Acne is a skin condition that occurs when your hair follicles become plugged with oil and dead skin cells. It often causes whiteheads, blackheads or pimples, and usually appears on the face, forehead, chest, upper back and shoulders. Acne is most common among teenagers, though it affects people of all ages.
Effective treatments are available, but acne can be persistent. The pimples and bumps heal slowly, and when one begins to go away, others seem to crop up.
Depending on its severity, acne can cause emotional distress and scar the skin. The earlier you start treatment, the lower your risk of such problems.
Many people think that acne is just pimples. But a person who has acne can have any of these blemishes:
Pustules (what many people call pimples).
Acne can appear on the back, chest, neck, shoulders, upper arms and buttocks.
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Acne can cause more than blemishes. Studies show that people who have acne can have:
Low self-esteem: Many people who have acne say that their acne makes them feel bad about themselves. Because of their acne, they do not want to be with friends. They miss school and work. Grades can slide, and absenteeism can become a problem because of their acne.
Depression: Many people who have acne suffer from more than low self-esteem. Acne can lead to a medical condition called depression. The depression can be so bad that people think about what it would be like to commit suicide. Many studies have found that teens who believe that they have “bad” acne were likely to think about committing suicide.
Dark spots on the skin: These spots appear when the acne heals. It can take months or years for dark spots to disappear.
Scars (permanent): People who get acne cysts and nodules often see scars when the acne clears. You can prevent these scars. Be sure to see a dermatologist for treatment if you get acne early — between 8 and 12 years old. If someone in your family had acne cysts and nodules, you also should see a dermatologist if you get acne. Treating acne before cysts and nodules appear can prevent scars.
Acne signs and symptoms vary depending on the severity of your condition:
Whiteheads (closed plugged pores)
Pimples (pustules), which are papules with pus at their tips
Blackheads (open plugged pores)
Large, solid, painful lumps beneath the surface of the skin (nodules)
Small red, tender bumps (papules)
Painful, pus-filled lumps beneath the surface of the skin (cystic lesions)
When to see a doctor
If self-care remedies don’t clear your acne, it’s time to see a doctor who specializes in the skin.