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Acne can occur when the hair follicles leading to the oil glands under the skin get clogged.

Found mainly on the face, shoulders, chest and back, acne affects approximately 80 percent of adolescents and young adults, ages 11 to 30, as well as older adults and children. Acne in children age 8 or younger is sometimes a sign of an underlying condition and should be evaluated by a pediatric dermatologist.

For some people, acne outbreaks can be intense, frequent and painful; some acne can even leave permanent scars. Many over-the-counter and prescription medications effectively treat even the most severe acne.

What causes acne?

  • Hormonal changes that trigger the body to produce excess oil
  • Clogged hair follicles and pores (e.g., heavy cosmetics and moisturizers can cause the cells in a follicle to change and stick together, creating a plug that results in acne)
  • Bacterial infections that cause inflammation
  • Genetic factors, including if your parents are prone to acne
  • Environmental factors, such as high humidity and pollution 

What are the different types of acne?

There are different degrees of acne:

  • Mild, such as a few small bumps on the forehead
  • Moderate, where the lesions are deeper and more widespread
  • Severe, which is when acne is resistant to treatment and there is scarring

Types of acne include the following:

  • Whiteheads stay under the skin's surface
  • Blackheads rise to the skin's surface and look black
  • Papules are small pink bumps that can be tender
  • Pustules are red at the bottom and have yellow or white pus on top
  • Nodules are large, painful, solid pimples that are deep in the skin
  • Pseudo-cysts are deep, painful, nodules that can cause scars

All acne treatment is aimed at reducing and preventing inflammation. Your treatment depends on both the type and degree of your acne.

How can I get help for acne?

Care for acne at Rush

Personalized treatment plan: At Rush, we understand that acne treatments can be overwhelming and confusing — especially for children and adolescents. The doctor may prescribe several medications that must be applied/taken at different times of the day and in very specific ways (e.g., a pea-sized amount at night on a completely dry face).

That's why we provide you with a personalized acne treatment plan. Your plan will be based on the type and severity of your acne. It will also take into account your overall health and any other prescription medications you are taking.

Dermatology and pediatric dermatology specialists at Rush take the time to thoroughly explain all prescribed medications to our patients (and for children, their parents or caregivers). In addition, you or your child will leave the office with easy-to-understand written instructions to follow at home.

There are many options for treating acne:

  • Over-the-counter topical products: These are usually the first line of treatment for acne for children, adolescents and adults.

If over-the-counter products are not effective after several weeks, you will likely need prescription medications.

  • Prescription medications: Your treatment may also include one or more of the following oral or topical medications:
  • Topical Retin-A: This man-made form of vitamin A helps new skin grow, unclog pores, and prevent blackheads and whiteheads.
  • Antibiotics: To kill bacteria and reduce inflammation.
  • Oral contraceptives: For women with acne that tends to worsen before their periods begin (known as hormonal acne), oral contraceptives can control hormonal fluctuations and have been shown to be as effective as oral antibiotics after several months of use.
  • Isotretinoin: For severe cases of acne that have been resistant to all other treatments, this oral medication is a form of retinoid. It works over a period of 4 to 6 months by slowing the development of natural substances that can cause acne.
  • New drugs and clinical trials: You may be a candidate for one of the new drugs being tested at Rush for treatment of acne.

Dermatologists and pediatric dermatologists at Rush are dedicated to ensuring that our patients are using their prescribed medicines in the most effective manner with the least risk of side effects.

Scar treatment: If you have scars left by severe acne, specialists at Rush can help. Dermatologists and plastic surgeons offer a variety of treatments, including laser therapy, fillers, collagen-induction treatment and dermabrasion. However, these treatments usually work best once acne is well controlled.

Why choose Rush for acne care

  • Dedicated pediatric dermatology team: The Department of Dermatology has both adult and pediatric dermatologists to address acne and other skin conditions in patients of all ages. The pediatric dermatology team will work with your child to make sure he or she understands how to use the prescribed medicines, and to address any issues related to treatment, such as dryness or irritation.
  • Clinical trials for new treatments: The Department of Dermatology has a clinical pharmacology unit devoted to testing new treatments for skin conditions. You may also eligible to participate in a clinical trial testing new drugs and treatments for acne.

Departments and programs that treat this condition