Acne is a common skin condition that happens when hair follicles under the skin become clogged. Oil and dead skin cells clog the pores, and outbreaks of lesions. Most often, the outbreaks occur on the face but can also appear on the back, chest, and shoulders. Acne can have a profound psychological impact, contributing to low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety.

Types of acne

  • Blackheads: Open bumps on the skin that fill with excess oil and dead skin. 
  • Whiteheads: Bumps that remain closed by oil and dead skin.
  • Papules: Small red or pink bumps that become inflamed.
  • Pustules: Pimples containing pus. 
  • Pityrosporum folliculitis: This type occurs when an excess of yeast develops in the hair follicles. They can become itchy and inflamed.
  • Nodules: Solid pimples that are deep in your skin. 
  • Cysts: Pus-filled pimples. These can cause scars.

Severity of acne

  • Grade 1 (mild): mostly whiteheads and blackheads, with a few papules and pustules.
  • Grade 2 (moderate, or pustular acne): multiple papules and pustules, mostly on your face.
  • Grade 3 (moderately severe, or nodulocystic acne): numerous papules and pustules, along with occasionally inflamed nodules. Your back and chest may also be affected.
  • Grade 4 (severe nodulocystic acne): numerous large, painful and inflamed pustules and nodules.

Treatments for acne

Medications applied topically – These can be gels, creams, or lotions. There are different types. Some examples are:

  • Retinoids – These are medicines that help keep your pores unclogged. Retinoids can also help improve dark spots on the skin caused by acne.
  • Benzoyl peroxide or antibiotics – Benzoyl peroxide and antibiotics reduce acne by killing the bacteria inside pimples. They also help bring down inflammation.
  • Salicylic acid – Salicylic acid dissolves dead skin cells to prevent your hair follicles from clogging.
  • Azelaic acid –  It kills microorganisms on the skin and reduces swelling.

Medications taken orally

  • Antibiotics – Antibiotic pills work for the same reasons antibiotic gels or lotions work. But they tend to be stronger and can cause unpleasant side effects.
  • Birth control pills – Some of the skin reactions that lead to acne are controlled by hormones. For this reason, birth control pills can sometimes help with acne.
  •  Isotretinoin – Isotretinoin is a retinoid that comes in pill form. It is very effective against severe acne. But it can also cause serious side effects and birth defects. Women who want to take isotretinoin must follow very strict safety rules to prevent pregnancy.

Other treatments – Examples of other types of treatments that might help some people with acne include chemical peels and special light or phototherapy. People who get these treatments often also need to use other acne treatments.

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