Search Encyclopedia:    
List of Topics Print This Page
 

Acne


Definition:

Acne is a skin condition that causes pimples or "zits." Whiteheads, blackheads, and red, inflamed patches of skin (such as cysts) may develop.

Alternative Names:

Acne vulgaris; Cystic acne; Pimples; Zits

Exams and Tests:

Your doctor can diagnose acne by looking at your skin. Testing is not needed in most cases.

Treatment:

SELF-CARE

Steps you can take to help your acne:

  • Clean your skin gently with a mild, nondrying soap (such as Dove, Neutrogena, Cetaphil, CeraVe, or Basics).
  • Look for water-based or "noncomedogenic" formulas for cosmetics and skin creams. (Noncomedogenic products have been tested and proven not to clog pores and cause acne.)
  • Remove all dirt or make-up. Wash once or twice a day, including after exercising.
  • Avoid scrubbing or repeated skin washing.
  • Shampoo your hair daily, especially if it is oily.
  • Comb or pull your hair back to keep the hair out of your face.

What NOT to do:

  • Try not to squeeze, scratch, pick, or rub the pimples. This can lead to skin infections and scarring.
  • Avoid wearing tight headbands, baseball caps, and other hats.
  • Avoid touching your face with your hands or fingers.
  • Avoid greasy cosmetics or creams.
  • Do not leave make-up on overnight.

If these steps do not clear up the blemishes, try over-the-counter acne medicines that you apply to your skin.

  • These products may contain benzoyl peroxide, sulfur, resorcinol, or salicylic acid.
  • They work by killing bacteria, drying up skin oils, or causing the top layer of your skin to peel.
  • They may cause redness or peeling of the skin.

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 health care provider can prescribe stronger medications and discuss other options with you.

Antibiotics may help some people with acne:

  • Oral antibiotics (taken by mouth) such as tetracycline, doxycycline, minocycline, erythromycin, trimethoprim, and amoxicillin
  • Topical antibiotics (applied to the skin) such as clindamycin, erythromycin, or dapsone

Creams or gels applied to the skin may be prescribed:

  • Retinoic acid cream or gel (tretinoin, Retin-A)
  • Prescription formulas of benzoyl peroxide, sulfur, resorcinol, or salicylic acid
  • Topical azelaic acid

For women whose acne is caused or made worse by hormones:

  • A pill called spironolactone may help
  • Birth control pills may help in some cases, though they may make acne worse in some women.

Minor procedures or treatments may also be helpful:

  • A laser procedure called photodynamic therapy may be used.
  • Your doctor may also suggest chemical skin peeling; removal of scars by dermabrasion; or removal, drainage, or injection of cysts with cortisone.

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.

  • Women taking Accutane must use two forms of birth control before starting the drug and enroll in the iPledge program.
  • Your doctor will follow you on this drug and you will have regular blood tests.
Outlook (Prognosis):

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 - 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.

References:

Zaenglein AL, Thiboutot DM. Acne vulgaris. In: Bolognia JL, Jorizzo JL, Schaffer JV, et al, eds. Dermatology. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2012:chap 36.


Review Date: 10/18/2013
Reviewed By: Richard J. Moskowitz, MD, Dermatologist in Private Practice, Mineola, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. Copyright 2002 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

   View History
  Acne

Related Links
Request an Appointment Online or call
1-800-789-PENN (7366)
Blackheads
Cyst
Testosterone
Whitehead
   
   

 

About UPHS   Contact Us   Site Map   Privacy Statement   Legal Disclaimer   Terms of Use

The University of Pennsylvania Health System, Philadelphia, PA 1-800-789-PENN © 2014, The Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania