skip to main content

Main Site Navigation

Top of main content

What Is Acne?

Acne vulgaris is called simply acne, pimples, or zits. Almost all teenagers have it. Acne usually gets better with age, but sometimes older people, especially women, can get acne.

What Causes Acne?

Male hormones present in both males and in lesser amounts in females increase during puberty and stimulate oil glands of the skin. In the midteens, skin oil (sebaceous) glands begin to produce more oil. Oily skin usually results, but in some people this oil is blocked at skin pore openings. Bacteria, oil, and other materials block these pores. Blocked oil backs up and forms whiteheads; if pores are open to the air, blackheads form. Blocked oil in the skin causes redness (inflammation) and infection, and then pimples and cysts. Boys usually have more oily skin than girls and often worse acne. Foods do not affect acne. Acne is not an infection, so it cannot be caught from someone else.

What Are the Symptoms of Acne?

A rash usually occurs on the face, shoulders, and back. The small bumps can be whiteheads, blackheads, or pimples with pus.

How Is Acne Diagnosed?

Usually, the health care provider just does a skin examination. Sometimes blood tests may be done to help pick the best medicine and to monitor side effects from treatment.

How Is Acne Treated?

Whatever the treatment, a few weeks may pass before acne improves. Sometimes, acne may worsen before improving.

A healthy diet, regular exercise, daily skin care with salicylic acid compounds and cleansing soaps, and gentle washing (no scrubbing) are important.

All acne treatments work by preventing new acne. Treatment usually starts with lowest strength over-the-counter topical medicines (put on the skin). These drugs are usually antibiotics and peeling agents (comedolytics). Antibiotics include benzoyl peroxide, erythromycin, and clindamycin. The over-the-counter benzoyl peroxide has both peeling and antibiotic effects.

Additional prescription drugs include other peeling agents, antibiotics, and hormones.

Most people outgrow acne by their mid 20s. Rarely, severe cases may need special treatment, such as surgery.

DOs and DON’Ts in Managing Acne:

  • DO eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and wash oily skin gently, at least twice daily, with medicated soap and water.
  • DO use pills or creams according to your doctor’s instruction.
  • DO use oil-free cosmetics, suntan lotions, and shampoos.
  • DO call your health care provider if your acne gets worse despite treatment or if you have bad scarring.
  • DO see a dermatologist if your health care provider recommends it.
  • DO call your health care provider if you have emotional problems because of acne. Acne may cause embarrassment, anxiety, and social difficulties.
  • DON’T be impatient. Improvement usually takes a few weeks.
  • DON’T avoid specific foods unless you find that they make your acne worse.
  • DON’T pinch, squeeze, or pick your pimples. Infection and scarring can result.
  • DON’T sunbathe. It can make acne worse.
  • DON’T use over-the-counter acne drugs while you take prescription drugs, unless your health care provider knows.
FOR MORE INFORMATION

Contact the following source:

  • American Academy of Dermatology
    930 North Meachum Road
    Schaumburg, IL 60173
    Tel: (866) 503-7546
    Website: http://www.aad.org/

Copyright © 2016 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc

Ferri’s Netter Patient Advisor