What is Acne

Your skin has tiny holes called pores that can become blocked by oil, bacteria, dead skin cells, and dirt. When this occurs, you may develop a pimple, sometimes also called a zit or blemish.

If you get pimples often, especially several at once repeatedly, you may have acne. In other words, acne is the skin condition that causes pimples.

Acne is very common. In fact, research estimates that 9.4 percentTrusted Source of people worldwide have acne. In the United States, acne is the most common skin condition, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).

While acne doesn’t pose a serious risk to your overall health, it can still be painful, particularly if you have severe acne. Over time, acne might also cause scarring.

There’s no denying that acne can contribute to emotional distress. Acne and acne scars on your face and other visible body locations can affect self-esteem and self-confidence, and they can even contribute to feelings of anxiety or depressionTrusted Source.

If you live with acne, know that it’s a common condition.

Keep in mind, too, that acne is very treatable. A number of effective treatments exist, so you have options for reducing the number of pimples you get and minimizing your chances of scarring.


What are the different types of acne?

If you have acne, you might notice a mix of pimple types.

Whiteheads and blackheads, both also referred to as comedones, are the most common acne lesions.

  • Blackheads, or open comedones, open at the surface of your skin. Oxygen in the air (not dirt) gives the top of these pimples their darker appearance.
  • Whiteheads, or closed comedones, form as raised bumps under the surface of your skin. They remain flesh-colored.

Inflammatory lesions, which are more likely to cause scarring of your skin, include:

  • Papules. These small, red, raised bumps are caused by inflamed or infected hair follicles.
  • Pustules. These small red pimples have pus at their tips.
  • Nodules. These solid, often painful lumps develop beneath the surface of your skin.
  • Cysts. These large lumps beneath your skin contain pus and are usually painful.

What are the symptoms of acne?

Acne can be found almost anywhere on your body, but you’ll most commonly notice breakouts on your:

  • face and neck
  • back
  • shoulders
  • chest

Pimples can give your skin a rough, uneven texture.

With acne, you might also experience:

  • skin discoloration, including dark patches or spots (hyperpigmentation) and redness
  • swelling and inflammation
  • pain and tenderness when touched or not

Acne breakouts can also cause scarring or discoloration on your skin.

Popping pimples can raise your chances of scarring, so avoid squeezing — no matter how tempting it feels to get rid of the pimple immediately — and try these tips.


Getting a diagnosis

If you suspect you have acne, a good next step involves getting a diagnosis from a board-certified dermatologist.

A dermatologist can make a diagnosis by examining your skin. They can help identify the types of lesions and their severity to develop a treatment plan that works for you.

Treatment for acne

Treatment for acne generally depends on its severity.


You can use over-the-counter (OTC) medicated creams, cleansers, and spot treatments to help address pimples as they pop up.

Common ingredients you’ll find in acne creams and gels include:

  • Benzoyl peroxide. This ingredient helps dry out existing pimples, prevents new ones from forming, and kills acne-causing bacteria.
  • Salicylic acid. This ingredient helps exfoliate your skin to prevent pores from getting clogged with acne-causing bacteria.


If you continue to experience symptoms after using OTC acne treatments for several weeks, you may want to consider reaching out for professional treatment.

A dermatologist or other healthcare professional can prescribe medications that may help reduce your symptoms and prevent scarring.

If you have moderate acne, a dermatologist may recommend:

  • prescription-strength benzoyl peroxide
  • antibiotics, like erythromycin or clindamycin
  • retinoids, such as retinol

In some cases, they may suggest an oral antibiotic or hormonal birth control to help manage acne.

Typically, you’ll only use antibiotics for a short time, so your body doesn’t build up a resistance and leave you prone to infections.


For severe acne, a dermatologist may recommend treatment that combines one or more of the following:

  • oral antibiotics
  • benzoyl peroxide
  • topical antibiotics
  • topical retinoids

They may also suggest hormonal birth control or oral isotretinoin, also known by the brand name Accutane.

Accutane is a vitamin-A medication used to treat certain cases of severe nodular acne. It can cause serious side effects, and doctors usually only prescribe it when other treatments don’t work.