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Acne

Acne vulgaris; Cystic acne; Pimples; Zits

Acne is a skin condition that causes pimples or "zits." Whiteheads, blackheads, and red, inflamed patches of skin (such as cysts) may develop.

Images

Hair follicle sebaceous gland
Baby acne
Acne - close-up of pustular lesions
Blackheads (comedones)
Acne - cystic on the chest
Acne - cystic on the face
Acne - vulgaris on the back
Acne on the back
Acne

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Causes

Acne occurs when tiny holes on the surface of the skin become clogged. These holes are called pores.

Acne is most common in teenagers, but anyone can get acne, even babies. The problem tends to run in families.

Some things that may trigger acne include:

Research does not show that chocolate, nuts, and greasy foods cause acne. However, diets high in refined sugars or dairy products may be related to acne in some people, but this connection is controversial.

Symptoms

Acne commonly appears on the face and shoulders. It may also occur on the trunk, arms, legs, and buttocks. Skin changes include:

Exams and Tests

Your health care provider can diagnose acne by looking at your skin. Testing is not needed in most cases. Bacterial culture may be performed with certain patterns of acne or to rule out infection if large pus bumps persist.

Treatment

SELF-CARE

Steps you can take to help your acne:

What NOT to do:

If these steps do not clear up the blemishes, try over-the-counter acne medicines that you apply to your skin. Follow the directions carefully and apply these products sparingly.

A small amount of sun exposure may improve acne slightly, but tanning mostly hides the acne. Too much exposure to sunlight or ultraviolet rays is not recommended because it increases the risk for wrinkles and skin cancer.

MEDICINES FROM YOUR HEALTH CARE PROVIDER

If pimples are still a problem, a provider can prescribe stronger medicines and discuss other options with you.

Antibiotics may help some people with acne:

Creams or gels applied to the skin may be prescribed:

For women whose acne is caused or made worse by hormones:

Minor procedures or treatments may also be helpful:

People who have cystic acne and scarring may try a medicine called isotretinoin. You will be watched closely when taking this medicine because of its side effects.

Pregnant women should NOT take isotretinoin, because it causes severe birth defects.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Most of the time, acne goes away after the teenage years, but it may last into middle age. The condition often responds well to treatment, but responses may take 6 to 8 weeks, and acne may flare up from time to time.

Scarring may occur if severe acne is not treated. Some people become very depressed if acne is not treated.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your provider if:

If your baby has acne, call the baby's provider if acne does not clear up on its own within 3 months.

Related Information

Whiteheads
Blackheads
Cyst
Testosterone

References

Dinuos JGH. Acne, rosacea, and related disorders. In: Dinulos JGH, ed. Habif's Clinical Dermatology. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 7.

James WD, Elston DM, Treat JR, Rosenbach MA, Neuhaus IM. Acne. In: James WD, Elston DM, Treat JR, Rosenbach MA, Neuhaus IM, eds. Andrews' Diseases of the Skin: Clinical Dermatology. 13th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 13.

Kim WE. Acne. In: Kliegman RM, St. Geme JW, Blum NJ, Shah SS, Tasker RC, Wilson KM, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 689.

Moon M, Guerrero AM, Li X, Koch E, Gehris RP. Dermatology. In: Zitelli, BJ, McIntire SC, Nowalk AJ, Garrison J, eds. Zitelli and Davis' Atlas of Pediatric Physical Diagnosis. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2023:chap 8.

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Review Date: 8/14/2021  

Reviewed By: Elika Hoss, MD, Senior Associate Consultant, Mayo Clinic, Scottsdale, AZ. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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