Acne Vulgaris Overview: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment and Prevention

Whether it is mild, moderate or severe, the majority of people have experienced some form of acne vulgaris over the course of their lives. Acne vulgaris is the term that defines the acne that typically occurs when a person is a teenager, although many adults struggle with acne vulgaris as well. The following provides an overview of acne vulgaris, including common symptoms, causes, treatment options and preventative methods.


While most cases of acne vulgaris occur on the face, it can also develop on the chest, shoulders and back. Acne vulgaris appears in the form of whiteheads, blackheads, papules and pustules. These forms of acne vulgaris can range from mild to severe, with severe cases causing scarring and hyperpigmentation.

Whiteheads and blackheads are frequently referred to as comedones, and occur as a result of clogged hair follicles on the skin. Blackheads take the appearance of a small black plug that is noticeable on the surface of the skin, while whiteheads are raised, white bumps. When an individual has papules, their skin has many small red bumps. Pustules typically form after a papule, and are inflamed bumps that often contain pus at the opening.


There are many factors involved in the development of acne vulgaris. The abnormal shedding of skin cells, excessive oil production and the buildup of bacteria are the primary factors that are directly related to acne vulgaris. When the skin produces too much oil and skin cells are not shed normally, they clog hair follicles within the skin, which causes a plug to form. When this occurs, whiteheads or blackheads typically form on the skin.

After the opening of the pore becomes blocked, it creates a favorable environment for the growth of Propionibacterium acnes, which is the bacterium responsible for acne. The follicle begins to swell due to the buildup of bacteria, oil and dead skin cells. Once the follicle wall breaks open, bacteria, dead skin cells and sebum are then spread to other areas of the skin, causing the formation of acne vulgaris.

Hormonal changes and a family history are other causal factors in the development of acne vulgaris. Androgen hormones, which stimulate the production of oil, can cause acne through an overproduction of oil. Since teenagers are experiencing hormonal changes as a result of puberty, they are more prone to developing acne since their skin is producing more oil due to an increase in androgens. It is also believed that heredity is also an issue, as some individuals may become predisposed to acne vulgaris due to a family history.


While acne vulgaris cannot be cured, there are a variety of treatments available that will help to treat acne that ranges from mild to severe. Over-the-counter treatments are the most effective for cases of acne vulgaris that are mild-to-moderate. Individuals with severe acne vulgaris should seek advice from a dermatologist, who can provide prescription medications that are applied topically or taken internally.

When treating acne vulgaris, individuals should search for products that address the common causes of acne. This can be accomplished through products that are aimed at decreasing oil production, exfoliating dead skin cells and eliminating bacteria on the skin. Salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide are the most common ingredients that can be obtained over-the-counter and through a prescription. Benzoyl peroxide kills acne-causing bacteria, while salicylic acid promotes the exfoliation process and penetrates down to the pores, ensuring that they do not become clogged with debris.

Many topical prescription treatments for acne vulgaris contain vitamin A, a retinoid that is highly effective in controlling acne vulgaris. Vitamin A fights acne by increasing the rate of cell turnover, which encourages the regular removal of dead skin cells and keeps pores clear. Oral antibiotics can be administered when other treatment options have not been effective. Existing breakouts and pustules should never be popped, which can push bacteria deep into the skin and cause scarring and infection.


Proper cleansing with a mild soap can help remove surface oil and dead skin cells. For cleansing to be the most effective, avoid cleansing more than twice a day and refrain from using harsh abrasives or chemical irritants, as this will worsen inflammation and cause further breakouts. For further prevention of acne vulgaris, individuals can choose cleansers that are medicated with salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide.

If cosmetics are applied to the skin, ensure that they are nonacnegenic or noncomedogenic. These products will not become trapped in pores or cause the skin to produce more oil and are safe to use on acne-prone skin. Maintaining moisture levels is an essential component in acne prevention. Since acne-prone skin tends to produce more oil when it becomes dry, applying an oil-free moisturizer can help to soothe inflammation and keep skin properly moisturized.

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About Christie

As someone who has struggled with acne in the past and has finally gotten it under control, I know I can offer helpful information for acne readers. Due to my own experience with acne, I developed an interest in how it develops and the primary causes for it. I have also tried numerous methods of acne treatments and I know I can identify with acne readers who are struggling with finding effective treatments for their own acne. I learned about acne by doing my own research and also by going to a dermatologist to find out more information. As a result of my own research and what a dermatologist has told me, I now know how acne develops and what ingredients will produce the best results when treating acne. I also have written extensively about acne and I have written about debunking common myths about acne, all-natural treatments, cleansers, acne causes and the most effective ways to control acne. I am enjoying being part of the Acne Expert team so that I can share what I have learned about acne with others who are still struggling with it. Since I have successfully dealt with my own acne concerns, I know how having acne affects self-esteem and confidence. I would also be able to share tips of how to gain control of acne so that acne suffers can improve the way they see themselves.

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