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, pustules, or cysts. 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:
Acne is more common in people who are Caucasian. It is also common in people who are 12-24 years old.
Factors that increase your chance of acne include:
Acne symptoms vary from person to person and can range from mild to severe (based on how many and where they are present). They include:
The areas of your skin with the most sebaceous glands will be examined. These areas include the face, neck, back, chest, and shoulders. You have acne if any of the findings are present.
If your acne is severe, you may be referred to a dermatologist (skin specialist).
Acne will require a combination of treatments. Most acne does not require surgery. 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 after current treatments stop working.
Medications to treat acne include:
There are a number of procedures that can be used by your doctor or dermatologist 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:
https://www.aad.org/dermatology-a-to-z/diseases-and-treatments/a---d/acne. Accessed November 7, 2014.
Acne. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. September 8, 2014. Accessed November 7, 2014.
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 May 2013. Accessed November 7, 2014.
9/2/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance
: Arowojolu A, Gallo M, et al. Combined oral contraceptive pills for treatment of acne.
Cochrane Database Syst Rev.
Last reviewed December 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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