What is acne?

Acne is a skin condition involving infected and/or inflamed sebaceous glands. Pimples, bumps, whiteheads and blackheads are all symptoms of acne. Non-inflamed lesions known as comedones include blackheads and whiteheads. Inflamed lesions are called zits, pimples and cysts. Your dermatologist may refer to them as papules, pustules, and nodules.

What causes acne?

Acne develops when the sebaceous glands around a hair follicle clog with oil and dead skin. This can occur anywhere on the body, but acne typically forms on the face, shoulders, back, chest and neck. Teenagers are especially susceptible to acne and about 85% of teens will experience this skin condition. That’s because hormonal changes at puberty trigger increased oil production in the skin glands, which then become clogged and forms acne. However, over 50% of women over the age of 25 have some form of facial acne.

How dermatologists diagnose acne

Your dermatologist can determine if your skin findings are consistent with acne and how severe it may be with a visual inspection of the affected skin and basic questions about your lifestyle and eating habits. No special tests are required for the diagnosis.

How dermatologists treat acne

There are several approaches for treating acne that your dermatologist may recommend depending on the severity. While topical medications can often be effective, in more extreme cases your dermatologist may prescribe oral antibiotics to kill bacterial infections and reduce the inflammation contributing to your breakouts. This can also help improve painful cysts. Cysts can sometimes also be treated with injections of cortisone.

Mild to moderate acne may be treated with a skin-cleaning regimen. Your dermatologist will recommend the best products for your condition. Daily skin routines involve the use of cleansers to remove oil and dead skin. Prescription medications applied directly to the skin may also be part of your treatment plan. These products typically contain antibiotics, benzoyl peroxide and/or retinoids, which are derived from synthetic Vitamin A.

For women, your dermatologist may prescribe birth control pills and other hormonal treatments that can control or even eliminate acne.

With severe, widespread, nodulo-cystic and/or recalcitrant acne, your dermatologist may prescribe Isotretinoin, an oral medication taken once or twice daily depending on your treatment plan. Isotretinoin works by shrinking the oil glands in your skin. This reduces the amount of oil that is produced below the skin. By controlling oil production, acne is brought under control.