Monday, December 27, 2010

Why should pimples be a cause for concern?

When I was about 10 years of age my skin began to change. I started having bumps on my face. I begged my father to bring me to a doctor. But people back then didn’t believe that pimples need to be treated. They adhere to the belief that it would disappear on its own upon reaching adulthood. Until now some people still think that way about pimples or acne. But why do we need to seek medical care for it?
First of all, acne is a cause of embarrassment for most teenagers and even adults. Their once smooth skin becomes rough and bumpy. They could not even look straight into other people’s faces anymore.  They were afraid of being stared at or laughed at. These people experience impaired self esteem, anxiety and clinical depression as a direct consequence of acne, which can lead to social isolation, interpersonal difficulties and even suicidal ideation. In a study of 60 adult patients with acne, Lasek et al. found that patients reported emotional effects as a consequence of their skin condition that were similar in magnitude to those reported by patients with psoriasis, which is traditionally regarded as a condition causing significant psychological disability. According to the results of a retrospective Swedish cohort study it was observed that the risk for attempted suicide was increased in patients with severe acne 6 months before and after treatment.  Even mild/moderate acne can be associated with significant depression and suicidal ideation.

Secondly, acne can leave scars which are permanent. It would be there for life even after the pimples are long gone. Patients who scar have an even higher prevalence of psychological morbidity when compared with non-scarring acne sufferers. Scars are difficult to remove even with the advent of dermabrasion and laser resurfacing.

What is Acne Vulgaris?

Acne vulgaris refers to the inflammation of a pilosebaceous unit in areas rich in sebaceous or oil glands, such as the face, neck, chest or back. It is the medical term for pimples. Most people call the huge zits on the face acne. It is a common misconception. Acne is characterized by a combination of lesions, such as blackheads (open comedones) and whiteheads (closed comedones), inflammatory papules and pustules and the nodulocystic lesions. Severe cystic acne affecting other areas aside from the face is called acne conglobata.

open comedones

Acne occurs at the onset of puberty due to the complex interaction of gonadotrophic hormones and bacteria (Propionibacterium acnes) in genetically predisposed individuals. Androgens stimulate increased sebum production by sebaceous glands. On the other hand, bacteria secrete lipase which converts lipids to fatty acids. The combination of sebum and fatty acids causes a sterile inflammatory reaction in the pilosebaceous unit with resultant hyperkeratinization of the lining of the follicle and its subsequent plugging. This is how comedones are being formed.  When comedones rupture into the dermis it resembles a foreign body, giving rise to an inflammatory response with pustule and abscess formation. Destruction of the surrounding tissue leads to scar formation.

multiple erythematous papules and comedone

The tendency to develop acne runs in families. It can be triggered by certain factors such as exposure to acnegenic mineral oils, intake of drugs (lithium, hydantoin, topical and systemic corticosteroids  and oral contraceptives),  endocrine factors (polycystic ovary syndrome), emotional stress, lack of sleep, occlusion and pressure on the skin by leaning face on hands or telephones and improper care of the skin.

Population-based and migration studies have suggested a correlation between diet and acne. Large, well-controlled, observational studies have demonstrated that diets high in dairy products are associated with an increase in the risk for and severity of acne. The relationship between milk and acne severity may be explained by the presence in dairy of normal reproductive steroid hormones or the enhanced production of polypeptide hormones such as IGF-1, which can increase androgen exposure, and thus, acne risk. Recent findings also describe an association between a high-glycemic-index (i.e., carbohydrates that break down quickly during digestion and release glucose rapidly into the bloodstream) diet and longer acne duration. No study has established a positive association between acne and chocolate, saturated fat, or salt intake.

Treatment measures to be carried out by the patient

  • .     Wash your face with soap twice a day. Do not scrub too roughly.
  •      Do not use greasy cream on the face.
  •      Avoid pancake-type makeup which may contain oil, grease or wax.
  •     Boys should not use oils, greases, pomades or hair tonics. Shave regularly.
  •     Have at least 8 hours of sleep each night.
  •     When getting out in the sun do not use oily or greasy suntan preparations.
  •      Don’t prick pimples on your own as this may lead to scarring.

The choice of acne therapy is largely determined by the severity and extent of the disease, but should be influenced by a number of other factors including disease duration, response to previous treatments, predisposition to scarring and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, as well as patient preference and economics. Patients with mild acne usually require topical treatment alone. Those with more extensive acne should be prescribed topical agents in conjunction with appropriate oral therapy. 
Many topical preparations for acne are available. These are:

  •  topical retinoids
  •  benzoyl peroxide
  •  azelaic acid 
  •  topical antibiotics
Most of the time a combination of these agents is necessary for a successful outcome. Antibiotics and/or hormonal treatments are employed for more severe or treatment-resistant disease. Systemic retinoids provide extremely efficacious therapy for severe disease that has not responded to combination therapy.
Your dermatologist should guide you on the step-by-step approach to treatment of acne. Bear in mind that resolution of pimples doesn't happen overnight. Response to treatment might be slow and there could even be a flare-up of acne on the onset of treatment. Any local preparation that was prescribed should be continued for months or even  years if you continue to have complexion problems.

You may experience occasional flare-ups and when this happens it is imperative that you begin active medical therapy with your dermatologist to avoid scarring of the skin.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Secrets of a healthy and young-looking skin

We all want to stay young and beautiful forever. Who would like to look old and wrinkled? The answer is obvious. Throughout history people have always been in a quest to stay young. The first emperor of China Qin Shi Huang ingested mercury pills, believing it could lead him to immortality. Cleopatra kept an impeccable complexion by bathing in milk and honey. Famous celebrities then and now are seeking various ways, whether natural or otherwise to maintain their youthful look.

Are there really ways to slow down the aging process? What are the secrets to a healthy and glowing skin?

You need to start early to keep yourself feeling young and looking young. It cannot be done overnight. It needs to be done as early as in your 20s. Follow a healthy skin habits religiously. Moreover, adopt a holistic approach to achieve optimum result. Our skin is a reflection of our overall well-being.

Incorporate these healthy habits into your daily regimen. You won’t only have a beautiful skin, but also a healthy body.

Use a natural, mild cleanser to wash your face and body. Synthetic detergents and hot water are harsh for the skin. Avoid commercial scrubs too.

It is recommended to apply a moisturizing cream to replenish the oil that was lost after bathing or cleansing.

Cleanse your face before going to bed. Remove all the make-up that you wore during the day. I advise applying a night cream that contains retinol which is proven to diminish fine lines.

Moderate sunlight promotes the synthesis of Vitamin D. But prolonged exposure is hazardous to your skin. It leads to premature skin ageing, loss of elasticity and skin cancer. Even indoor tanning is not good for the skin.

To protect your skin from the sun avoid going out between 10 Am to 4 PM. If you expect to be out for more than 20 minutes, wear a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses and protective clothing or carry an umbrella. Whether it is summer or winter always apply sunscreen during the day even if you are staying indoors because a certain amount of UV radiation still penetrates our window glasses. For prolonged exposure wear a broad spectrum sunblock 30 0r 50+ for better protection.

5.  5. Beauty sleep
Sleep for at least 7 to 8 hours a t night to avoid having dark hollows under your eyes or eye bags. Chronic lack of sleep results to higher stress hormone level like cortisol, leading to premature aging. 

6. 6. Exercise regularly
Get a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise daily. Exercise increases sweating and cutaneous blood flow.

Make time for relaxation. You may try activities such as yoga or meditation, even though others may find dancing and gym workout more stress-relieving.

8. 8Don’t smoke
Smoking is devastating to health. Nicotine constricts blood, impairing blood flow to the skin. With less blood blow our skin doesn’t get as much oxygen and important nutrients, such as Vitamin A. Chemicals in tobacco smoke also damages our skin’s collagen and elastin, which are fibers that give your skin strength and elasticity. As a result, skin wrinkle and sag prematurely.

9.  9. Healthy diet
·        Water: For clear healthy skin, drink approximately 8 glasses of water a day to hydrate the skin. Even mild level of dehydration can make the skin dry.
·        Whole grains: Replace refined carbohydrates, such as pasta, bread and cookies with whole grains. Whole grains contain not only beneficial phytochemicals and anti--aging antioxidants, but Vitamin E, magnesium and fiber as well.
·         Fiber: Fiber is also important to maintaining healthy skin. As with water, eating fiber prevents constipation, which can be detrimental to skin health. To get more fiber, consider adding more fruits and vegetables in your diet.
·         Omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3 fatty acids strengthen cell-membranes. Sources of omega-3 fatty acids are cold water fish, (e.g., salmon, herring, mackerel, tuna, sardines), krill, flaxseed, purslane, green-lipped mussel, eggs, milk and cheese and olive oil.
·        Vitamin-C rich food: Vitamin C is involve in the formation of collagen- a protein that binds call and tissues together. Vitamin C is also an antioxidant, which blocks some of the effects of free radicals, the one responsible for the aging process. Some excellent sources of vitamin C are oranges, green peppers, watermelon, papaya, grapefruit, cantaloupe, strawberries, kiwi, mango, broccoli, tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, pomegranate and citrus juices or juices fortified with vitamin C.
·        Soy: Soy contains isoflavones that stimulates the development of skin cells. It also reduces the breakdown of collagen and prevents the fats in the skin from turning into aggressive compounds. The highest level of isoflavone can be found in whole bean products that have not been highly processed. Although many varieties of vegetables, grains, and legumes contain small amounts of isoflavones, by far the largest quantities are found in soybeans. Roasted soy nuts, tofu, tempeh, soy milk, meat substitutes, soy flour, and some soy protein isolates are also high in isoflavones. The soy germ, found in whole soybeans, is particularly high in isoflavones.

Always remember these basic tips and you won’t go wrong.  A healthy lifestyle leads to healthy skin.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Basic Facts about the Skin: Structure and Function

The skin is the body’s largest organ. It is the outer covering of the entire body and is continuous with the mucous membrane of the mouth, nose, urogenital organs and the anus. In an adult, the skin measures 1.5 to 2 sq.m., while the thickness varies from a fraction of a millimeter (eyelids, external acoustic meatus) to 4 mm. on the palms and soles.

The skin has a matt tinge due and peculiar color due to the color of its component tissues, the thickness of the granular and horny layers of the epidermis, the blood vessels visible through the skin, and the presence of the pigment melanin. The color of skin may change because the amount of pigment in it varies due to internal and external factors.

The skin performs various functions
  • Protective barrier
  •   Organ of sense
  • Thermoregulatory function (regulates body temperature)
  • Secretory and excretory function  (production of sweat and sebum and elimination of water, some chemicals and drugs through the skin)
  • Respiratory function (absorption of oxygen and elimination of carbon dioxide
  •  Metabolism of water, minerals, hormones and vitamins
The skin has three layers: the epidermis, dermis and subcutaneous tissue.


The epidermis is the most superficial of the layers of the skin. It is relatively thin, averaging in thickness to about less than 1 mm, yet tough. It is composed mainly of keratinocytes, which develop into 5 layers:

(1)  germinative layer (stratum basale)
(2)  prickle-cell layer (stratum spinosum)
(3)  granular layer (stratum granulosum)
(4)  stratum lucidum
(5)  horny layer (stratum corneum).

Stratum basale is the innermost and contains the youngest, differentiating cells, while stratum corneum is the outermost , made up of dead cells that are constantly shedding. The chemical protein in these cells is called keratin which is capable of absorbing vast amount of water. This is readily seen during bathing, when the skin of the palms and soles become white and wrinkled; albeit the cornified layer provides a major barrier of protection for the body by preventing bacteria, viruses and other foreign substances from entering the body. The epidermis (along with the other layers of the skin) protects the internal organs , muscles, nerves and blood vessels against trauma. In certain areas which require greater protection, such as the palms and soles, the horny layer of the epidermis is much thicker.

Melanocytes, which are the pigment-producing cells of the epidermis can be found in the basal layer.  Melanin’s primary role is to filter out ultraviolet radiation from the sun. That is why incidence of skin cancer is higher in Caucasians because the amount of pigment in their skin is low. It is interesting to note that the number of melanocytes in both dark and fair-skinned individuals is the same.  It is now accepted that the degree of skin pigmentation is determined by the functional capacity of the these cells and not by their amount.

The epidermis also contains Langerhan’s cells, which are part of the skin’s immune system. However, these cells are also responsible for the development of skin allergies.

Another group of cells that can be found in the epidermis and is primarily located in the basal layer are Merkel’s cells. They are assumed to function as touch receptors.

The epidermis is devoid of blood vessels.


The dermis is located between the epidermis and the subcutaneous tissue. It consists of connective tissue, cellular elements and ground substance.It has a rich blood and nerve supply and contains sweat and oil glands and hair follicles.

Two layers are distinguished in the dermis: the papillary and reticular layer. The papillary layer are composed of thin bundles of collagen fibers, while in the reticular layer the collagen bundles are more compact and thick and intertwine into a thick network of loops.

Collagen, reticulin and elastic fibers comprise the connective tissue component of the dermis. They contribute to the flexibility and strength of the skin.

The cellular elements of the dermis include fibroblasts, endothelial cells, mast cells, histiocytes (macrophages), lymphocytes and plasma cells. Histiocytes play a predominant role in phagocytosis of bacteria and particulate matter in pathologic condtions and also of antigens in immune processes.

Lymphocytes and plasma cells are found only in a small number in normal skin, but their number significantly increase under pathologic conditions.

The ground substance of the dermis is a gel-like amorphous matrix, consisting of proteins, mucopolysaccharides, soluble collagens, enzyme, immune bodies, metabolites and many other substances.

The nerve endings sense pain, touch, pressure, and temperature. Some areas of the skin contain more nerve endings than others. For example, the fingertips and toes contain many nerves and are extremely sensitive to touch.

The sweat glands produce sweat in response to heat and stress. Sweat is composed of water, salt, and other chemicals. As sweat evaporates off the skin, it helps cool the body. Specialized sweat glands in the armpits and the genital region (apocrine sweat glands) secrete a thick, oily sweat that produces a characteristic body odor when the sweat is digested by the skin bacteria in those areas.  Eccrine sweat glands produce sweat which has a weak acid reaction. This helps to neutralize the damaging effect of chemical substances and prevents penetration of micro-organisms into the skin.

The sebaceous glands secrete sebum into hair follicles. Sebum is an oil, that keeps the skin moist and soft and acts as a barrier against foreign substances. The chemical compostion of the sebum contributes greatly to the bactericidal properties of the skin.

The hair follicles produce the various types of hair found throughout the body. Hair not only contributes to a person's appearance but has a number of important physical roles including regulating body temperature, providing protection from injury, and enhancing sensation. A portion of the follicle also contains stem cells capable of regrowing damaged epidermis.

The muscles connected to the hair follicles (mm. arrectores pilorum) and muscle fibers in the walls of blood vessels and sweat glands are the smooth voluntary muscles of the skin. When the arrectores pilorum muscle contracts, it raises the hair and squeezes out the secretion from the sebaceous glands. Smooth muscle fibers which are not connected to the hair follicles are present in the skin of the scalp, forehead, cheeks, and dorsal surfaces of the hands and feet.

The blood vessels of the dermis provide nutrients to the skin and help regulate body temperature. Heat makes the blood vessels enlarge (dilate), allowing large amounts of blood to circulate near the skin surface, where the heat can be released. Cold makes the blood vessels narrow (constrict), retaining the body's heat.

Over different parts of the body, the number of nerve endings, sweat glands and sebaceous glands, hair follicles, and blood vessels varies. The top of the head, for example, has many hair follicles, whereas the soles of the feet have none.

Subcutaneous layer

The subcutaneous layer serves as a receptacle for the formation and storage of fat. It supports the blood vessels and the nerves that pass from the dermis above to the tissue beneath. This layer constitutes the largest volume of adipose tissue in the body. The subcutaneous tissue protects the body from mechanical injuries and cooling
The thickness of the subcutaneous layer varies in different areas, as well as in different individuals. The amount of fatty tissue is practically nil on the eyelids, under the nails, on the prepuce and scrotum and there is very little of it on the nose, ears and vermillion border of the lips.

  1. Itching is a mild sensation of pain because of its lower-frequency of stimuli.
  2. Shaving of excess hair does not promote more rapid growth of coarse hair. If allowed to grown normally, the hairs appear  and feel no different than before 
  3. The value of intermittent massage on the scalp hair growth has not been proved.
  4. Hair cannot turn gray overnight. The melanin pigmentation, which is distributed throughout the length of the hair shaft, takes weeks to be shed through the slow process of hair growth.
  5. Heredity is the greatest factor predisposing to baldness, and an excess of male hormones may contribute to it.


  1.   Yu K. Skripkin and M.V. Milich, Skin and Venereal Diseases, pp.27-51 
  2.    John C.Hall, MD, Sauer’s Manual of Skin Diseases, pp.1-5
  3.      University of Maryland Medical Center
  4.    Merck Manual Home Edition