Acne is a skin condition that occurs when your hair follicles become plugged with oil and dead skin cells. It causes
whiteheads, blackheads or pimples. Acne is most common among teenagers, though it affects people of all ages.
Effective acne treatments are available, but acne can be persistent. The pimples and bumps heal slowly, and when one
begins to go away, others seem to crop up.
Depending on its severity, acne can cause emotional distress and scar the skin. The earlier you start treatment, the
lower your risk of such problems.
What causes acne?
Four main factors cause acne:
Acne is an inflammatory disorder of the skin, which has sebaceous (oil) glands that connects to the hair follicle,
which contains a fine hair. In healthy skin, the sebaceous glands make sebum that empties onto the skin surface
through the pore, which is an opening in the follicle. Keratinocytes a type of skin cell line the follicle
Normally as the body sheds skin cells, the keratinocytes rise to the surface of the skin. When someone has acne, the
hair, sebum, and keratinocytes stick together inside the pore. This prevents the keratinocytes from shedding and
keeps the sebum from reaching the surface of the skin. The mixture of oil and cells allows bacteria that normally
live on the skin to grow in the plugged follicles and cause inflammation-swelling, redness, heat, and pain. When the
wall of the plugged follicle breaks down, it spills the bacteria, skin cells, and sebum into nearby skin, creating
lesions or pimples.
The following factors may increase your risk for developing acne:
- Hormones. An increase in androgens, which are male sex hormones, may lead to acne. These
increase in both boys and girls normally during puberty and cause the sebaceous glands to enlarge and make
more sebum. Hormonal changes related to pregnancy can also cause acne.
- Family history. Researchers believe that you may be more likely to get acne if your parents
- Medications. Certain medications, such as medications that contain hormones,
corticosteroids, and lithium, can cause acne.
- Age. People of all ages can get acne, but it is more common in teens.
Acne can cause more than breakouts?
Some people dismiss acne as a skin condition that you’ll eventually outgrow, but it
can have a profound and lasting effect on someone’s life. Many people develop one or more of the following after
Acne scars. When an acne breakout clears, it can leave a permanent scar. Some scars cause
depressions in the skin. Others are raised. It’s impossible to predict who will develop scars when the acne
clears, but the following increases your risk:
- Living with acne for an extended amount of time because you don’t treat it or treatment doesn’t work
- Having one or more close blood relatives who developed acne scars
Dark spots on the skin. As an acne breakout clears, some people see a spot where the acne
once was. This completely flat spot can be pink, red, purple, black, or brown, and it’s often mistaken for a
permanent acne scar.
- As the acne clears, it can leave long-lasting dark spots on the skin.
Lower self-esteem. Research shows that acne can deflate one’s self-esteem, and
dermatologists see this in many patients who have acne. Lower self-esteem during the teen and early
adulthood years can negatively affect one’s life.
For example, lower self-esteem can prevent someone from pursuing a desired career, speaking up in class,
getting a part-time job, making friends, or dating.
Low self-esteem is also associated with anxiety and depression.
Depression. Studies reveal that teens with acne have a higher risk of developing
depression, which may include thoughts of suicide, than do teens who have the occasional pimple.
This is why dermatologists recommend treating acne when it begins and continuing treatment to prevent new
Types of Acne
A whitehead forms when excess oil and dead skin cells build up and plug the opening of a pore. This
causes a blemish that is raised and white or flesh colored.
Medical name: Closed comedo, which means “closed pore.”
This type of acne also develops when excess oil and dead skin cells build up inside a pore. As the
buildup accumulates, it widens the opening of the pore and you see a blackhead.
Medical name: Open comedo, which means “open pore.”
Sometimes excess oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria get trapped inside a pore. The bacteria, which are
normally found on our skin, can multiple quickly in the excess oil. As the pore fills with bacteria,
inflammation (swelling) develops and a pimple appears.
Medical name: If the pimple contains pus, it’s called a pustule. A pimple without pus
is called a papule.
Acne Nodule or Cyst
When a pore fills with enough excess oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria to cause inflammation (swelling)
that goes deep into the skin, an acne nodule or cyst develops. Because these breakouts go deep into the
skin, they can feel tender or painful.
The main difference between an acne nodule and an acne cyst is that a cyst contains pus. Because nodules
don’t contain pus, they feel harder than cysts.