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Acne is a common skin disorder that causes pimples. Pimples form when hair follicles under your skin clog up. Most pimples form on the face, neck, back, chest, and shoulders. The spots can range from surface blackheads and whiteheads – which are often mild – to deep, inflamed, pus-filled pustules and cysts, which can be severe and long-lasting and lead to scarring. Anyone can get acne, but it is common in teenagers and young adults. Acne usually goes away by the time a person becomes an adult. However, having acne causes emotional difficulties for many people.

What causes acne?

  • No one knows exactly what causes acne. Hormone changes, such as those during the teenage years, stress and pregnancy, probably play a role.
  • Acne is not caused by dirt. Washing your face too often can irritate your skin and may make your acne worse. Wash your skin gently from the jawline to the hairline no more than twice daily with water alone or a mild, non-alkaline soap or soapless cleanser. Do not rub or scrub your skin and avoid rough washcloths.
  • Chocolate and greasy food don’t increase acne. However, you should try to eat a healthy, balanced diet, including fruit and vegetables. Cut down on fatty treats for your general health and choose health snacks.
  • Stress can make acne worse. Try to reduce stress through exercise or relaxation.
  • Some medications and chemicals can cause acne. Talk to your pharmacist if you have to take medicine daily or if you are exposed to chemicals at work. Don’t stop any medications before talking to your pharmacist, since all medications have side effects and the benefits vs risk need to be weighed in each case.

How do you treat acne?

  • Treat acne as soon as it appears to avoid complications such as scarring. Many different acne medications are available without a prescription.
  • Ask a pharmacist for advice about non-prescription acne medication. Some can irritate your skin or make your acne worse for a short time. Use the medication only once a day until your skin gets used to it.
  • Benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid are the most common and most effective over-the-counter medicines for acne. These medicines kill bacteria, dry up skin oil, and make your skin peel off. They are available in many forms, such as gels, lotions, creams, soaps, or pads. Keep in mind that it can take up to 8 weeks before you notice an improvement in the appearance of your skin. If an over-the-counter acne product doesn’t seem to help after 2 months, talk to your doctor.
  • Apply acne medication everywhere you have pimples. The medication will work better if you cover all the affected skin, not just the pimples. Use a clean cotton pad for each area that you are going to treat. Throw the pads away after using once.

See your doctor or a health professional if:

  • You have a lot of acne (pimples or large pustules).
  • You suspect your acne is being caused by a medical condition or by medicine that you have to take.
  • Your acne has not improved after using non-prescription medication for 6–8 weeks.
  • You have a sudden change in the appearance or number of acne lesions.

Some Helpful Hints

  • Avoid greasy cosmetics, coverstick, moisturizer, hair gel, scalp oil, eye cream or hairspray. All of these products can make your acne last longer—even if you only use them once.
  • Do not use makeup regularly. If you must use makeup, choose an oil-free product that has the words “noncomedogenic” or “nonacnegenic” on the label. (These words mean that the product will not cause acne.) Remove all makeup carefully at bedtime.
  • Wash your hair regularly. If you have oily hair, wash it more often. Keep your hair off your face as much as possible. Tie it back while you sleep.
  • Do not pick, scratch, pop or squeeze your pimples. Cupping the chin in a hand can cause acne. It is best not to touch your skin at all if you can avoid it. If you have the habit of touching your skin, try to decrease this habit. You may want to keep a daily record of when you touch your skin to help you break this habit.
  • If you shave, try both an electric razor and a safety razor to see which is more comfortable. If you use a safety razor, soften your beard with soap and warm water before you shave. Try to shave less. Always use a sharp blade and shave lightly. Shave over each area only once in the direction the hair grows.
  • Avoid or reduce exposure to environmental factors, such as dirt, dust, petroleum products, cooking oils or chemical irritants
  • Follow these suggestions as long as you have acne. Remember to see your doctor if the acne does not improve after 6–8 weeks of treatment.


This article was provided by an Rxnet Pharmacist, Rxnet is a virtual pharmacy network that helps plan sponsors optimize their drug plan design to obtain cost efficient solutions for their plan members. We also work with clients to provide access to our member pharmacies through text refills and online refills.

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This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions about your medical condition. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking advice or treatment because of something you have read here.

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