Acne is a skin condition that causes pimples or "zits." Whiteheads, blackheads, and red, inflamed patches of skin (such as cysts) may develop.
Acne vulgaris; Cystic acne; Pimples; Zits
Acne occurs when tiny holes on the surface of the skin become clogged. These holes are called pores.
Acne is most common in teenagers, but anyone can get acne, even babies. The problem tends to run in families.
Some things that may trigger acne include:
Research does not show that chocolate, nuts, and greasy foods cause acne. However, diets high in refined sugars or dairy products may be related to acne in some people, but this connection is controversial.
Acne commonly appears on the face and shoulders. It may also occur on the trunk, arms, legs, and buttocks. Skin changes include:
Exams and Tests
Your health care provider can diagnose acne by looking at your skin. Testing is not needed in most cases. Bacterial culture may be performed with certain patterns of acne or to rule out infection if large pus bumps persist.
Steps you can take to help your acne:
What NOT to do:
If these steps do not clear up the blemishes, try over-the-counter acne medicines that you apply to your skin. Follow the directions carefully and apply these products sparingly.
A small amount of sun exposure may improve acne slightly, but tanning mostly hides the acne. Too much exposure to sunlight or ultraviolet rays is not recommended because it increases the risk for skin cancer.
MEDICINES FROM YOUR HEALTH CARE PROVIDER
If pimples are still a problem, a provider can prescribe stronger medicines and discuss other options with you.
Antibiotics may help some people with acne:
Creams or gels applied to the skin may be prescribed:
For women whose acne is caused or made worse by hormones:
Minor procedures or treatments may also be helpful:
People who have cystic acne and scarring may try a medicine called isotretinoin (Accutane). You will be watched closely when taking this medicine because of its side effects.
Pregnant women should NOT take Accutane, because it causes severe birth defects.
Most of the time, acne goes away after the teenage years, but it may last into middle age. The condition often responds well to treatment after 6 to 8 weeks, but may flare up from time to time.
Scarring may occur if severe acne is not treated. Some people become very depressed if acne is not treated.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your provider if:
If your baby has acne, call the baby's provider if acne does not clear up on its own within 3 months.
Gehris RP. Dermatology. In: Zitelli BJ, McIntire SC, Norwalk AJ, eds. Atlas of Pediatric Diagnosis. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 8.
Habif TP. Acne, roacea, and related distorders. In: Habif TP, ed. Clinical Dermatology. 6th ed. St Louis, MO: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 7.
Walsh TR, Efthimiou J, Dreno B. Systematic review of antibiotic resistance in acne: an increasing topical and oral threat. Lancet Infect Dis. 2016;16(3):e23-33. PMID: 26852728 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26852728.
Review Date: 7/25/2017
Reviewed By: David L. Swanson, MD, Vice Chair of Medical Dermatology, Associate Professor of Dermatology, Mayo Medical School, Scottsdale, AZ. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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