This is a condition in which the pores, or openings, in the skin are blocked with oil, dirt and bacteria.

This is a condition in which the pores, or openings, in the skin are blocked with oil, dirt and bacteria.

Acne is the development of whiteheads, blackheads, or raised red spots on the skin. These occur when the pores, or holes in the skin, become blocked with a plug made up of excessive oil, dirt, and bacteria. If the top of the plug is white, it's called a whitehead; if it is black, it's called a blackhead. Sometimes the plug opens, which allows the oil and bacteria to spread. This can lead to additional redness and swelling. If the plug goes deep into the skin, then painful, inflamed pockets (cysts) can form.

  • Although it is more common in teenagers, acne can occur in infants and middle-aged adults.

Acne can be caused or triggered by many things; some of the more common causes and triggers are:

  • Changes in hormone levels due to menstrual periods, pregnancy, stress, and certain stages of life (e.g. the teenage years)
  • Cosmetic or hair products that have a lot of oil in them
  • Certain medications, such as birth control pills, phenytoin (a medication to control seizures that is also known as Dilantin), and steroids
  • A family history of acne

Some of the more common signs and symptoms of acne include:

  • Blackheads and/or whiteheads
  • Painful cysts, pockets, or pustules
  • Redness and swelling around the base of the pimples
  • Permanent scarring of the skin

Before you see a healthcare provider for your acne, there are some things you can try at home. These include washing your skin with a mild soap that doesn't dry the skin, especially after exercise or excessive sweating; keeping your hair clean and away from your face; and using over-the-counter acne medications that can kill bacteria and remove excess oil.

  • Do not use oily cosmetics or wash the area excessively.
  • Do not squeeze the pimples, which can lead to scarring and infections by releasing the bacteria onto the surrounding skin. Avoid touching your face with your hands.
  • Do not sleep with your makeup on.

If your acne persists, you may need to see a healthcare provider for a treatment plan that often includes both over-the-counter and prescription medications. The latter may include antibiotics or special solutions that contain antibiotics or retinoic acid.

While acne can go away with self-care, there may be times you need to see a healthcare provider for further treatment. Be prepared to discuss your symptoms and how long you've had them.

  • Before your appointment, make a list the key parts of your medical history, including past illnesses, surgeries and hospitalizations; your medications (including over-the-counter and supplements); and any questions or concerns you want to discuss.
  • During your appointment, ask about your overall health, what symptoms you might have, when you may start to see improvement; what the follow-up plans are, if any; and what symptoms you should report before your next appointment.
  • After your appointment, you should know your diagnosis, what tests you might need, the reason for those tests, and if the test results will change your treatment plan. You should also understand your treatment plan, any possible alternatives, and what medications are recommended (including possible side effects or precautions you should take).
  • If your healthcare provider wants you to take a medication, ask if an over-the-counter product is right for you.
  • If your healthcare provider prescribes a medication for you, ask for a generic version. If your doctor thinks that a generic version is not right for you, ask for a medication on the lowest available tier of your Prescription Drug List (PDL).


Also known as:

Cystic Acne
Acne Conditions
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