Acne is the development of blackheads, whiteheads, pustules, or cysts. This skin condition is most common in teenagers, but can also occur in adults and children.
Dead skin cells and oils travel up to the surface of the skin through pores. Sometimes there is too much of an oil, called sebum. The extra sebum causes dead skin cells to stick together and block the pore. This is what causes acne. Bacteria can also become trapped in the pore and cause an infection. The infection causes the familiar redness and pus. It can also spread down into the skin and cause cysts.
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Blackheads are clogs that reach the skin's surface. Whiteheads are clogs that stay beneath the surface of the skin. Small red bumps, pimples, and cysts may develop if bacteria is causing an infection.
Factors that may increase your chances of acne:
Acne symptoms vary from person to person and can range from mild to severe. They include:
The areas of your skin most likely to develop acne will be examined. The doctor can make a diagnosis based on physical exam.
If your acne is severe, you may be referred to a dermatologist.
Acne will require a combination of treatments. Most treatments may take several weeks to work. Your skin may actually appear to get worse before it gets better.
It is also common to have to change treatments during recovery.
Medications to treat acne include:
There are a number of procedures that can be used by your doctor or dermatologist to treat acne:
Some of the procedures have risks such as scarring and infection.
To decrease irritation of your acne:
Acne is caused by changes in your body's processes so it is difficult to prevent. Acne is not due to improper hygiene.
American Academy of Dermatology
Canadian Dermatology Association
Acne. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115279/Acne . Updated June 27, 2017. Accessed December 15, 2017.
Acne. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website. Available at: https://www.niams.nih.gov/health-topics/acne. Updated September 1, 2016. Accessed December 15, 2017.
Acne: overview. American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/acne-and-rosacea/acne. Accessed December 15, 2017.
10/20/2012 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T906456/Acne-pharmacologic-therapy : Arowojolu A, Gallo MF, Lopez LM, Grimes DA. Combined oral contraceptive pills for treatment of acne. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012;(7):CD004425.
Last reviewed November 2018 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Marcie L. Sidman, MD
Last Updated: 3/14/2017