Your skin has tiny holes called pores that can become blocked by oil, bacteria, dead skin cells and dirt. When this happens, a pimple or "zit" can appear. 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 is not a life-threatening condition, it can be painful, especially when severe. It can also cause emotional distress.
Acne that appears on the face can affect self-esteem and can cause permanent physical scarring over time.
There are many effective acne treatments that reduce both the number of pimples you get and the chance of scarring.
Acne can be found almost anywhere on your body. It most often develops on your face, back, neck, chest, and arms.
If you have acne, you will usually notice pimples that are white or black. Both blackheads and whiteheads are called comedones.
Blackheads open up on the surface of the skin, giving them a black appearance because of the oxygen in the air. Whiteheads are closed just below the surface of the skin, giving them a white appearance.
While whiteheads and blackheads are the most common lesions found in acne, other types can also occur. Inflammatory lesions are more likely to cause scarring of the skin. These include:
Acne occurs when skin pores become blocked by oil, dead skin, or bacteria.
Each skin pore is an opening for a follicle. The follicle consists 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 the skin. Sebum keeps your skin moisturized and soft.
One or more problems in this lubrication process can cause acne. It can occur when:
These problems contribute to the development of pimples. A pimple occurs when bacteria grow in clogged pores and oil is unable to escape.
Myths about what contributes to the development of acne are quite common. Many people believe that foods such as chocolate and chips contribute to the development of acne. While there is no scientific support for these claims, there are some risk factors for developing acne. These include:
People are most at risk for developing acne during puberty. During this time, the body undergoes hormonal changes. These changes can trigger oil production, leading to an increased risk of acne. Hormonal acne associated with puberty usually goes away, or at least improves, when you reach adulthood.
If you have symptoms of acne, your doctor can make a diagnosis by examining your skin. Your doctor will determine the types of lesions and their severity to determine the best treatment.
There are several self-care measures you can try at home to prevent pimples and clear up acne. Home remedies for acne include:
If self-care does not help your acne, there are several over-the-counter acne medications available. Most of these medications contain ingredients that can help kill bacteria or reduce the amount of oil on your skin. These include:
Sometimes you may experience further symptoms. If this happens, you may want to seek medical advice. Your doctor may prescribe medications that can help reduce symptoms and prevent scarring. These include:
Oral or topical antibiotics reduce inflammation and kill the bacteria that cause pimples. Usually, antibiotics are only used for a short time so that the body does not build up immunity and become susceptible to infection.
Prescription topical creams, such as retinoic acid or prescription benzoyl peroxide, are often stronger than over-the-counter treatments. They work to reduce oil production. Benzoyl peroxide serves as an antibacterial agent that prevents acne-causing bacteria from becoming resistant to antibioticsTrusted Source. It also has moderate comedone destroying and anti-inflammatory properties.
Women with hormonal acne may be treated with birth control pills or spironolactone. These medications regulate the hormones that can cause acne by reducing oil production.
Isotretinoin (Accutane) is a vitamin A-based drug used to treat some cases of severe nodular acne. It can cause serious side effects and is only used when other treatments do not work.
Your doctor may recommend treatments to treat severe acne and prevent scarring. These treatments involve removing damaged skin and reducing oil production. They include:
Photodynamic therapy uses drugs and a special light or laser to reduce oil and bacteria production. Other lasers can be used alone to improve acne or scarring.
Dermabrasion removes the top layers of skin with a rotating brush and would be best for treating acne scars as opposed to treating acne. Microdermabrasion is a gentler treatment that helps remove dead skin cells.
A chemical peel removes the top layers of the skin. This skin exfoliates, revealing less damaged skin underneath. Chemical peels can improve mild acne scars.
If your acne consists of large cysts, your doctor may suggest cortisone injections. Cortisone is a steroid naturally produced by the body. It can reduce inflammation and speed healing. Cortisone is usually used along with other acne treatments.
Treatment for acne is often effective. Most people can expect their acne to start clearing up within six to eight weeks. However, acne occurs frequently and may require additional or long-term treatment. Isotretinoin is the treatment most likely to produce lasting or long-term positive results.
Acne scars can cause emotional distress. But prompt treatment can help prevent scarring. In addition, your dermatologist will have scar treatment options.
It is difficult to prevent acne. But you can take steps at home to prevent acne after treatment. These steps include:
Talk to your doctor to learn more about acne management strategies.