No one factor causes acne. Acne occurs when sebaceous (oil) glands attached to the hair follicles are stimulated at the time of puberty or due to other hormonal changes. Sebum (oil) is a natural substance that lubricates and protects the skin. Associated with increased oil production is a change in the manner in which the skin cells mature, predisposing them to plug the follicular pore. The plug can appear as a whitehead if it is covered by a thin layer of skin, or if exposed to the air, the darker exposed portion of the plug is called a "blackhead." The plugged hair follicle gradually enlarges, producing a bump. As the follicle enlarges, the wall may rupture, allowing irritating substances and normal skin bacteria access into the deeper layers of the skin, ultimately producing inflammation. Inflammation near the skin's surface produces a pustule; deeper inflammation results in a papule (pimple); if the inflammation is deeper still, it forms a cyst.
This article was medically reviewed by Hilary Baldwin, MD. Baldwin, medical director of the Acne Treatment Research Center, is a board-certified dermatologist with nearly 25 years of experience. Her area of expertise and interest are acne, rosacea and keloid scars. Baldwin received her BA and MA in biology from Boston University. She became a research assistant at Harvard University before attending Boston University School of Medicine. She then completed a medical internship at Yale New Haven Hospital before becoming a resident and chief resident in dermatology at New York University Medical Center.
Acne scars take many different forms. You might see tiny pockmarks, a swollen keloid, or a discolored area on the skin. And just like the types of scars vary, there isn't a one-size-fits-all fix. Your dermatologist can use a combination of treatments including lasers, chemical peels, or fillers to minimize the spots. "Once there is scarring you can't get the skin back to the way it was before," says Dr. Karolak. "But we can get it to look significantly better, so that [clients] feel more comfortable in social environments."
Strat beauty editor Rio Viera-Newton mentioned this paraben- and fragrance-free concealer in her post on makeup for broken-out skin. “This has helped me conceal even the worst of the worst,” she wrote. Designed for buildable coverage, it will also work on masking those acne marks until they gradually fade away, and the gentle formula means it won’t cause additional irritation.
In unusual cases, a skin biopsy may be required to help confirm the diagnosis of rosacea. Occasionally, a dermatologist may perform a noninvasive test called a skin scraping in the office to help exclude a skin mite infestation by Demodex, which can look just like rosacea (and may be a triggering factor). A skin culture can help exclude other causes of facial skin bumps like staph infections or herpes infections. Blood tests are not generally required but may help exclude less common causes of facial blushing and flushing, including systemic lupus, other autoimmune conditions, carcinoid, and dermatomyositis.
Don't Squeeze, Pop, or Pick at Pimples: Pass up the temptation to pick or squeeze a pimple. Doing so can force debris deeper into the dermis, spreading an infection to other tissue and worsening inflammation. This is especially true for deep, serious blemishes like nodules and cysts. Remind yourself that popping pimples can extend the healing time and ups the chance of it leaving a permanent scar. Allow the blemish to heal on its own. If you've already picked at a blemish, take steps to help heal it and minimize skin damage.
Other concerns include inflammatory bowel disease and the risk of depression and suicide in patients taking isotretinoin. Recent evidence seems to indicate that these problems are exceedingly rare. Government oversight has resulted in a highly publicized and very burdensome national registration system for those taking the drug. This has reinforced concerns in many patients and their families have that isotretinoin is dangerous. In fact, large-scale studies so far have shown no convincing evidence of increased risk for those taking isotretinoin compared with the general population. It is important for those taking this drug to report changes in mood or bowel habits (or any other symptoms) to their doctors. Even patients who are being treated for depression are not barred from taking isotretinoin, whose striking success often improves the mood and outlook of patients with severe disease.
The Center for Young Women’s Health (CYWH) is a collaboration between the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine and the Division of Gynecology at Boston Children’s Hospital. The Center is an educational entity that exists to provide teen girls and young women with carefully researched health information, health education programs, and conferences.
Sure, we’ve all heard that toothpaste or rubbing alcohol can help dry out a zit, but many DIY treatments aren't solutions for how to treat acne. In fact, applying toothpaste or rubbing alcohol are more likely to cause irritation and dryness than treat the actual pimple. Instead, stick with topical over-the-counter and prescription spot treatments with salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide that are specially made to target pimples, says Dr. Hammerman. For an all-natural spot treatment, she suggests dabbing tea tree oil on the area a few times a day with a cotton ball.
In occasional cases, patients may use short-term topical cortisone (steroid) preparations of minimal strength to reduce local inflammation. Some mild steroids include desonide lotion or hydrocortisone 1% cream applied sparingly once or twice a day just to the irritated areas. There is a risk of causing a rosacea flare by using topical steroids. Prolonged use of topical steroids on the face can also cause irritated skin around the mouth (perioral dermatitis).
The birth control pill is another option for women suffering hormonal acne. Four types of birth control pills have been approved by the FDA for use as acne treatment, and all four are combination pills that contain both estrogen and progesterone. Talk to your doctor about how to get rid of acne using birth control and keep in mind that Ortho Tri-cyclen, Estrostep YAZ and Beyaz are the only four brands specifically FDA approved as acne remedies.
So if popping pimples doesn't cause scarring, what does? Long-lasting scars typically turn up after a recurring bout with cystic acne. Cystic acne is a breakout that burrows deep into the skin. These red, painful nodules occur when clogged pores are filled with pus and bacteria, which causes inflammation. Cystic breakouts are often tied to an internal fluctuation of hormones like testosterone (that's why they're common during puberty, monthly menstruation, and perimenopause). "If there is a cyst in the skin, it's going to cause a scar the longer it sits there because pus or bacteria deeper inside the pores cause surrounding inflammation," says Dr. Karolak. And as a result, the inflammation affects the collagen production as well as the fat stores under the skin, creating a visible scar on the surface.
It's best to consult a primary care physician or dermatologist if an individual is unable to adequately control his or her acne. The goal of treatment should be the prevention of scarring (not a flawless complexion) so that after the condition spontaneously resolves there is no lasting sign of the affliction. Here are some of the options available: