Acne Glossary – 40 Terms Commonly Used When Talking/writing About Acne

Acne: The general term for clogged skin pores which includes blackheads and whiteheads, as well as severe kind like cysts or nodules, usually found on the face, neck, chest, back, and shoulders.

Acne vulgaris: The medical term for common acne, which manifests itself as blackheads, whiteheads, papules and pustules.

Androgens: Hormones that prompt the sebaceous glands to produce more sebum.

Antibiotic: A drug used to treat infections caused by bacteria and other microorganisms.

Bacteria: One-celled microorganisms which can exist either as independent (free-living) organisms or as parasites (dependent upon another organism for life).

Blackhead: A common term for open comedo, a non-inflammatory acne.

Blood: The red fluid that contains white and red blood cells, platelets, proteins, and other elements transported throughout the body by the circulatory system

Chemical peels: (also called acid peels): A type of organic acid, most commonly glycolic, salicylic, or lactic acid, applied to the skin so that a smoother layer can surface. A painless procedure if properly applied.

Closed comedo: A whitehead; non inflammatory comedo with a white center.

Comedo (plural: comedones): An acne lesion, a plug of keratin and sebum within the dilated opening of a hair follicle.

Cysts: Deep, painful, pus-filled lesions that can cause scarring.

Dermabrasion: A surgical procedure that involves the controlled abrasion (wearing away) of the upper layers of the skin with sandpaper or other mechanical means to unplug pores. Also makes acne scars smoother and less visible.

Exfoliation (skin): The mechanical or chemical methods of peeling off the top layer of the skin at microscopic level to unblock clogged pores

Hair follicle: A small cavity in the skin from which a hair grows and into which the sebaceous (oil) glands open. The follicle is lined by cells derived from the epidermal (outside) layer of the skin.

Hormonal treatments: In females, where blood tests show abnormally high levels of androgens, acne can be treated with a combined oestrogen/progestogen contraceptive pill to correct hormonal imbalance.

Hormone: A chemical substance produced in the body that controls and regulates the activity of certain cells or organs.

Infection: The invasion of the body by a parasitic organism. A person with an infection has another organism (a “germ”) growing within him or her, drawing its nourishment from the person.

Inflammation: The natural way in which the body reacts to infection or other injuries, often indicated by redness, warmth, swelling and pain.

Isotretinoin: Systemic medication for acne treatment involving serious or prolonged cases. Women of child bearing age should take special care with this drug due to potential birth defects.

Lesion: A physical change in body tissue caused by disease or injury. Thus, acne lesions are a physical change in the skin caused by the infection of the sebaceous follicle.

Nodules: Cysts with a large amount of pus or bacterial content. This form of acne is normally painful and extends deeper into the skin layers.

Open Comedo (blackhead): A non inflammatory comedo with firmly packed contents and a dark tipped plug.

Papule: Small, firm and reddish colored lesions that appear on the surface of the skin. They may or may not become infected.

Pimples: Small papules or pustules.

Prescription: A physician’s order for the preparation and administration of a drug or device for a patient.

Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes): A natural resident on the human skin, P. acnes will feed and proliferate in clogged hair follicles where sebum is trapped.

Puberty: The time of life when a child begins the physical maturation process toward adulthood. Onset is usually in the early teens and is accompanied by a large increase in hormone production.

Pustule: An inflamed comedo that resembles a whitehead and is surrounded by a ring of redness

Rash: Breaking out (eruption) of the skin.

Rosacea (ro-ZAY-she-ah): Sometimes called “Adult Acne” because it occurs mostly in adults. The disorder is characterized by redness, pimples, and, in advanced stages, thickened skin. People who easily flush or blush are at high risk of developing rosacea.

Sebaceous gland: A normal gland of the skin which empties an oily secretion called sebum into the hair follicle near the surface of the skin. Sebaceous glands are attached to hair follicles and are found mostly on the face, neck, back and chest.

Sebum: An oily secretion of the sebaceous gland which helps to preserve the flexibility of the hair and skin.

Skin: The skin is the body’s outer covering and largest organ. It protects us against heat and light, injury, infection and regulates body temperature.

Tetracycline: Antibiotics proven effective against a remarkably wide variety of organisms.

Therapy: Treatment of disability or disease.

Topical: Pertaining to a particular surface area. A topical medicine is applied to a particular area of the skin and is intended to affect only the area to which it is applied except when it is absorbed into the blood stream.

Whitehead: An acne lesion formed when oils and skin cells block the opening of a hair follicle, also called closed comedo. A common term for what is medically called a closed comedo.

Written by – Jeremy Langart – A health resource dedicated to providing factual information and clearing up myths about acne and acne treatment.

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