Acne

Acne is a skin problem that causes pimples. Acne occurs when the pores in your skin get blocked. Your pores may become red, sore, and swollen (inflamed), or infected with a common skin bacterium (Propionibacterium acnes). Acne is a common skin problem. Up to 80% of people get acne at some time. Acne is especially common from the ages of 12 to 24. Acne usually goes away over time with proper treatment.

CAUSES

Your pores each contain an oil gland. The oil glands make an oily substance called sebum. Acne happens when these glands get plugged with sebum, dead skin cells, and dirt. The P. acnes bacteria that are normally found in the oil glands then multiply, causing inflammation. Acne is commonly triggered by changes in your hormones. These hormonal changes can cause the oil glands to get bigger and to make more sebum. Factors that can make acne worse include:

  • Hormone changes during adolescence.

  • Hormone changes during women's menstrual cycles.

  • Hormone changes during pregnancy.

  • Oil-based cosmetics and hair products.

  • Harshly scrubbing the skin.

  • Strong soaps.

  • Stress.

  • Hormone problems due to certain diseases.

  • Long or oily hair rubbing against the skin.

  • Certain medicines.

  • Pressure from headbands, backpacks, or shoulder pads.

  • Exposure to certain oils and chemicals.

SYMPTOMS

Acne often occurs on the face, neck, chest, and upper back. Symptoms include:

  • Small, red bumps (pimples or papules).

  • Whiteheads (closed comedones).

  • Blackheads (open comedones).

  • Small, pus-filled pimples (pustules).

  • Big, red pimples or pustules that feel tender.

More severe acne can cause:

  • An infected area that contains a collection of pus (abscess).

  • Hard, painful, fluid-filled sacs (cysts).

  • Scars.

DIAGNOSIS

Your caregiver can usually tell what the problem is by doing a physical exam.

TREATMENT

There are many good treatments for acne. Some are available over-the-counter and some are available with a prescription. The treatment that is best for you depends on the type of acne you have and how severe it is. It may take 2 months of treatment before your acne gets better. Common treatments include:

  • Creams and lotions that prevent oil glands from clogging.

  • Creams and lotions that treat or prevent infections and inflammation.

  • Antibiotics applied to the skin or taken as a pill.

  • Pills that decrease sebum production.

  • Birth control pills.

  • Light or laser treatments.

  • Minor surgery.

  • Injections of medicine into the affected areas.

  • Chemicals that cause peeling of the skin.

HOME CARE INSTRUCTIONS

Good skin care is the most important part of treatment.

  • Wash your skin gently at least twice a day and after exercise. Always wash your skin before bed.

  • Use mild soap.

  • After each wash, apply a water-based skin moisturizer.

  • Keep your hair clean and off of your face. Shampoo your hair daily.

  • Only take medicines as directed by your caregiver.

  • Use a sunscreen or sunblock with SPF 30 or greater. This is especially important when you are using acne medicines.

  • Choose cosmetics that are noncomedogenic. This means they do not plug the oil glands.

  • Avoid leaning your chin or forehead on your hands.

  • Avoid wearing tight headbands or hats.

  • Avoid picking or squeezing your pimples. This can make your acne worse and cause scarring.

SEEK MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • Your acne is not better after 8 weeks.

  • Your acne gets worse.

  • You have a large area of skin that is red or tender.