By Apollo 24|7, Published on- 08 December 2022 & Updated on - 27 February 2024

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  • Symptoms: Skin discolouration, redness, hyperpigmentation, dark patches, inflammation, scarring, swelling, tenderness, and pain when touching skin

  • Causes: Extreme oil or sebum production, bacteria, clogged hair follicles due to dead skin, hormonal changes, a carbohydrate-rich diet, stress; specific medications like testosterone, corticosteroids, and lithium

  • Risk factors: Young teenage years, hormonal changes during pregnancy or puberty, family genetics, contact with oily or greasy creams and lotions, friction against the skin

  • Severity: Mild to severe; usually chronic

  • Which doctor to consult: Dermatologist

  • Overview

    Sometimes, the pores in the skin get blocked by dirt, dead skin, bacteria, and oil, causing breakouts. This leads to pimples called a blemish or zit. An individual might suffer from acne if he/she gets such spots very often or if these happen in a bunch at once.

    It's quite a common skin condition; around 9.4% of people worldwide have acne. 
    This skin condition poses no severe health risk, although it is extremely painful, especially if one suffers from severe acne. Besides, it might leave some scarring, which can also cause emotional distress.

    Acne and its scars contribute to low self-confidence and self-esteem, mainly if these occur in visible parts of the body.

    Though it is a treatable condition, healing takes a long time. It might take months or even years for the scarring to lighten.

    Acne can manifest on the skin as the following:

    • Whiteheads: These pimples are closed comedones and occur as raised bumps within the skin surface. The tip of the bump is white, giving it its name.

    • Blackheads: These are called open comedones and usually appear on top of the skin's surface. Due to contact with oxygen, the pimples get a darker appearance.

    Besides pimples, an individual might also get inflammatory lesions, which are the primary cause of scarring:

    • Cysts: These cysts are big lumps which form underneath the skin. These contain pus and are painful to touch.

    • Nodules: These lumps are pretty solid and painful to touch. Like cysts, these also occur underneath the skin.

    • Pustules: If an individual gets tiny red pimples with pus and a pointed tip, it is likely a pustule.

    • Papules: If hair follicles get infected or inflamed, these can cause small, raised, red bumps called papules.


    Acne can cause symptoms such as:

    Redness, swelling, and inflammation of the skin;
    Pain, tenderness, or itching of the affected area;
    Pus-filled bumps or lumps under the skin;
    Scarring or dark spots on the skin.


    Various factors, such as excess oil production, clogged pores, bacteria, hormones, stress, diet, medications, or genetics, can cause acne. Acne can be treated with various methods, such as cleansers, creams, gels, lotions, oral or topical medications, or procedures like chemical peels or phototherapy.

    Risk factors:

    Several factors can increase the risk of developing acne, such as:

    - Age: Acne is most common among teenagers and young adults but can affect people of any age.
    - Hormones: Changes in hormone levels, such as during puberty, pregnancy, menstruation, or menopause, can trigger or worsen acne.
    - Genetics: If your parents or siblings had acne, you are likelier to have it.
    - Medications: Some drugs, such as corticosteroids, lithium, or oral contraceptives, can cause or aggravate acne.
    - Diet: Certain foods, especially those with high glycemic index or dairy products, may contribute to acne.
    - Stress: Stress can increase inflammation and oil production, leading to acne breakouts.
    - Skincare: Using harsh or oily products or not washing your face properly can clog your pores and cause acne.


    Acne can lead to certain complications if an individual doesn’t receive medical treatment. These complications include:

    Acne scars such as rolling, boxcars, and ice pick spots leave round craters or narrow, small, deep holes in the skin. Other than these, there are hypertrophic and keloid scars that are prominent in appearance.

    Skin damage, such as hyperpigmentation or hypopigmentation, may make the affected skin look lighter or darker than before.


    There are many things you can do to prevent acne and pimples, such as:

    Wash your face twice a day with a gentle cleanser and warm water.
    Avoid harsh scrubbing, oily cosmetics, tight-fitting clothing, and irritant contact.
    Keep your hair clean and away from your face.
    Refrain from popping or picking at pimples, which can cause inflammation and scarring.
    Use topical treatments or medications as prescribed by your doctor or dermatologist.
    Eat a healthy diet that is low in sugar, dairy, and processed foods.
    Drink plenty of water to keep your skin hydrated.
    Manage your stress levels with relaxation techniques, exercise, or hobbies.
    These tips can help you reduce the risk of acne breakouts and keep your skin as clear as possible.

    When to Consult a Doctor?

    Pimples and acne are quite common and may usually resolve themselves with time without any medication. But some circumstances require necessary medical attention, such as:

    • If the acne gets very severe

    • If any over-the-counter medications like a retinoid gel, salicylic acid and lactic acid fail to clear the acne

    • If an individual is struggling with acne due to medications for depression and anxiety 

    • If an individual has acne scars 

    • If acne is making a person lose confidence


    If an individual feels that his/her pimples and acne situation is recurring and getting out of control, he/she should make sure to get a proper diagnosis from a good, board-certified dermatologist.

    The doctor will likely examine the skin to determine what kind of lesions the individual is suffering from and the intensity of it.

    The doctor will ask the patient if he/she is undergoing any stress, has a previous family history, has hormonal changes due to menstruation, etc. Sometimes, acne may happen due to an underlying medical condition; further testing may be required.


    Home Care

    Certain nonprescription products can help control moderate or mild acne.

    1. Wash the face twice daily with a gentle cleanser, mild soap, and warm water. 
    2. Avoid using masks, astringents and facial scrubs, which might irritate the affected areas and worsen the acne.
    3. Get some safe over-the-counter products for acne to promote drying out of excess oil. These products may take some time to show improvement.
    4. Steer clear of greasy or oily cosmetics, hairstyling products, sunscreens, acne concealers or any other product that may exacerbate acne.
    5. Non-comedogenic or water-based products and non-oily moisturisers may help lessen acne formation.
    6. Avoid touching or picking on the acne. It may cause scarring or infection.
    7. Apply sunscreen to protect acne from harmful UV rays.
    8. Change bedsheets and pillow covers regularly to prevent germs from seeping into the skin at night. 
    9. Have adequate water to help the skin flush toxins out.


    Doctors may prescribe the following topical and oral medications which may help alleviate acne:

    1. Dapsone gel: This gel works best in case of inflammatory acne. 
    2. Salicylic acid and azelaic acid: Salicylic acid is available in leave-on and wash-off products and can help avoid clogged hair follicles. Besides that, azelaic acid gel or cream has antibacterial properties, which can help cure skin discolouration after acne. 
    3. Antibiotics: Antibiotics like clindamycin help reduce inflammation and redness by killing skin bacteria. These topical antibiotics are not recommended alone and are combined with benzoyl peroxide. Some oral antibiotics can help assuage acne. However, these should only be consumed for the shortest duration possible to avoid antibiotic resistance. 
    4. Retinoids: Moderate acne can be solved with gels, lotions and creams containing tretinoin or retinoic acids. 
    Isotretinoin: It is another form of vitamin A prescribed for patients with mild or severe acne. It is to be consumed as oral medication.
    5. Anti-androgen agents: If oral antibiotics don't help, drugs like spironolactone, cyproterone acetate, and flutamide are prescribed. It helps block the impact of androgen hormones on oil-producing glands.


    Surgical options can also be considered when acne becomes serious. These include:

    • Drainage & incision: If topical medications do not work on acne, doctors may drain them with special surgical tools. 

    • Blemish extraction: This surgical treatment is performed with sterilised equipment by applying blemish pressure to extract the follicle's content.

    Alternative Management

    If home remedies, topical and oral medications fail, and an individual doesn’t want to turn to surgical treatments, then he/she can opt for a few alternative management or therapies like:

    1. Steroid injections: If an individual has cystic and nodular lesions, he/she can be treated with steroid injections, which can accelerate improvement and lessen pain. 
    2. Light therapy: Certain light therapies have shown decent success with acne. Doctors will determine the ideal dose, light source and method for accurate results.
    3. Tea tree oil: Try using a gel that comprises tea tree oil. These show slow outcomes but are as helpful as benzoyl peroxide lotions.
    4. Chemical peel: It involves continually applying unique chemical solutions like retinoic acid, glycolic acid, or salicylic acid. 
    5. Cryotherapy: This procedure involves the application of cold liquid, such as liquid nitrogen, to the skin area affected by acne. The length of liquid application depends on the size and type of acne. It prompts superficial skin peeling that will reduce blemish inflammation.

    Additional information

    What are the most common places for acne to appear

    Some of the most common spots for acne are the face, forehead, shoulders, upper back, and chest.

    What are the causes of acne?

    Acne is a skin condition usually due to hormonal changes, primarily due to conditions involving androgen hormones. These hormones generally become active during young teenage and adult years. 
    Sensitivity towards hormones, fatty acids, oil clogging, and surface bacteria can lead to acne. But some other conditions may make this situation worse, such as:

    • Changes in hormones during a woman's menstrual cycle

    • Weather conditions like high humidity

    • Headgear and clothing that may cause friction on the skin

    • Specific medications for other conditions that might aggravate the situation

    • Usage of greasy or oily skincare products like wax, creams, and heavy lotions

    • Increased levels of  stress 

    • Family genetics

    Does acne lead to scarring?

    There are some occasions where acne might lead to scarring. When inflammation occurs, it causes the acne pores to swell and eventually break down the pore wall. This can cause scarring.

    Before suggesting any treatment, a dermatologist will try to determine the specific kind of acne an individual is struggling with. Certain treatments, such as chemical peel, laser resurfacing, dermabrasion, and micro-needling, will help lighten the scars.


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Frequently Asked Questions

Are there specific foods that can cause acne?

Evidence suggests that dairy products and a high-sugar diet can lead to acne breakouts. Ensure a balanced meal with proper nutrition, especially vegetables and fresh fruits rich in beta carotene vitamin C.

Acne can be ranked as per its severity level. These ranks include grade 1, mild; grade 2, moderate pustular acne; grade 3, moderate nodulocystic acne; and grade 4, severe and painful nodulocystic acne. The pain and inflammation increase as one moves up on the acne scale.

Prevention is better than cure. Following this skin care routine might alleviate the symptoms:Washing the face twice a day, every dayCleaning the skin with gentle face cleanserApplying moisturiser consistentlyRemoving makeup every night before going to sleepNot touching the face often to ensure that bacteria doesn't spread