In this Article

What is Acne?

Acne is a chronic skin condition that affects up to 50 million Americans annually. It typically appears on your face, neck, chest, back, and shoulders. Acne occurs when tiny follicles on your body become plugged. These follicles are connected to oil glands that secrete an oily substance (called sebum) to lubricate your hair and skin. When these follicles become plugged with oil and dead skin cells, acne can develop.

Acne usually begins in puberty when hormones change, but it can also occur at any stage of life. In most cases, acne can be controlled with self-care and over-the-counter acne medicines. In some cases, you may be referred to a dermatologist for treatment.


Acne commonly appears on the face and shoulders. It may also occur on other parts of the body include the arms, legs, and buttocks. Symptoms of acne include the following:

  • Whiteheads
  • Blackheads
  • Crusting of skin bumps
  • Cysts
  • Papules, or small red bumps
  • Redness around the skin changes
  • Scarring of the skin

When to See a Doctor

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • Home care treatment and over-the-counter medicines do not help
  • You are experiencing a severe case of acne, or your acne is getting worse
  • You are experiencing pain from acne
  • You develop scars as your acne clears up
  • Your acne is causing emotional distress


There are several factors that may cause acne. The most common cause of acne is when tiny follicles on the surface of the skin become clogged. Acne is most common in teenagers, but anyone can get acne, even babies. Other causes of acne may include:

  • Hormonal changes related to puberty, menstrual cycles, pregnancy, menopause, birth control pills, or stress
  • Greasy or oily hair products and cosmetics
  • Heavy sweating from exercise
  • Humidity
  • Certain drugs (such as steroids and hormone replacement therapies)
  • Genetics or family history
  • Diets high in sugars or dairy products

Diagnosis and Tests

A health care provider evaluating your skin usually diagnoses acne. Testing is not needed in most cases. A bacterial culture may be performed to rule out infections. In severe cases, you may be referred to a dermatologist.


Treatment for acne generally begins with self-care. Options to manage acne include:

  • Over-the-counter acne medicines
  • Clean skin regularly with mild, non-drying soap

If self-care treatments are not working, your physician may recommend the following options:

  • Prescribed oral antibiotics
  • Prescribed topical antibiotics
  • Medications such as Accutane (not recommended for pregnant women)
  • Prescribed formulas of benzoyl peroxide, sulfur, resorcinol, or salicylic acid
  • Birth control pills for women whose acne is caused or made worse by hormones
  • Laser treatments
  • Cortisone injections
  • Dermabrasion

Most people respond well to treatment after several weeks, but the acne may flare up from time to time.


There are several steps you can take to prevent acne:

  • Clean your skin gently once or twice a day with a mild, non-drying soap
  • Avoid scrubbing or repeated skin washing
  • Don’t leave makeup on overnight
  • Look for water-based formulas for cosmetics and skin creams
  • Shampoo your hair daily, especially if it is oily
  • Avoid using fragrances, oils, or gels in your hair
  • Avoid touching your face
  • Avoid greasy foods and dairy products that may trigger acne

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