• Overview
  • What it looks like
  • How it happens
  • Treatment & tips
  • Skin Care Solutions


Acne is one of the most common skin problems. It affects most teenagers to some degree and even many adults. In most people, acne clears up after a few years. But at its worst, acne can be persistent and can cause permanent scarring of the skin. The good news is that there are ways you can manage it, as described in this section.

What it looks like

What it looks likeWhat it looks likeWhat it looks like

Acne shows up as whiteheads, blackheads, pimples, and, in some people, deep painful bumps that look and feel like boils. Acne most commonly occurs on the face but can also appear on the back, chest, shoulders and neck. It can be mild, moderate or severe, as shown here.

How it happens

Acne is not your fault. It is now understood that genetics play a role in acne. If your parents had acne as teenagers, you most likely will too.

Acne usually begins around puberty, when males and females experience fluctuating hormone levels. These hormones regulate the activity and size of the oil-producing (“sebaceous”) glands found inside the pores of the hair follicles within the skin. The elevation of these hormones causes the oil glands to expand, in turn triggering an over-production of oil.

The sebaceous glands make an oily substance called “sebum”. During the skin's natural cycle, sebum travels through the hair follicles to the surface of the skin. The lining of the follicle wall then sheds skin cells, which stick together with the sebum. When the skin is over-producing and shedding skin cells at the same time, the follicle gets clogged, blocking the opening on the skin's surface. When the plug gets big enough to push to the skin's surface and be seen, it's officially a blackhead or whitehead. Additionally, the sebum and cell debris together contribute to the growth of bacteria that live inside your pores causing infection, pain, redness and swelling. These blemishes can be painful and may cause scarring.

Your own body will naturally attempt to clear the clogged pores by sending in certain specialized cells that invade the follicle to help clean it up. However, in the process, the wall of the follicle may weaken and rupture, emptying the contents of the follicle into surrounding tissue. When this occurs, swelling or redness can develop around the affected follicle, resulting in the larger bumps or pimples characteristic of acne. These are known as papules (red bumps) and pustules (yellowheads) and can sometimes cause scarring.

From the time acne begins to form under the skin until its disappearance, the life cycle of a pimple can take 8 to 12 weeks to run its course. And it can take even longer for the darkened spots left by some blemishes to fade away completely.

Treatment & tips

There are numerous treatment options for people who suffer from acne, all dependent upon the severity of their condition…

Several over-the-counter products are available for mild-moderate acne, including those containing small concentrations of salicylic acid (up to 2%) and benzoyl peroxide (up to 5%). This type of product can be effective for early adolescence to help clear away bacteria and oil. For more persistent cases of acne, see a dermatologist for a prescription.

Some prescription creams and lotions contain antibiotics to help get rid of the bacteria that contribute to the formation of acne pimples in moderate to severe cases. Others contain medicine that gets to the root of the problem by preventing the pores from clogging. Some products, known as topical retinoids, are effective in getting to the root of the problem by preventing the pores from clogging. Combination therapies may be used for long-term therapy. These products combine either retinoids, benzoyl peroxide, or topical antibiotics. Oral antibiotics may also be given.

Aside from following the treatment plan recommended by your doctor, there are other things you can do to help manage your acne:

  • Talk to your parents. They want to help, so you need to help them understand. Tell them how your acne is making you feel at school, as well as in your personal and social life.

  • Cleanse your face morning and night with a mild, non-soap cleanser but not too often. Cleansing will not prevent acne from occurring, but is essential to washing away bacteria and maintaining the health of your skin. Be gentle – do not scrub your face or cleanse more than twice a day. Pores become clogged deep beneath the skin and persistent, rigorous cleansing cannot wash this away; in fact, too much cleansing can irritate your skin and cause more breakouts.

  • NEVER squeeze, pick or pinch acne pimples or use sharp objects on them. This will only contribute to infection, inflammation and scarring.

  • If you use cosmetics or moisturizers, be sure they are "non-comedogenic" (won’t clog pores) or "non-acnegenic" (won’t contribute to acne). Be careful when using oil-free products. Although a product may be “oil-free”, it might not be “non-comedogenic” and can still clog your pores.

  • Seek treatment as early as possible. See a dermatologist, family doctor or pediatrician. A professional will evaluate your skin and may prescribe treatments for you.

  • Be patient. Your skin will thank you later!

Skin Care Solutions


Skin cleansing should remove dirt without upsetting your skin’s protective layers or natural pH balance. Everyday soaps and cleansers are often harsh, causing dryness and irritation. Because acne-prone skin can be easily irritated, it is important to cleanse with a non-irritating, soap-free, oil-free, mild cleanser like Cetaphil Oily Skin Cleanser or DERMACONTROL Foam Wash. Apply cleanser gently with your fingertips. Rinse with lukewarm water and blot with a soft towel.

Remember: Pores become clogged deep beneath the skin. Persistent, rigorous cleansing cannot wash this away; in fact, too much cleansing can irritate your skin and cause more breakouts. So be gentle and don’t overdo it! Do not scrub your face or cleanse more than twice a day. Cleansing too much will cause the skin to dry out and trigger your oil glands to produce more oil.


If you are using over-the-counter products to treat mild acne, apply a thin layer across the affected areas only and allow it to dry before applying moisturizer, makeup or sunscreen. If you’re using a prescription medication or a combination of treatments recommended by your doctor, follow the directions carefully and talk to your doctor before stopping or changing your medication regimen.

Moisturize and Protect

To help ensure a proper balance of moisture without causing oiliness, irritation or dryness, apply a long-lasting, water-based moisturizer in a cream or lotion formulation. Make sure you choose a product that does not contain fragrances or lanolin. For moisturizing during the day, apply Cetaphil Daily Facial Moisturizer SPF 15 or DERMACONTROL Moisturizer SPF 30 with broad spectrum UVA and UVB protection. To protect from prolonged sun exposure, use a non-comedogenic sunscreen product.


You can help maintain your skin’s normal healthy state. Cleanse and moisturize your face once in the morning and again before bedtime. For overnight moisturization, apply Cetaphil Moisturizing Lotion to the affected areas.