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What Is Acne?

Acne is a common skin condition that occurs when hair follicles become clogged with oil, dead skin cells and bacteria, which can lead to inflammation or infection. Most often acne affects the face, chest and upper back. While acne is usually linked to puberty, it can develop in young and older adults, too.

Acne is caused by overactive sebaceous or oil glands. Factors that may make acne worse, or increase your risk for acne, include:

  • Hormonal changes 

  • Medications

  • Family history

  • Diet, including foods that contain carbohydrates

  • Stress

  • Oily lotions or creams 


Acne symptoms include lesions, or bumps, that can cause swelling, irritation, redness and sometimes pain. Types of acne include:

  • Whitehead – A clogged follicle that closes up and looks like a white bump

  • Blackhead – A clogged follicle that stays open, making it look black

  • Papule – Inflamed lesion that is red, tender and hard

  • Pustule – Large, inflamed lesion that is filled with white or yellow pus (also called pimples)

  • Cyst – Large, inflamed lesion that forms under the skin and is filled with pus

  • Nodule – Hard lesion that forms under the skin and doesn’t contain pus

Treatment Options

Most mild forms of acne can be treated using nonprescription (or over-the-counter) products. Persistent acne and cysts and nodules are harder to treat and may require care from a dermatologist, or skin specialist. Acne treatment may include:

  • Topical medications – Topical acne treatments are applied to the skin. Some topicals help kill the bacteria. Others work on reducing the oil. The topical medicine may contain a retinoid, prescription-strength benzoyl peroxide, an antibiotic or even salicylic acid. Your dermatologist will determine what you need.

  • Antibiotics – Oral antibiotics are used to treat severe acne. They circulate throughout the body into the oil glands and reduce bacteria and inflammation.

  • Oral contraceptives – Dermatologists prescribe oral contraceptives for women to use as acne therapy alongside contraception. These drugs combine the hormones estrogen and progestin. They are often used with other acne treatments for the first few months. Dermatologists may prescribe anti-androgen contraceptives instead. They work by decreasing high levels of androgens, hormones that boost oil production.

  • Injected steroids – This is medication injected into nodules and cysts to reduce inflammation. Side effects include skin thinning, appearance of blood vessels and lighter than normal skin tone. Steroid shots are reserved for stubborn nodules and are not used to treat widespread acne.

  • Isotretinoin – This oral medication works on acne that doesn’t respond to other treatments. It’s a potent medication. A dermatologist closely supervises a patient on isotretinoin over a six-month period.

Ready for an Appointment?

If you're experiencing signs or symptoms of acne, schedule an appointment or call 800-TEMPLE-MED (800-836-7536) today.

Learn more about our doctors and care team who diagnose and treat acne.