How is acne diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider can diagnose acne during a skin exam. They may also ask if you’re undergoing significant stress or if you have a family history of acne, all of which are risk factors. Teenage girls and women may also be asked about their menstrual cycles, as breakouts are sometimes related. Sudden, severe acne outbreaks in older people can sometimes signal another underlying disease that requires medical attention.

How severe can acne get?

Dermatologists rank acne by severity:

  • Grade 1 (mild): mostly whiteheads and blackheads, with a few papules and pustules.
  • Grade 2 (moderate, or pustular acne): multiple papules and pustules, mostly on your face.
  • Grade 3 (moderately severe, or nodulocystic acne): numerous papules and pustules, along with occasionally inflamed nodules. Your back and chest may also be affected.
  • Grade 4 (severe nodulocystic acne): numerous large, painful and inflamed pustules and nodules.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 09/01/2020.

References

  • National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Questions and Answers about Acne. Accessed 8/31/2020.
  • American Academy of Dermatology. Acne: Overview. Accessed 8/31/2020.
  • Di Landro A, Cazzaniga S, Parazzini F, et al. Family history, body mass index, selected dietary factors, menstrual history, and risk of moderate to severe acne in adolescents and young adults. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2012;67(6):1129–1135. Accessed 8/31/2020.

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