Acne vulgaris (cystic acne or simply acne) is a common human skin disease, characterized by areas of skin with seborrhea (scaly red skin), comedones (blackheads and whiteheads), papules (pinheads), pustules (pimples), nodules (large papules) and possibly scarring. Acne affects mostly skin with the densest population of sebaceous follicles; these areas include the face, the upper part of the chest, and the back. Severe acne is inflammatory, but acne can also manifest in noninflammatory forms. The lesions are caused by changes in pilosebaceous units, skin structures consisting of a hair follicle and its associated sebaceous gland, changes that require androgen stimulation.
Acne occurs most commonly during adolescence, and often continues into adulthood. In adolescence, acne is usually caused by an increase in testosterone, which accrues during puberty, regardless of sex. For most people, acne diminishes over time and tends to disappear – or at the very least decreases – by age 25. There is, however, no way to predict how long it will take to disappear entirely, and some individuals will carry this condition well into their thirties, forties, and beyond.
Some of the large nodules were previously called "cysts" and the term nodulocystic has been used to describe severe cases of inflammatory acne. The "cysts", or boils that accompany cystic acne, can appear on the buttocks, groin, and armpit area, and anywhere else where sweat collects in hair follicles and perspiration ducts. Cystic acne affects deeper skin tissue than does common acne.
Typical features of acne include: seborrhea (increased oil-sebum secretion), comedones (blackheads and whiteheads), papules (pinheads), pustules (pimples), nodules (large papules) and, possibly scarring. The appearance of acne varies with skin color. It may result in psychological and social problems.
There are multiple scales for grading the severity of acne vulgaris, three of these being:
- Leeds acne grading technique: Counts and categorises lesions into inflammatory and non-inflammatory (ranges from 0–10.0).
- Cook‘s acne grading scale: Uses photographs to grade severity from 0 to 8 (0 being the least severe and 8 being the most severe).
- Pillsbury scale: Simply classifies the severity of the acne from 1 (least severe) to 4 (most severe).