You may, however, get rather messy!

Characteristic Acne Spots

Acne is characterised by its spots. Put another way, acne is a spotty skin disorder. Doctors have lots of different terms for different types of spots, but all spots have one feature in common. A spot is raised above the normal level of the surface of the skin. Other features of the spot - its size, shape, colour, whether or not it contains pus - are used to classify spots into different types. Four types of spots occur in acne - papules, whiteheads, blackheads and pustules - and a detailed descriptions of each is provided in the types of acne spot. The way in which the disruption to the normal functioning of the skin comes about in acne and leads to the formation of spots is described in the development of acne. The final keystone in the understanding of acne is an appreciation of the cause of acne, which vary quite considerably between the different clinical types of acne.

Distribution of Acne on the Body

Acne may potentially develop on any part of the body covered by skin which bears hair follicles. This means that acne can develop anywhere on the body except the palms of the hands, the soles of the feet, the lips or the genital mucosae. However, the face, back and chest are more susceptible to developing acne than other parts of the body because of the structure of the skin covering these areas. A explanation of the typical distribution of spots seen in different clinical types of acne is provided in the section on the anatomical distribution of acne.