What is acne?

Acne is a dermatological condition that occurs when the hair follicles are plugged by oil that was secreted by the oil glands.

Acne is a very common skin condition that can appear on the face, forehead, chest, shoulders and back.

It most frequently affects teenagers. More than 80 percent of teenagers develop acne during puberty, and more than 35 percent of women between the ages of 30 and 40.

Acne consults represent more than 15 percent of dermatology visits.

Types of acne

  • Blackheads — small, black spots with black or dark centers, most commonly form when you have large pores.
  • Whiteheads — small, light-colored bumps on the skin, form from small openings in the pores.
  • Pimples — tender, swollen inflammations on the skin; both blackheads and whiteheads can develop into pimples.
  • Nodules — firm swellings that form below the surface of the skin and occur when the clogged pores become inflamed and/or infected.

Causes of acne

Although the exact cause of acne is unknown, factors that contribute to the condition include:

  • Family history of acne
  • Certain medications such as oral corticosteroids, testosterone, oral contraceptives, halogens, antiepileptics, antituberculous medications, antidepressants, ciclosporin, B vitamins.
  • Changing hormone levels
  • Wearing makeup

Risk factors for acne

There are several factors that contribute to acne including:

  • Age — teenagers are most likely to develop acne.
  • Heredity — if your parents had acne during their teenage years, you are more likely to develop it as well.
  • High stress environment — stress can make acne breakouts more severe.
  • Use of oily skin care products — if you use oily makeup or skin care products, it can make you more likely to develop acne.
  • Changing hormones — as people go through puberty, hormones can change rapidly, which can make you more likely to develop acne.

Diagnosis of acne

Acne can be diagnosed by a primary care doctor or dermatologist in a physical exam.

Treatment for acne

The main goals for acne treatment are to eliminate current acne, stop new pimples from forming, prevent scarring and limit side effects. Treatment options include:

  • Over-the-counter medications — oral or topical over-the-counter medications may be effective in treating mild cases of acne.
  • Prescription medications — more serious cases of acne may need prescription medications, such as benzoyl peroxide, antiandrogens and oral retinoids.
  • In some cases, your doctor may prescribe a combination of medications to maximize results.

If medications alone are not effective in clearing up your acne, your doctor may recommend other therapies such as:

Photodynamic (laser) therapy
During photodynamic therapy, your doctor will apply a topical prescription to your acne and then use a laser to activate the medication, killing the bacteria and reducing the size of oil glands.

Steroid injection 
A steroid injection can be used to treat stubborn nodules. This therapy is only used to treat localized acne and is not a permanent cure due to the side effects, which may include skin thinning, lighter skin tone and blood vessels appearing on the affected area.

Find a primary care doctor nearby

Mercy Health locations that can treat you