Key Points about Acne

  • Acne occurs when hair follicles on your skin grow clogged with oil and dead skin cells.
  • Acne often occurs on the face, neck, back, chest, shoulders, and buttocks.
  • Common forms of acne include pimples, blackheads, whiteheads, and cysts.
  • Mild acne can often be treated at home with products containing salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide.

Consult your doctor if your acne is severe, chronic, or does not respond to at-home treatments.

Overview

Acne is a common skin issue that, if left untreated, can impact a person’s self-esteem and lead to scarring. While acne is commonly associated with teenagers, adults and children can be affected by acne as well.  

Acne develops when hair follicles on your skin grow clogged with oil and dead skin cells. It may take the form of pimples, blackheads, whiteheads, or cysts. Acne can occur anywhere in the body where there are hair follicles, but common locations of acne include the face, neck, back, chest, shoulders, and buttocks.

Acne does not go away overnight. At-home remedies such as using cleansing products that exfoliate the skin or reduce oil can improve mild forms of acne. For acne that is chronic, severe, or does not improve on its own, talk to your Bon Secours Mercy Health doctor about additional treatments. Your doctor may prescribe stronger skin products or oral medications, or perform in-office procedures to reduce and prevent acne.

Acne causes

Acne develops when hair follicles on your skin grow clogged with oil and dead skin cells.

Generally, acne can be caused by:

  • Excessive oil in the skin
  • Bacteria entering the pores, causing them to become red, inflamed, and swollen
  • Elevated activity of certain hormones, such as androgens

Acne risk factors

You may be more likely to experience acne if you:

  • Take certain medications, such as those that contain testosterone or corticosteroids
  • Have diet high in milk or processed carbohydrates
  • Are stressed
  • Are a teenager
  • Have a family history of acne
  • Regularly have direct skin contact with oily substances, such as kitchen grease or certain lotions

Acne symptoms

The following blemishes are all forms of acne:

  • Whiteheads—clogged pores that are closed
  • Blackheads—clogged pores that are open
  • Nodules—solid, often painful bumps below the skin’s surface
  • Cysts, or cystic lesions—bumps filled with pus below the skin’s surface, that are often painful
  • Papules—red bumps
  • Pustules, or pimples—red bumps with pus at the top center

Acne complications

Living with acne can lead to:

  • Decreased self-esteem
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Permanent acne scars
  • Dark skin spots where acne used to be

Acne prevention

Acne cannot always be prevented, but the following tips can minimize your acne and prevent it from worsening:

  • Wash your face after sweating, to prevent pores from clogging
  • Apply cleansing facewash with your fingertips instead of with a washcloth or other material, as this can irritate your skin and cause micro-tears that invite bacteria
  • Rinse with warm water when washing your face
  • Avoid touching your face or other affected areas
  • Avoid popping, picking, or squeezing your blemishes, as this causes them to heal more slowly and can lead to scarring once the blemish has disappeared

Acne diagnosis

When diagnosing acne, your doctor will assess the type and severity of your blemishes. This information will inform what type of treatment your doctor recommends.

Acne treatment

Mild acne can often be treated at home with face washes or other products containing salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide.

People whose acne is widespread, chronic, or includes nodules and cysts should see their doctor or dermatologist. Your doctor may recommend prescription treatments such as:

  • Topical treatments that reduce skin oil or kill bacteria
  • Antibiotics to target acne-causing bacteria
  • Birth control pills for women, which can improve acne by changing hormone levels in the body
  • Isotretinoin, a medication shown to improve severe acne

Your doctor may also perform in-office treatments to reduce acne, such as:

  • Laser therapy to reduce skin bacteria that can contribute to acne
  • Chemical peels, which can treat papules and blackheads
  • Drainage and extraction procedure to physically remove acne. This method is used to remove a large or painful acne cyst.

When to seek care

Consult your doctor if your acne does not resolve on its own, or with your current skincare routine and remedies. Your doctor may recommend prescription medications to treat your acne, or refer you to a dermatologist for more specialized care.

Next Steps

Acne often requires long-term measures to keep symptoms at bay. Once you start a treatment for acne, tell your doctor if your symptoms worsen, or if a treatment stops working over time. You may need to try several treatments to find the one that works best for you.