Acne is a skin condition that occurs when the hair follicles become plugged with oil and dead skin cells. Acne usually appears on the face, neck, chest, back and shoulders. It is most common in teenagers but it can also occur in young children.

Acne can be a persistent condition although there are effective treatments. Depending on the severity, acne can cause emotional stress and scarring of the skin. Early treatment may lower the risk of lasting physical and emotional damage.


Symptoms of acne include:

  • Whiteheads (closed plugged pores)
  • Blackheads (open plugged pores)
  • Small red, tender bumps (papules)
  • Pimples (pustules) – papules with pus at the tips
  • Large solid, painful lumps beneath the surface of the skin (nodules)
  • Painful, pus-filled lumps beneath the surface of the skin (cystic lesions)


The main causes of acne include:

  • Oil production
  • Dead skin cells
  • Clogged pores
  • Bacteria

Acne appears on the face, neck, chest, back and shoulders. These areas of skin have the most oil (sebaceous) glands.

Hair follicles are connected to oil glands. The glands secrete an oily substance (sebum) to lubricate the hair and skin. If the body produces an excess amount of sebum and dead skin cells, the two can build up in the hair follicles.

They form a soft plug and an environment where bacteria can thrive. If the clogged pore becomes infected with bacteria it will result in inflammation.

The plugged pore can cause the follicle wall to bulge and form a whitehead. Blackheads occur if the plug is open to the surface and exposed to air, while pimples are raised red spots with a white center that form when blocked hair follicles become infected or inflamed.

Factors that may worsen acne

  • Hormones (androgens that cause the sebaceous glands to enlarge and produce more sebum)
  • Certain medications (corticosteroids, androgens or lithium)
  • Diet (dairy products and carbohydrate-rich foods)
  • Stress

Risk factors

Risk factors for acne include:

  • Hormonal changes (common in teenagers, women and girls and people using certain medications)
  • Family history
  • Greasy or oily substances
  • Friction or pressure on the skin
  • Stress (does not cause but worsens acne)


The following tips may help prevent acne:

  • Washing acne-prone areas twice a day to remove excess oil and dead skin cells
  • Over-the-counter acne cream or gel to dry excess oil
  • Nonoily makeup
  • Removing makeup before going to bed
  • Loose-fitting clothing
  • Showering after strenuous activities
  • Avoid touching or picking at problem areas