Acne is a skin condition that occurs when your hair follicles become plugged with oil and dead skin cells. Acne usually appears on your face, neck, chest, back and shoulders. 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.

Acne is most common among teenagers, with a reported prevalence of 70 to 87 percent. Increasingly, younger children are getting acne as well.

Depending on its severity, acne can cause emotional distress and scar the skin. The earlier you start treatment, the lower your risk of lasting physical and emotional damage.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Prevention

Acne signs and symptoms vary depending on the severity of your condition:

  • Whiteheads (closed plugged pores)
  • Blackheads (open plugged pores — the oil turns brown when it is exposed to air)
  • Small red, tender bumps (papules)
  • Pimples (pustules), which are papules with pus at their tips
  • Large, solid, painful lumps beneath the surface of the skin (nodules)
  • Painful, pus-filled lumps beneath the surface of the skin (cystic lesions)

When to see a doctor

If home care remedies don't work to clear up your acne, see your primary care doctor. He or she can prescribe stronger medications. If acne persists or is severe, you may want to seek medical treatment from a doctor who specializes in the skin (dermatologist).

The Food and Drug Administration warns that some popular nonprescription acne lotions, cleansers and other skin products can cause a serious reaction. This type of reaction is quite rare, so don't confuse it with the redness, irritation or itchiness where you've applied medications or products.

Seek emergency medical help if after using a nonprescription skin product you experience:

  • Faintness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Swelling of the eyes, face, lips or tongue
  • Tightness of the throat

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