Acne is a skin problem that occurs when the hair follicles of your skin are blocked by a mix of dead skin cells and sebum (oil). When this happens, bacteria can grow in the plugged hair follicles and cause more skin irritation.
Acne can occur anywhere on skin, but is most common on the face, neck, chest, and back. It usually starts in the early teen years, when the oil glands in the body start making more sebum, but can last into or begin in adulthood, too.
Acne occurs when a mix of dead skin cells and sebum block the hair follicles of your skin. There are a few different types of acne:
Both boys and girls get acne. But it may be worse in boys because they have more skin oils. For many people, acne symptoms fade by the age of 25, but they can continue well into the adult years.
Family history also plays a role. If your mother and father had bad acne, you may have it, too.
Your immune system plays a role too. Some people are extra sensitive to the bacteria that get trapped in their hair follicles.
Many treatments are available for acne, including over-the-counter and prescription medicines.
Benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid are the most common and most effective over-the-counter medicines for acne. These medicines kill bacteria, dry up skin oil, and make your skin peel off. They are available in many forms, such as gels, lotions, creams, soaps, or pads. Keep in mind that it can take up to 8 weeks before you notice an improvement in the appearance of your skin. If an over-the-counter acne product doesn't seem to help after 2 months, talk to your doctor.
In some people, over-the-counter acne medications may cause side effects such as skin irritation, burning, or redness. Tell your doctor if you have side effects that are severe or that don't go away over time.
If over-the-counter medicines are not effective, your doctor may prescribe one or more of the following medicines:
In addition to or in combination with medicines, cosmetic procedures such as peels, skin abrasion (dermabrasion or microderm abrasion), and laser or light treatments may help treat acne. These treatments may also help reduce acne scars. Individual large acne cysts often respond dramatically to small injections of steroid medication by your family doctor or a dermatologist.
Lifestyle changes such as healthy diet and regular exercise may also help treat or prevent acne.
Acne, especially cystic acne, can cause scars in some people. You can help reduce scarring by not squeezing or picking at blemishes. Also, avoid scrubbing your skin. If you do get scars, treatments to help reduce scarring are available.
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff