Acne is an endless, incendiary skin condition that causes spots and pimples, particularly on the face, shoulders, back, neck, chest, and upper arms.
Human skin has pores that connect to oil glands under the skin. Follicles connect the glands to the pores. Follicles are small sacs that produce and secrete liquid.
The glands produce an oily liquid called sebum. Sebum carries dead skin cells through the follicles to the surface of the skin. A small hair grows through the follicle out of the skin.
Pimples grow when these follicles get blocked, and oil builds up under the skin.
Skin cells, sebum, and hair can clump together into a plug. This plug gets infected with bacteria and swelling results. A pimple starts to develop when the plug begins to break down.
Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes) is the name of the bacteria that live on the skin and contributes to the infection of pimples.
Research suggests that the severity and frequency of acne depend on the strain of bacteria. Not all acne bacteria trigger pimples. One strain helps to keep the skin pimple-free.
Acne pimples vary in size, color, and level of pain.
The following types are possible:
- Whiteheads: These remain under the skin and are small
- Blackheads: Clearly visible, they are black and appear on the surface of the skin
- Papules: Small, usually pink bumps, these are visible on the surface of the skin
- Pustules: Clearly visible on the surface of the skin. They are red at their base and have pus at the top
- Nobules: Clearly visible on the surface of the skin. They are large, solid, painful pimples that are embedded deep in the skin
- Cysts: Clearly visible on the surface of the skin. They are painful and filled with pus. Cysts can cause scars.
If you’ve tried over-the-counter (nonprescription) acne products for several weeks and they haven’t helped, your doctor can prescribe stronger medications. A dermatologist can help you:
- Control your acne
- Avoid scarring or other damage to your skin
- Make scars less noticeable
Acne medications work by reducing oil production, speeding up skin cell turnover, fighting bacterial infection or reducing inflammation — which helps prevent scarring. With most prescription acne drugs, you may not see results for four to eight weeks, and your skin may get worse before it gets better. It can take many months or years for your acne to clear up completely.
The treatment regimen your doctor recommends depends on your age, the type and severity of your acne, and what you are willing to commit to. For example, you may need to wash and apply medications to the affected skin twice a day for several weeks. Often topical medications and drugs you take by mouth (oral medication) are used in combination. Pregnant women will not be able to use oral prescription medications for acne.