Pimples, like braces and glasses, are a rite of passage during those awkward pubescent years, but one hopes acne vanishes by adulthood. However, this is not always the case. Acne is a skin condition caused by dead skin and oil plugging hair follicles. It usually pops up on your face, chest and back. Severe acne can lead to unsightly scaring if left untreated. Because it is such a common condition, treatments are nearly everywhere, and they are affordable and effective. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, acne affects 40 million to 50 million Americans, making it the most common skin problem in the United States.

Acne manifests in different forms. You might see comedones, which are whiteheads and blackheads, or papules — small raised bumps. Other types of acne are pustules (bumps with white pus at the tips), nodules (large, painful bumps beneath the skin’s surface) or cysts (painful, boil-like infections caused by pus-filled lumps under the skin’s surface).

Acne can be caused by an overproduction of oil, irregular dead skin shedding or bacteria buildup. This oil, known as sebum, and dead skin cells get caught up in the hair follicles, where they normally pass through. This forms a plug, in which bacteria can build up.

Hormones can trigger or aggravate acne. The hormones that increase during puberty cause the glands that produce the oil to enlarge and become overstimulated. Pregnancy can also trigger acne. Certain medicines have also been known to trigger acne, like lithium, corticosteroids, androgenic steroids and anticonvulsants, drugs used to treat seizures.

Diet and lifestyle can aggravate acne, but the condition is not caused by eating potato chips or drinking soda. However, direct contact with greasy or oily substances like heavy makeup, lotion and sunscreen, can clog your pores and cause you to break out. Friction from items like cellphones, helmets and backpacks can also trigger an outbreak. It is debatable whether stress actually brings out acne, but it may aggravate existing acne.

Wash the areas once or twice a day, but don’t scrub, which can irritate existing acne. Shower after strenuous work or exercise. Use over-the-counter or prescription topical treatments, which include gels, creams and lotions. Your doctor may prescribe an oral antibiotic to help with moderate to severe acne. Women might also consider using birth control pills. Keep your hands away from your face. Don’t pick or pop blemishes, no matter how tempting. Keep your hair out of your face. If you cover the pimples with makeup, make sure you look for skin-care products and cosmetics that are labeled as noncomedogenic (doesn’t clog pores) or water-based since oily makeup might make things worse. Also remember to wash off your makeup before bed.

Acne can cause both physical and emotional damage. You may opt to see a dermatologist to reduce your acne and fend off any scarring. If you already have scarring, you should go to a dermatologist as well. You can also go for help to get rid of your pimples. See a doctor if there are any abnormalities relating to your acne.