What is Acne & How Do You Treat It?

Most people, male or female, will suffer from acne at least once in their lifetime.

Acne typically starts at puberty and then lessens, though it can also continue on to adulthood. Those with oily skin are most prone to getting acne.


Acne occurs when hair follicles are clogged by greasy secretions from sebaceous glands in the skin. The result is either blackheads or whiteheads, either of which can further develop into pimples, nodules or deeper lumps.

A particularly severe case of acne is cystic acne, which involves nodules beneath the skin. These nodules are usually firm and tender, and can become inflamed and infected.

What are the symptoms of Acne?

Acne can appear on the face, as well as on the upper body, both chest and back, and arms.

Symptoms of acne include:

  • Red dots on the skin, often slightly swollen.
  • Blackheads, dark spots with visible pores at the center.
  • Whiteheads, white bumps under the skin with no visible pore.
  • Papules, swollen red spots with visible pus.
  • Cystic acne, swollen nodules under the skin that are tender and up to an inch across.

Chronic acne can lead to severe cases of cystic acne where large areas under the skin become inflamed and linked. These cysts can work their way deeper into skin tissue and can cause permanent scarring, tenderness, increased risk of infection, and other skin problems such as flaking.

An important detail to note is the difference between sebaceous filaments and blackheads. While visually similar, sebaceous filaments are much smaller and less noticeable. They are also perfectly healthy and are part of your body’s natural skin care. Removal can actually cause more blackheads and scarring.

What causes Acne?

Acne happens when the natural oils produced by your skin’s sebaceous glands clog a hair follicle pore. This causes a build-up of oils, as well as dead skin cells.


An overabundance of oils causes the bacteria naturally present on your skin to multiply, often infecting the surrounding area and causing redness and swelling.

These bacteria can also produce secretions that break down the oils. Some people are more sensitive to this process and can have a greater reaction as a result. The exact reason that this happens is still not quite understood, although there are many contributing factors.

One of the main factors that affects acne is genetics. While mild cases of acne are common to everyone and not considered hereditary, severe cases are often passed down. If your family has a history of severe acne, it is likely you will too.

Hormones are a major cause and is the reason acne is most often associated with teenagers. Hormones change how the body functions and can lead to acne. This is also the case with period acne, as hormone fluctuations cause breakouts.

While sweat by itself does not cause acne, dirt that gets stuck to the skin can clog pores and start the process.


Makeup can also cause acne. Most modern products are specially formulated to avoid this, particularly ones that are water-based and oil-free.

Stress can lead to changes in biochemistry and can trigger outbreaks.

Repeated contact with surfaces such as collars, helmets, and chairs can also cause problems. If the item in question is not cleaned regularly, oil, dirt, and bacteria can accumulate on it and be easily transferred onto skin.

Some medications, particularly those containing steroids, iodides or bromides, can cause outbreaks.


Treatments for acne are varied. Some, like retinoids, may have side effects like sensitivity to sunlight.

  • Water and soap.
  • Cleansers
  • Herbal, organic, and natural medications.
  • Prescribed antibiotics, oral contraceptives, and retinoids.


In addition to treatment, preventative measures can be taken to avoid acne. Most preventative measures are targeted at reducing the oiliness of your skin so that acne is less likely to develop.

  • Wash your face twice a day with warm water and soap.
  • Moisturize to minimize dryness of the skin.
  • Limit the use of makeup.
  • Use an over-the-counter acne product.
  • Use gentle hair care products and wash your hair regularly to reduce oiliness.
  • Use products labelled with “noncomedogenic”; these are products that should not cause acne.
  • Eat a healthy diet and avoid dairy and foods high in processed sugars, which may trigger acne.
  • Reduce stress, as this can be a trigger for acne.
  • In the case of period acne, oral contraceptives can help, but some will make it worse. Check with your doctor.


Q: At what age can you get acne?

A: Generally, acne starts at puberty and then lessens, though it can also continue on to adulthood.

Q: Does acne affect men or women more?

A: Acne affects both men and women.

Q: Can I squeeze/pop acne to get rid of it?

A: No. This can lead to the acne spreading further and can even leave scars. Avoid touching the acne or breaking the skin.

Q: Is acne infectious?

A: No, you can’t pass it on to other people.

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