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What is acne?

Acne is a common skin disease that primarily affects teenagers and young adults, but people of all ages can be affected by it as well. It occurs when the hair follicle, or pore, becomes clogged with excess skin oils, dead skin cells, or bacteria. Acne typically can appear on the face, neck, chest, back and shoulders as these areas have the most oil glands. Acne can appear as:

  • Whiteheads and blackheads – small white or black dots appear when the hair follicle is clogged with oils, dead skin or bacteria
  • Papules – small raised bumps which signal inflammation or infection of the hair follicle
  • Pustules – red, tender bumps with white pus at the tip
  • Nodules – large and sometimes painful solid bumps beneath the surface of the skin

There are three categories of acne – mild, moderate and severe – depending on the number of lesions.

What are the causes?

There are three main causes of acne:

  • an overproduction of skin oils (sebum)
  • increased shedding of dead skin cells which can irritate the hair follicle
  • a buildup of bacteria

Who is affected?

It’s believed that hormones play a role in acne, so it commonly affects:

  • teenagers and young adults
  • women and girls, usually the week before menstruation
  • pregnant women
  • people using certain medications, particularly cortisone

When to see the doctor

Acne can become a problem when the area becomes overly inflamed and infected, as it can lead to permanent scarring. Acne can also be a cause of emotional distress so one should see a doctor if acne begins to affect self-esteem and personal relationships. Acne can be problematic, but effective treatment is available.


There are ways to prevent acne from occurring. These include washing skin regularly with a gentle cleanser and not picking at the skin. Other tips include:

  • Wash problem areas only twice a day – too much washing can irritate the skin so be careful not to overdo it. Use a gentle cleanser and oil-free, water-based skin care products
  • Avoid heavy foundation makeup – makeup can irritate the skin; choose loose powder over liquid foundations
  • Remove makeup before going to bed – makeup clogs pores and leaves skin prone to problems. Also remember to replace makeup regularly and clean brushes and applicators to prevent buildup of bacteria
  • Wear loose fitting clothing – tight clothes creates friction and irritates the skin
  • Shower after exercising – excess oil and sweat on the skin can trap bacteria and leave skin prone to acne

Source: Mayo Clinic and MedlinePlus