What is acne? What to know about the skin condition that affects more than just teens

It can appear on your face and forehead, but you may also spot it on your chest, upper back and shoulders. It’s a condition that doesn’t just affect teens: It’s acne, which impacts some 50 million Americans each year.

But what is acne? And how do you treat it?


Read on for a look at the skin condition.

What is acne and what causes it?

Simply put, acne is “a very common medical condition which includes pimples, blackheads, whiteheads, cysts, and nodules. It most commonly affects teenagers, but can affect males and females at any age,” Dr. Shari Sperling, a board-certified dermatologist in New Jersey, told Fox News.

Acne typically occurs when hair follicles become clogged with oil and dead skin cells, leading to pimples, whiteheads, blackheads and more.

“There are many causes of acne including a bacterial overgrowth of Propionibacterium acnes, hormones, oils in the skin, certain medications and genetics,” added Sperling.

Other triggers for acne can include hormonal changes, picking at existing pimples, scrubbing your skin too harshly, cosmetic products, high humidity and pressure on the skin from collars, hats, helmets and beyond, according to Healthline. 

What is the difference between acne and a pimple?

Acne typically references the chronic, long-term condition, while anyone can develop a pimple from time to time.

“[A pimple] is typically a red, inflamed, bump on the skin. Blackheads are known as open comedones, while closed comedones are known at whiteheads,” she added.

Why are teens more prone to acne?

As hormonal changes can be a trigger for acne, teens are commonly more affected by the skin condition.

“Teens are more prone to acne because of changing hormones. The increase in sebum clogs pores and causes acne,” said Sperling.

Teens and adults alike can be affected by acne.

Teens and adults alike can be affected by acne. (iStock)

But adults can be affected too.

“Nearly all adult acne is caused by inflammation and clogged pores,” states Healthline. Hormonal fluctuations, contact irritation, emotional and/or physical stress, clogged pores, bacteria, and certain foods and medications can trigger acne in adults.

How do you treat acne? Can it come back?

Acne in adults and teenagers are treated similarly, according to Sperling.

“There are many treatment options such as [over-the-counter] benzoyl peroxide creams and washes, to topical antibiotics or other topicals, short courses of oral antibiotics, spironolactone in women with hormonal acne, and Accutane,” she said.

What are some common misconceptions about acne? 

There are three common misconceptions about acne, Sperling said.

1. Acne only affects teenagers

“This is false. Acne can occur at any age,” she said.

2. I don't need to treat acne because it will just go away

“Wrong,” said Sperling. “It is important to treat acne to prevent scarring. Treating it earlier is crucial to prevent worsening and spread of acne while preventing scarring.”


 3. It’s not a big deal to pick at acne

It’s important to not touch or pick acne, as “this can lead to scarring,” she said.