- Almost everyone experiences acne at some time.
- Acne is most common in teenagers, but it can also afflict adults, particularly women.
- You are more likely to get acne if your parents had acne.
- Moderate or severe cases of acne can lead to permanent acne scars.
- There are very effective treatments for acne.
Almost everyone experiences acne at some point in their lives.
Acne is a very common skin problem that shows up as outbreaks of bumps called pimples or zits. Acne usually appear on the face, neck, back, chest, and shoulders. Acne can be a source of emotional distress, and severe cases can lead to permanent acne scars.
What causes acne?
Acne begins when the pores in the skin become clogged and can no longer drain sebum (an oil made by the sebaceous glands that protects and moisturizes the skin.) The sebum build-up causes the surrounding hair follicle to swell.
Hair follicles swollen with sebum are called comedones. If the sebum stays beneath the skin, the comedones produce white bumps called whiteheads.
- “Sebum” is a white, oily substance produced by glands within the hair follicle. It is a normal part of healthy skin.
- “Comedones” are the technical name for pimples. These are hair follicles that have become clogged with sebum.
- “Whiteheads” are pimples with white sebum trapped beneath a thin layer of skin
- “Blackheads” are pimples in which the sebum has darkened because of exposure to air.
- “P. acnes” is a type of bacteria that lives on everybody’s skin. Pimples becomes inflammed when they are infected by P. Acnes.
- "Inflammatory Acne" describes acne that has been infected, resulting in redness, swelling and the formation of pustules.
Who gets acne?
Anyone at any age can get acne. Acne in teenagers is very common because the surging hormone levels (androgens) associated with puberty create more active sebaceous glands. Acne in adults is is also very common, especially among women.
Acne is more likely to afflict people whose parents had acne.
What factors make acne worse?
Acne lesions can come and go. These factors can cause acne to worsen:
- Changing hormone levels in women 2 to 7 days before their menstrual period, during pregnancy, or when starting or stopping birth control pills
- Oil from skin products (moisturizers or cosmetics) or grease in the workplace (for example, a kitchen with fry vats)
- Pressure from sports helmets or equipment, backpacks, tight collars, or tight uniforms
- Environmental irritants, such as pollution and high humidity
- Squeezing or picking at blemishes
- Hard scrubbing of the skin
What acne treatments are available?
Almost all cases of acne can be effectively treated. The goal of acne treatment is to heal existing lesions, stop new lesions from forming, and prevent acne scars.
Different acne medications are available that control one or more of the underlying causes of acne. Common classes of acne medications include the following:
- Topical retinoids (Differin®, Epiduo®, Retin A Micro®, Tazorac®, or tretinoin) help unclog sebaceous glands and keep skin pores open.
- Antibiotics, such as doxycycline and minocycline (Solodyn), may be used to fight the P. acnes bacteria.
- Isotretinoin (Amnesteem®, Sotret®) remain a mainstay of treatment for severe acne by reducing sebum (oil) production.
- Hormonal agents, such as birth control pills, may be used by women to reduce sebum (oil) production .
To Learn more see our Patient Education Resource on Acne ➶