Acne is a skin condition that causes pimples or "zits." This includes whiteheads, blackheads, and red, inflammed patches of skin (such as cysts).
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. Hormonal changes may cause the skin to be more oily.
Acne tends to run in families. It may be triggered by:
Research does not show that chocolate, nuts, and greasy foods cause acne. However, diets high in refined sugars may be related to acne.
Acne commonly appears on the face and shoulders. It may also occur on the trunk, arms, legs, and buttocks.
Your doctor can diagnose acne by looking at your skin. Testing is usually not needed.
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 medications. You apply these products directly to your skin.
A small amount of sun exposure may improve acne a little, but mostly it just hides the acne. However, too much exposure to sunlight or ultraviolet rays is not recommended because it increases the risk for skin cancer.
MEDICINES FROM YOUR HEALTH CARE PROVIDER
If pimples are still a problem, a health care provider can prescribe stronger medications 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 (Accutane). You will be watched closely when taking this medicine because of its side effects.
Pregnant women should NOT take Accutane, because it causes severe birth defects. Women taking Accutane must use two forms of birth control before starting the drug and enroll in the iPledge program. Your doctor will follow you on this drug and you will have regular blood tests.
Acne usually goes away after the teenage years, but it may last into middle age. The condition often responds well to treatment after 6 - 8 weeks, but it may flare up from time to time.
Scarring may occur if severe acne is not treated. Some people, especially teenagers, can become very depressed if acne is not treated.
Call your doctor or a dermatologist if:
If your baby has acne, call the baby's health care provider if acne does not clear up on its own within 3 months.
Acne vulgaris; Cystic acne; Pimples; Zits
Zaenglein AL, Thiboutot DM. Acne Vulgaris. In: Bolognia JL, Jorizzo JL, Schaffer JV, et al, eds.Dermatology. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2012:chap 36.
Updated by: Kevin Berman, MD, PhD, Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.
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