Acne – Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, And Treatment
What is acne?
Acne, also called pimples, is a chronic inflammatory skin condition that causes pimples, spots, or zits. When this condition occurs, whiteheads, blackheads, and red, inflamed patches of skin may develop. Acne can develop anywhere on the skin, but they most often occur on the face.
Acne is most common in teenagers, but anyone can get acne, even babies. The problem tends to run in families.
What causes acne?
Acne develops when pores (tiny holes on the surface of the skin) are clogged with oil and dead skin cells. Each pore opens to a follicle. A follicle contains a hair and an oil gland. The oil released by the gland helps remove old skin cells and keeps your skin soft. The glands may be clogged with a mixture of oil and dead skin cells. This clogging or blockage is called a plug or comedone. If the top of the plug is white, it is called a white head. It is called a blackhead if the top of the plug is dark. If bacteria become trapped in the plug, the body’s immune system may react to it, causing pimples.
The following things may trigger acne:
- Hormonal changes that make the skin oilier. These may be related to puberty, menstrual periods, pregnancy, birth control pills, or stress.
- Greasy or oily cosmetic and hair products.
- Certain drugs (such as steroids, testosterone, estrogen, and phenytoin). Birth control devices such as some drug containing IUDs that can make acne worse.
- Heavy sweating and humidity.
What are the symptoms of acne?
Acne commonly appears on the face and shoulders. It may also occur on the trunk, arms, legs, and buttocks. The following skin changes occur when acne develops:
- Papules (small red bumps)
- Pustules (small red bumps containing white or yellow pus)
- Crusting of skin bumps
- Redness around the skin eruptions
- Scarring of the skin
How is acne diagnosed?
A doctor can diagnose acne by closely looking at your skin. Usually, diagnostic tests are not needed in most cases. The doctor may perform bacterial culture if large bumps persist, if there are certain patterns of acne, or to rule out infection.
How is acne treated?
Acne treatments include self-care, over-the-counter creams, and cleansers, as well as prescription antibiotics.
The following self-care measures can help acne:
- Gently clean the skin with a mild, nondrying soap (such as Dove, Neutrogena, Cetaphil, CeraVe, or Basics).
- Use cosmetics and skin creams with water-based or “noncomedogenic” formulas. Noncomedogenic products have been tested and proven not to clog pores and cause acne in most people.
- Remove all dirt or make-up. Wash once or twice a day, including after exercising.
- Avoid scrubbing or repeated skin washing.
- Shampoo your hair daily, especially if it is oily.
- Comb or pull your hair back to keep the hair out of your face.
Avoid doing the following things:
- Don’t leave makeup on overnight.
- Avoid greasy cosmetics or creams.
- Avoid touching your face with your hands or fingers.
- Try not to squeeze aggressively, scratch, pick or rub the pimples. This can lead to skin infections, slower healing, and scarring.
- Avoid wearing tight headbands, baseball caps, and other hats.
OTC Topical Medicines
If the self-care steps do not clear up the acne or pimples, try over-the-counter topical acne medicines. Topical medicines are applied on the skin. These topical medicines may contain benzoyl peroxide, sulfur, resorcinol, adapalene, or salicylic acid. They work by killing bacteria, drying up skin oils, or causing the top layer of your skin to peel. These topical medicines may cause redness, drying, or excessive peeling of the skin.
If the OTC topical medicines don’t improve the acne or pimples, the doctor may prescribe the following stronger medicines:
- Oral antibiotics (taken by mouth) such as tetracycline, doxycycline, minocycline, erythromycin, trimethoprim, and amoxicillin
- Topical antibiotics (applied to the skin) such as clindamycin, erythromycin, or dapsone
Topical Creams or Gels:
- Derivatives of vitamin A such as retinoic acid cream or gel (tretinoin, Retin-A)
- Prescription formulas of benzoyl peroxide, sulfur, resorcinol, or salicylic acid
- Topical azelaic acid
- Photodynamic Therapy. This is a treatment where a chemical that is activated by blue light is applied to the skin, followed by exposure to the light.
- Chemical Skin Peeling: This involves removal of scars by dermabrasion. It also involves removal, drainage, or injection of cysts with cortisone.
The doctor may prescribe the following for women with acne caused or made worse by hormones:
- Birth control pills.
This feature is for informational purposes only and is not intended to substitute the expert guidance of a doctor. We advise seeing a doctor if you have any health concerns.