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  • Acne, also known as acne vulgaris, is one of the most common skin problems. It occurs when the pores on the surface of the skin become plugged. A pore is an opening of a hair follicle (root) and an oil gland. When the oil glands make too much sebum (grease), the pores may get blocked. This allows dirt to collect, which encourages the growth of bacteria (germs) in the glands. When these bacteria release toxic substances, it can produce irritation and inflammation (swelling) of the skin. This causes painful bumps or lumps, which are commonly called pimples. Acne is more likely to occur if you have another family member who has had an acne problem. Puberty, infections, stress, certain medicines, or cosmetics may also cause acne.
  • The signs and symptoms of acne usually depend on the type of acne that you have. Acne may be mild, moderate, or severe, and is usually found on the face, chest, and back. The most common type of acne is comedones, which are blackheads or whiteheads. Comedones, or plugs, are blocked pores having blackheads or whiteheads on their surface. Blackheads turn dark, or black, because pores are open to the air, while whiteheads are cream-colored and are in closed pores.
    Normal Skin Pore, Whitehead, Blackhead
  • Other types of acne are small, pink to reddish in color, painful bumps which are near the surface of the skin. Nodular acne is large, hard, painful pimples that are pus-filled and lie deep below the skin. Acne is diagnosed by a careful examination of your skin. Cultures may also be done to help diagnose acne. Treatment includes medicines, such as antibiotics, antiseptics, retinoids, laser therapy, or surgery. With treatment, such as medicine and good hygiene, complications may be prevented and your acne may be controlled.


You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.


  • Treatment of acne should be done as soon as possible to prevent serious problems. If not treated early, acne may infect and damage your skin. You may have swelling, bleeding, or infections. These infections may spread to your blood and other surrounding tissues. Acne may cause you to feel embarrassed, ashamed, frustrated, and self-conscious. Some people have depression or other emotional problems because they feel so bad about themselves and their appearance.
  • Even with treatment, it may take a long time for acne to heal and clear. Acne may also cause you to have unwanted side effects. Your skin may become irritated and look worse right after starting a new acne treatment. You may also have headaches, allergic reactions, irritability, depression, dizziness, nausea (upset stomach), or vomiting (throwing up). The medicine, isotretinoin, may cause you to have miscarriages or birth defects if taken while being pregnant. You may also need stronger or multiple antibiotics or surgery to treat your infection and other problems. These antibiotics may cause kidney or liver damage. A scar may form at the site of the acne after treatment. Ask your caregiver if you are worried or have questions about your skin disease, medicine, or care.


Informed consent:

A consent form is a legal document that explains the tests, treatments, or procedures that you may need. Informed consent means you understand what will be done and can make decisions about what you want. You give your permission when you sign the consent form. You can have someone sign this form for you if you are not able to sign it. You have the right to understand your medical care in words you know. Before you sign the consent form, understand the risks and benefits of what will be done. Make sure all your questions are answered.


An IV (intravenous) is a small tube placed in your vein that is used to give you medicine or liquids.


You may need any of the following:

  • Antibiotics: This medicine is given to help treat or prevent an infection caused by bacteria.
  • Hormonal therapies: Medicines, such as oral contraceptives and androgen blockers, may control the production of sebum in the oil glands.
  • Isotretinoins: These are vitamin-based medicines, which are most useful in treating severe acne. These medicines may have serious side effects. It is important to ask your caregiver for more information before using isotretinoins. Females must not get pregnant or breast feed while using this medicine.
  • Steroids: This medicine may be given to decrease inflammation.
  • Topicals: Topicals are medicines, such as gels, ointments, creams, pastes, or liquid solutions that are put on your skin. They may be antiseptics (germ-killers), comedone treatments, or medicines that decrease swelling and skin shedding.
  • Vitamin A and other mineral supplements: Caregivers may give you vitamin A or minerals to improve your skin.


You may have the following:

  • Cultures: Cultures are done by taking samples from your skin or wound discharge (pus). These samples are sent to a lab and checked for the presence of bacteria (germs). Cultures may also tell caregivers which antibiotic would be the most effective treatment for your acne.

Treatment options:

You may need any of the following:

  • Laser treatment: A narrow beam of light is used to kill the overactive cells that are causing the scaling and inflammation (swelling).
  • Phototherapy: You may need ultraviolet (UV) light treatments if your acne is very bad.
  • Surgery: Surgery may be needed to treat severe forms of acne. Caregivers may use certain chemicals or tools to remove or scrape off skin that is affected by acne.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Learn more about Acne (Inpatient Care)

Associated drugs

IBM Watson Micromedex

Symptoms and treatments

Mayo Clinic Reference Guides (External)

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.