The Acne


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a) diagram of blackhead formation. A normal pore in the skin becomes filled with material forming a whitehed. Darker material forms a blackhead. B) blackheads on a nose.
(a) Acne is characterized by whitehead and blackhead comedones that result from clogged hair follicles. (b) Blackheads, visible as black spots on the skin, have a dark appearance due to the oxidation of lipids in sebum via exposure to the air. (credit a: modification of work by Bruce Blaus)

OpenStax Microbiology

One of the most ubiquitous skin conditions is acne. Acne afflicts nearly 80% of teenagers and young adults, but it can be found in individuals of all ages. Higher incidence among adolescents is due to hormonal changes that can result in overproduction of sebum.

Acne occurs when hair follicles become clogged by shed skin cells and sebum, causing non-inflammatory lesions called comedones. Comedones (singular “comedo”) can take the form of whitehead and blackhead pimples. Whiteheads are covered by skin, whereas blackhead pimples are not; the black color occurs when lipids in the clogged follicle become exposed to the air and oxidize.

Often comedones lead to infection by Propionibacterium acnes, a gram-positive, non-spore-forming, aerotolerant anaerobic bacillus found on skin that consumes components of sebum. P. acnes secretes enzymes that damage the hair follicle, causing inflammatory lesions that may include papules, pustules, nodules, or pseudocysts, depending on their size and severity.

Treatment of acne depends on the severity of the case. There are multiple ways to grade acne severity, but three levels are usually considered based on the number of comedones, the number of inflammatory lesions, and the types of lesions. Mild acne is treated with topical agents that may include salicylic acid (which helps to remove old skin cells) or retinoids (which have multiple mechanisms, including the reduction of inflammation). Moderate acne may be treated with antibiotics (erythromycin, clindamycin), acne creams (e.g., benzoyl peroxide), and hormones. Severe acne may require treatment using strong medications such as isotretinoin (a retinoid that reduces oil buildup, among other effects, but that also has serious side effects such as photosensitivity). Other treatments, such as phototherapy and laser therapy to kill bacteria and possibly reduce oil production, are also sometimes used.


Parker, N., Schneegurt, M., Thi Tu, A.-H., Forster, B. M., & Lister, P. (n.d.). Microbiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: