Acne - What is Acne?

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

Acne or pimples is a skin condition that usually affects adolescents or teenagers but may affect an individual at any age. It leads to spots and boils over the skin of the face, forehead, neck, back and chest.

The spots may range from blackheads and whiteheads that are mild and painless to severe boils or pustules that are inflamed and pus-filled with intense pain.

Pubescent boy with acne on his forehead.
Pubescent boy with acne on his forehead.

Why does acne occur?

Acne is most likely to be caused due to changes in hormone levels during puberty. This is the reason why it affects teenagers more than other age groups.

Those with oily skin are more susceptible to developing acne. Glands in the skin at puberty release an oily substance known as sebum. This sebum is thick and may block the small pores in the skin through which hairs grow. These are called hair follicles.

This leads to formation of blackheads and whiteheads. These hair follicles when blocked may get infected with bacteria to lead to acne.

Who is affected?

Acne is hereditary and is seen to run in families. Hormonal changes during puberty and during the menstrual cycle or pregnancy may raise the risk of getting acne.

Diet or sexual activity is not related to acne. Acne is very common in teenagers and younger adults and nearly 80% of people between 1 and 30 may get acne at some point.

Among girls it is most commonly seen between the ages of 14 and 17 and among boys it is most commonly seen between ages 16 and 19 years.

Symptoms may come and go but seem to improve with age. Only around 5% of women and 1% of men have acne over the age of 25.

Diagnosis and treatment

Keeping the skin clean and oil free is the most important step in prevention and treating acne. The affected areas as well as the areas that are prone to acne need to be washed twice a day with a mild soap or cleanser. The skin should not be scrubbed. This may irritate the thinner top layers of the skin leading to inflammation.

There are several creams, lotions and ointments that can be used for acne. This is not a curable condition and once the symptoms are gone, they are likely to return. Acne that affects chest and back may need to be treated with antibiotics and prescribed stronger creams.

Reviewed by , BA Hons (Cantab)

Further Reading

Last Updated: Mar 7, 2013

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