Your skin has tiny holes called pores, which can become blocked
by oil, bacteria, dead skin cells, and dirt. When this occurs, you may develop
a pimple or “zit.” If your skin is repeatedly affected by this condition, you
may have acne.
According to the American
Academy of Dermatology, acne is the most common skin condition in the
United States. Although acne isn’t a life-threatening condition, it can be
painful, particularly when it’s severe. It can also cause emotional distress.
Acne that appears on your face can impact your self-esteem and, over time, may
cause permanent physical scarring.
There are many effective treatments for acne that reduce
both the number of pimples you get and your chance of scarring.
What Are the Symptoms of Acne?
Acne can be found almost anywhere on your body. It most
commonly develops on your face, back, neck, chest, and shoulders.
If you have acne, you will typically notice pimples that are
white or black in appearance. Both blackheads and whiteheads are known as comedones. Blackheads open at the surface of
your skin, giving them a black appearance due to the effect of oxygen in the
air. Whiteheads are
closed just under the surface of your skin, giving them a white appearance.
While whiteheads and blackheads are the most common lesions seen
in acne, other types can also occur. Inflammatory lesions are more likely to
cause scarring of your skin:
are small red, raised bumps caused by inflamed or infected hair follicles.
are small red pimples that have pus at their tips.
are solid, often painful lumps beneath the surface of your skin.
are large lumps found beneath your skin that contain pus and are usually painful.
What Causes Acne?
Acne occurs when the pores on your skin become blocked with
oil, dead skin, or bacteria.
Each pore on your skin is the opening to a follicle. The
follicle is made up of a hair and a sebaceous (oil) gland. The oil gland releases sebum (oil),
which travels up the hair, out of the pore, and onto your skin. The sebum keeps
your skin lubricated and soft.
Acne can be caused by one or more problems in this
lubrication process. It can occur when:
- too much oil is produced by your follicles
- dead skin cells accumulate in your pores
- bacteria builds up in your pores
All of these problems contribute to the development of
pimples. A zit appears when bacteria grows in a clogged pore and the oil is
unable to escape.
What Are the Risk Factors for Developing Acne?
Myths about what contributes to acne are quite common. Many
people believe that foods such as chocolate or French fries will contribute to
acne. While there’s no scientific support for these claims, there are certain
risk factors for developing acne. These include:
- hormonal changes caused by puberty or pregnancy
- certain medications, such as certain birth
control pills or corticosteroids
- a diet high in refined sugars or carbohydrates,
such as bread and chips
- having parents who had acne
Young people are most at risk for developing acne during
puberty. During this time, your body undergoes drastic hormonal changes. These changes
can trigger oil production, leading to an increased risk of acne. Hormonal acne
related to puberty usually subsides or at least improves when you reach
How Is Acne Diagnosed?
If you have symptoms of acne, your doctor can confirm your
diagnosis by examining your skin. Your doctor will identify the types of
lesions and their severity to determine the best treatment.
How Is Acne Treated?
You can use a number of self-care activities at home to
prevent pimples and to clear up your acne. Home remedies for acne include:
- cleaning your skin daily with a mild soap to
remove excess oil and dirt
- shampooing your hair regularly and keeping it
out of your face
- using makeup that’s water-based or labeled as
“noncomedogenic” (not pore-clogging)
- not squeezing or picking pimples, which spreads
bacteria and excess oil
- not wearing hats or tight headbands
- not touching your face
If self-care activities don’t help with your acne, a number
of over-the-counter acne medications are available. Most of these medications
contain ingredients that can help kill bacteria, open pores, or reduce oil on
peroxide is present in many acne creams and gels. It’s used for drying
out existing pimples and preventing new ones. Benzoyl peroxide also kills
is a natural ingredient with a distinctive smell that’s found in some lotions,
cleansers, and masks.
is a less common ingredient that’s used to remove dead skin cells.
acid is often contained in soaps and acne washes. It helps prevent pores
from getting plugged.
Sometimes, you may continue to experience symptoms. If this
happens, you may want to seek medical advice. Your doctor can prescribe
medications that may help reduce your symptoms and prevent scarring:
- Oral or topical antibiotics kill the bacteria
that cause pimples and reduce inflammation. Typically, antibiotics are only used
for a short amount of time so that your body doesn’t build up a resistance and
leave you prone to infections.
topical creams such as retinoic acid or prescription-strength
benzoyl peroxide are often stronger formulas of over-the-counter treatments.
These work to reduce oil production and open pores.
- Women with hormonal acne may be treated
with birth control pills or
spironolactone. These medications regulate hormones that can cause acne.
(Accutane) is a vitamin-A-based medication that’s used to treat
certain cases of severe nodular acne. It can cause serious side effects, and it’s
only used when other treatments have failed.
Your doctor may recommend additional procedures to treat
severe acne and prevent scarring. These work by removing damaged skin, reducing
oil production, or opening pores:
therapy uses a medication and a special light or laser to reduce oil
production and reduce bacteria. Other lasers may be used alone to help improve acne
removes the top layers of your skin with a rotating brush. Microdermabrasion is
a milder treatment that helps open pores and remove dead skin cells.
- A chemical
peel essentially removes the top layers of your skin. That skin peels
off to reveal less damaged skin underneath. Chemical peels also help open pores
and can improve mild acne scarring.
Your doctor may suggest using cortisone injections if your acne consists of large cysts.
Cortisone is a steroid naturally produced by your body. It can reduce
inflammation and speed healing. Cortisone is usually used along with other acne
What Is the Outlook for Someone with Acne?
Treatment for acne is often successful. Most people can
expect their acne to start to clear up within six to eight weeks. However,
flare-ups of the condition are common and may require additional or long-term treatment.
Isotretinoin is the treatment most likely to provide permanent or long-term
Scarring that occurs as a result of acne can cause emotional
distress. Prompt treatment can help prevent scarring. Also, your dermatologist
has treatment options specifically designed to treat scarring.
How Can Acne Be Prevented?
It’s difficult to prevent acne. But you can take some steps
at home to help prevent acne after treatment. These steps include:
- washing your face twice a day with an oil-free
- using an over-the-counter acne cream to remove
- avoiding makeup that contains oil
- removing makeup and cleaning your skin
thoroughly before bed
- showering after exercising
- avoiding tight-fitting clothing
- eating a healthy diet with minimal refined
- reducing stress
Speak with your doctor to learn more about strategies to
manage your acne.