(Pimples; Blackheads; Whiteheads; Acne Vulgaris)
by Jennifer Hellwig, MS, RD
Acne occurs when the pores of the skin become clogged, inflamed, and sometimes infected. These clogged pores can result in blackheads, whiteheads, or pimples. Acne is common in teenagers, but can also occur in adults.
Acne starts in the skin's sebaceous glands. These glands secrete an oily substance called sebum. The sebum normally travels through a tiny hair follicle from the gland to the skin's surface. Sometimes the sebum becomes trapped and mixes with dead skin cells and bacteria. This causes clogged pores called comedones.
Blackheads are comedones that reach the skin's surface. Whiteheads are comedones that stay beneath the surface of the skin. Small red bumps, pimples, and cysts may also develop.
The main causes of acne include:
Risk Factors TOP
A risk factor is something that increases your chances of getting a disease or condition. Risk factors for acne include:
Acne symptoms vary from person to person and can range from mild to severe. They include:
The doctor will examine the areas of your skin with the most sebaceous glands. These areas include the face, neck, back, chest, and shoulders. If your acne is severe, you may be referred to a dermatologist (skin specialist).
Acne may require a combination of treatments. Most acne does not require surgery. Some treatments may take several weeks to work. Your skin may actually appear to get worse before it gets better.
There are a number of procedures that can be used to treat acne, examples include:
Some of the procedures have risks, such as scarring and infection.
It can be difficult to prevent acne from occurring. It can be difficult to control the factors that cause acne. But, there are some things you can do to keep your acne from getting worse:
The Acne Resource Center Online
The American Academy of Dermatology
Canadian Dermatology Association
Acne. American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: http://www.aad.org/skin-conditions/dermatology-a-to-z/acne. Accessed October 29, 2012.
Acne. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/. Updated August 27, 2012. Accessed October 29, 2012.
Phototherapy. EBSCO Health Library website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/healthLibrary. Updated December 30, 2011. Accessed October 29, 2012.
Questions and answers about acne. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website. Available at: http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Acne/default.asp. Updated October 2010. Accessed October 29, 2012.
9/2/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us: Arowojolu A, Gallo M, Lopez L, Grimes D, Garner S. Combined oral contraceptive pills for treatment of acne. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2009;(3):CD004425.
Last reviewed September 2012 by Purvee S. Shah, MD
Last Updated: 09/10/2012