Acne Vulgaris

What is acne vulgaris?

Acne is a skin condition in which oil (sebum) and dead skin cells clog the pores (hair follicles) and cause pimples. Acne differs from regular pimples in that acne tends to consist of multiple pimples at once and these tend to become recurrent. Acne is quite common and most people experience it at least once. Acne usually comes on during puberty and improves in adulthood. Acne may cause scarring of the skin, but in most cases causes no long-term health problems.


Pimples occur when dead skin cells and oil clog the pores of the skin. As more oil builds up behind the blockage, the pore becomes inflamed, and the pimple becomes painful and swollen. Acne often begins in adolescence, and is often related to the hormones which begin to circulate in the body during puberty. Acne will often improve in early adulthood, but can persist longer. Acne affects teenage boys more often than girls, and adult women more commonly than men. Acne sometimes runs in families. The use of heavy creams or oils which block pores sometimes encourages the development of acne. People with a hormone imbalance, such as polycystic ovary syndrome, may be more likely to develop acne.


Typical symptoms include skin pimples, cysts and nodules. These may develop as black heads, white heads, pus-filled zits or hard lumps under the skin. The pimples are often on the face, although the shoulders, back, chest and other body parts can be affected as well. The skin around and over these pimples is sometimes red and sore. With time, the affected skin may become darker or scarred.


A diagnosis of acne is usually made by examining the skin for the number and severity of pimples.


The treatment of acne depends on the severity of the condition. Simple steps to improve acne symptoms include washing the face and hair regularly (but not excessively) to remove excess oil, and avoiding heavy, oily creams and cosmetics. Quitting smoking often improves symptoms. Squeezing or popping the pimples can further block the pores and cause the acne to become worse. Some women find that acne related to their menstrual cycle is improved when they take a contraceptive pill. Other treatments for acne can be recommended or prescribed by a doctor and include light or laser therapy, medicated facial soaps, facial peeling, oral medications and, if there is a bacterial infection, antibiotics. Eating a healthy diet with whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables may help improve acne symptoms.


Avoiding heavy creams and cosmetics, as well as things that rub against the skin (such as headbands, heavy clothing and underwear straps) may help to reduce some of the symptoms of acne.

Other names for acne vulgaris

  • acne