Acne is a common skin condition where the pores of your skin clog. Pore blockages produce blackheads, whiteheads and other types of pimples. Pimples are pus-filled, sometimes painful, bumps on your skin.
The medical term for acne is acne vulgaris.
There are several types of acne, including:
All of these forms of acne can affect your self-esteem, and both cystic and nodular acne can lead to permanent skin damage in the form of scarring. It’s best to seek help from a healthcare provider early so they can determine the best treatment option(s) for you.
Acne usually affects everyone at some point in their lifetime. It’s most common among teenagers and young adults undergoing hormonal changes, but acne can also occur during adulthood. Adult acne is more common among women and people assigned female at birth (AFAB). You may be more at risk of developing acne if you have a family history of acne (genetics).
If you have acne, know that you’re not alone. Acne is the most common skin condition that people experience. An estimated 80% of people ages 11 to 30 will have at least a mild form of acne.
The most common places where you might have acne are on your:
Oil glands exist all over your body. The common locations of acne are where oil glands exist the most.
Symptoms of acne on your skin include:
Acne can be mild and cause a few occasional pimples or it can be moderate and cause inflammatory papules. Severe acne causes nodules and cysts.
Clogged hair follicles or pores cause acne. Your hair follicles are small tubes that hold a strand of your hair. There are several glands that empty into your hair follicles. When too much material is inside your hair follicle, a clog occurs. Your pores can clog with:
When your pores clog, substances plug up your hair follicle, creating a pimple. This triggers inflammation, which you feel as pain and swelling. You can also see inflammation through skin discoloration like redness around a pimple.
Certain things in your environment contribute to acne or they can make an acne breakout worse, including:
Some studies link particular foods and diets to acne, like:
While high-sugar diets may lead to acne outbreaks, chocolate isn’t directly linked to acne.
To reduce your risk of acne, choose to eat a balanced, nutritious diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, especially those rich in vitamin C and beta-carotene, which helps reduce inflammation.
Acne is largely a hormonal condition that’s driven by androgen hormones (testosterone). This typically becomes active during teenage and young adult years. You might also notice acne forming around the time of your period as a result of hormone activity. Sensitivity to this hormone — combined with surface bacteria on your skin and substances released from your body’s glands — can result in acne.
A healthcare provider can diagnose acne during a skin exam. During this exam, the provider will closely look at your skin to learn more about your symptoms. In addition, they may also ask about risk factors for acne, like:
Your healthcare provider won’t need to run any diagnostic tests for acne, but they may offer tests to diagnose any underlying conditions if you have sudden, severe acne outbreaks, especially if you’re an adult.
A general healthcare provider or a dermatologist can diagnose and treat acne. If you have stubborn acne that doesn’t improve with treatment, a dermatologist can help.
Dermatologists rank acne by severity:
There are several ways to treat acne. Each type of treatment varies based on your age, the type of acne you have and the severity. A healthcare provider might recommend taking oral medications, using topical medications or using medicated therapies to treat your skin. The goal of acne treatment is to stop new pimples from forming and to heal the existing blemishes on your skin.
Your healthcare provider may recommend using a topical acne medication to treat your skin. You can rub these medications directly onto your skin as you would a lotion or a moisturizer. These could include products that contain one of the following ingredients:
Oral acne medications are pills that you take by mouth to clear your acne. Types of oral acne medications could include:
If topical or oral medications don’t work well for your acne or if you have scars from your acne, a healthcare provider may recommend different types of acne therapies to clear your skin, including:
Antibiotics are medications that target bacteria. Some used to treat acne also can decrease inflammation. Bacteria can clog your pores and cause acne. Antibiotics are responsible for:
A healthcare provider will recommend antibiotics if you have acne caused by bacteria or if you have an infection. Antibiotics get rid of an infection if bacteria gets into a popped pimple, which can swell and become painful. This medication isn’t a cure for acne and you shouldn’t take it long-term to treat acne.
If you have acne, you can start an at-home skin care routine to help your acne go away by:
If your at-home skin care routine isn’t effective at treating acne, visit a healthcare provider.
Many topical and oral acne treatments aren’t safe to take during pregnancy. If you’re pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant, it’s important to discuss acne treatments with your healthcare provider and notify them if you become pregnant.
On average, it can take between one to two weeks for acne pimples to clear up on their own. With medicated treatment and a good skin care routine, you can speed up your body’s healing time to make acne go away faster. For severe acne, it can take several weeks for your acne to go away, even with treatment.
You can’t completely prevent acne, especially during hormone changes, but you can reduce your risk of developing acne by:
Acne often goes away in early adulthood, though some people will continue to experience acne throughout adulthood. Your healthcare provider or a board-certified dermatologist can help you manage this condition. Various medications and therapies are effective forms of treatment. They target the underlying factors that contribute to acne. It may take several different types of treatment before you and your healthcare provider find one that works best for your skin. The skin care products that work for you might not work for someone else with similar symptoms.
Yes, sometimes acne can cause scarring. This happens when the acne penetrates the top layer of your skin and damages deeper skin layers. Inflammation makes your acne pores swell and the pore walls start to breakdown, which causes skin damage. Scarring can be a source of anxiety, which is normal. Before treatment, your healthcare provider will determine what type of acne caused your scars. There are several treatment options available for acne scars.
Acne can cause disruptions in your mental health because it affects your appearance and self-esteem. Often, acne development is out of your control if hormones cause it. This can create stress, which can influence future breakouts. Acne can be challenging for teenagers and young adults. If your acne causes you to feel anxious or it prevents you from participating in social activities with your friends and family, talk to a healthcare provider or a mental health professional.
Visit a healthcare provider as soon as you notice pimples so you can start treatment immediately before scarring occurs. If you’re using an acne treatment that isn’t working to clear your acne or it causes skin irritation like itchiness or skin discoloration, visit a provider.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Acne is the most common of all skin conditions and it can have an impact on your mental health and self-esteem. If you have stubborn acne, visit a healthcare provider or a dermatologist to treat your acne. Sometimes, your acne needs a little extra help to go away with a medication if at-home skin care treatments don’t work. While it may be tempting, try not to pick at your acne or pop pimples to prevent scarring. Remember that acne is temporary and will go away with the right treatment designed for your skin.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 01/04/2023.