And more importantly, how do
I get rid of it?
All types of acne — blackheads,
whiteheads, pimples, and cysts — develop when pores in our skin
become clogged. The culprit is sebum [see-bum], an oil in our skin.
Our bodies make more sebum when our hormones surge. This is why
teens get acne. This is why women often breakout before their
periods. Since hormones fluctuate in the years leading up to
menopause, many women in their 40s and 50s get acne.
Why do people get different types of acne?
What happens inside the clogged pore determines the type of acne we
A blackhead appears when sebum and dead skin cells clog the pore.
While the pore is clogged, its surface remains open. This lets us
look into the pore and see a black color. Your dermatologist may
call a blackhead an “open comedo” (co-me-dough).
A whitehead forms when the excess oil and dead skin cells clog the
pore and block the opening of the pore. Because the pore closes,
dermatologists call this type of acne a “closed comedo.”
face and chest
Acne develops where we
have the most sebaceous glands. These glands make sebum
and are found in the greatest number on our face, neck,
chest, back, shoulders, and upper arms.
The excess oil does more than clog
pores. Bacteria that normally live on our skin, P. acnes,
thrive in this excess oil. Immersed in excess oil, the bacteria can
rapidly increase in number. As the bacteria multiply in a clogged
pore, the pore becomes inflamed. Inflammation is what causes a
pimple to look red, hot, and swollen.
When inflammation reaches deep into the skin, an acne cyst forms.
This is the most severe type of acne. Cysts can be very painful.
People often see permanent scarring after this type of acne heals.
This 14-year-old boy has
acne and acne scars on his upper back and shoulders.
Getting the acne under control can prevent more
(Photo used with permission
of the American Academy of Dermatology
National Library of Dermatologic Teaching Slides)
Getting Rid of Acne
Thanks to advances in medicine, today, virtually every case of
acne can be controlled. Many people with mild acne can see clear
skin with good skin care and acne products available without a
prescription. However, this won’t control everyone’s acne. Sometimes
acne control requires a dermatologist’s help. Even severe acne can
be successfully controlled with treatment from a dermatologist.
While treating acne may seem unimportant, research shows treatment
has value. Treating acne can prevent additional breakouts and scars.
It can improve a person’s quality of life. People living with acne
can suffer from low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression. Acne can
even discourage people from pursuing life's dreams. When acne is
under control, a person’s confidence grows. Anxiety and depression
Acne Can Change the Way You See the World
Skin Care for Acne-prone Skin
Leyden JJ. “A review of the use of combination therapies for the
treatment of acne vulgaris.” Journal of the American Academy of
Dermatology September 2003; 49: S200-10.
Zaenglein AL, Graber, EM, Thiboutot DM, et al. “Acne Vulgaris
and Acneiform Eruptions.” In: Wolff K, et al. editors.
Fitzpatrick’s Dermatology in General Medicine. United States.
McGraw Hill Medical; 2008. p. 690-3.
content solely developed by the American Academy of Dermatology
Squeezing, popping, and picking at acne can lead to
infection and scarring. To learn what dermatologists
What Can Help Clear Acne (slideshow)
(Photo used with permission
of the American Academy of Dermatology National Library
of Dermatologic Teaching Slides)