Acne: What It Is and How to Treat It

Acne is the most common skin condition affecting over 50 million people annually. It usually starts in adolescence or early adulthood but can occur at any age. Stubborn acne and frequent breakouts can be painful, embarrassing, and interfere with your overall quality of life. Understanding the root causes of your struggle can help point you in the right direction for effective treatment and relief!

For Acne Awareness Month, our knowledgeable skin health specialist, Shoshana Kosman, PA-C has provided everything you need to know about what causes acne and your treatment options with Skin and Beauty Center.

How Acne Forms

Acne forms when the hair follicles of the skin get blocked by dead skin cells, bacteria, and excessive sebum — the natural oil your body produces to moisturize and protect the skin. This blockage causes inflammation, leading to outbreaks, such as comedones (blackheads and whiteheads), papules (inflamed pimples), and cysts.

Contrary to popular belief, acne isn’t always associated with poor physical hygiene. In fact, many people continue to struggle with breakouts despite taking great measures to improve their hygiene routines. That’s why understanding the actual causes of acne is an important step in finding a solution that works for you.

Risk Factors and Causes:

The most common factors that contribute to breakouts include:

  • Hormonal changes (puberty, menstrual cycle fluctuations, pregnancy, and starting or stopping birth control)
  • Medications (e.g. steroids or Lithium)
  • Diet (e.g. excessive consumption of dairy or processed foods)
  • Oil-based cosmetic products
  • Genetics
  • Endocrine disorders (e.g. polycystic ovarian disease)

Sometimes what we think is stubborn acne isn’t acne at all. Some skin conditions, like rosacea, keratosis pilaris, or perioral dermatitis can look and feel like acne, but they require a different treatment approach. That’s why we recommend scheduling an appointment with one of our skin health specialists to get a proper diagnosis and personalized treatment plan.

Finding a Treatment That Works

There are many different approaches to managing acne, which include both over-the-counter and prescription medications, as well as lifestyle changes and other considerations. Finding the right treatment regimen to give you the clear, healthy skin you deserve takes time and requires the expert guidance of one of our specialists.

Here is an overview of some of the most common medications and how they work:


  • Reduces the number of acne-causing bacteria
  • Has anti-inflammatory properties

Benzoyl peroxide:

  • Reduces the number of acne-causing bacteria
  • Decreases the clogging of pores
  • Prevents bacterial resistance to antibiotics

Salicylic acid:

  • Helps keep pores clear by removing debris and exfoliating the skin

Topical Retinoids:

  • Decreases the clogging of pores
  • Can improve scarring and pigmentation changes caused by acne

Hormonal therapy:

  • Reduces androgen hormones leading to decreased sebum (oil) production


  • Decreases sebum (oil) production
  • Decreases the clogging of pores
  • Lessens inflammation
  • Reduces the number of acne-causing bacteria

Additional Tips for Managing Acne-Prone Skin

In addition to pursuing a medical treatment plan, there are additional strategies for taking care of your skin to prevent and minimize breakouts, such as:

  • Cleanse twice per day (and additionally after exercising)
  • Use non-comedogenic products (face washes, moisturizers, makeup, sunscreen, etc.)
  • Remove makeup at night
  • Change pillow cases weekly
  • Wash makeup brushes weekly
  • Wear sun protection daily (at least 30 SPF, broad spectrum, and non-comedogenic)

While this guide provides general information about what causes acne and how to treat it, it is important to note that everyone has specific medical needs, potential allergies, and possible contraindications to medications. Schedule an appointment to get a personalized regimen made just for you!

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