Acne Treatment


Zits, blemishes, spots, pimples – all are used to describe a common, often uncomfortable skin condition: acne. Acne can appear during childhood or adulthood. It affects the skin's sebaceous (oil) glands, which can produce red spots, comedones (blackheads and whiteheads) or deep pimples when they become clogged. Acne can occur anywhere on the body, but it usually appears on the face, neck, shoulders, upper back and chest.

Luckily there are a variety of topical, oral, procedural and cosmetic treatment options to help clear acne and get you back to looking and feeling your best.

Types of Acne

Acne occurs when the pores become clogged with oil. There are many different types of acne, including:

Non-Inflammatory Acne

  • Whiteheads:

    small blemishes with white-colored heads that appear when follicles become clogged with oil
  • Blackheads:

    very small, black spots on the skin that are caused by oil build-up in an open follicle, and then darkened due to oxidation

Inflammatory Acne

  • Papules:

    tender, reddish bumps that may appear swollen or inflamed
  • Pustules:

    similar to papules, pustules are inflamed red bumps that contain yellow or white-colored pus
  • Nodules:

    large, inflamed and sometimes painful acne breakouts - often referred to as severe acne or nodular acne
  • Cysts:

    the most severe form of acne, cystic acne produces large, deep, painful, pus-filled bumps on the skin

Acne Scars

When you have deep or severe acne, it compromises the skin and the tissue beneath it. As the acne begins to clear up, your body fights to repair the damage. Acne scars manifest as red, dark spots or textured areas where the surface of your skin has been affected.

In order to repair the damage, the body produces collagen. If your body produces too little or too much collagen during this process, you’ll notice an acne scar.

While some people are more prone to scarring than others, any of the following can increase the risk of developing acne scars:

  • Deep, severe acne

    - swollen, deep acne such as acne cysts and nodules are more likely to leave behind acne scars
  • Relatives who also had acne scars

    - genetics tend to play a big role in the presence of acne and acne scars
  • Delay in acne treatment

    - the longer you've had untreated inflammatory acne, the greater the risk of scarring
  • Picking or squeezing acne spots

    - popping or picking at acne creates skin inflammation, which increases the risk of acne scars

Causes & Prevention

Acne is a common condition, especially in adolescence. Because of this, it can be difficult to pinpoint a specific cause for each individual case of acne. However, the most common acne causes include:

  • Hormonal changes when starting puberty and entering adulthood
  • Medications such as corticosteroids, androgens or lithium
  • Continuous pressure or friction against the skin
  • Genetic predisposition

People often get acne during puberty, when hormonal changes cause the oil-producing glands under the skin to become more active. Though acne is most common from ages 11 to 30, some people (especially women) develop acne later in life. Adult acne may be caused by hormonal changes, birth control, stress and certain medications.

So how can acne be prevented? Sometimes acne prevention isn’t possible, especially if you carry a family history or are going through hormonal changes. However, sticking to a doctor-recommended acne-cleansing regimen is a good first step.

Treatment Options

There are a variety of treatment options for acne, with different treatments working better for different skin types.

Topical acne treatments

are applied directly to the skin. They include:

  • Antimicrobials, such as benzoyl peroxide, topical erythromycin, topical clindamycin and topical dapsone
  • Retinoids, such as RetinA, Differin®, adapalene, tazarotene and tretinoin
  • Azeleic acid
  • Sodium sulfacetamide

Oral acne medications

are taken by mouth. They include:

  • Antibiotics, such as doxycycline, minocycline, trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole or erythromycin. Antibiotics are usually reserved for moderate to severe acne.
  • Spironolactone, which targets hormones that can lead to acne. This is only used in adult women with cystic acne.
  • Isotretinoin (previously referred to by the brand name Accutane), which can help prevent acne scarring. Because it can cause serious side effects, it’s only used for severe acne that doesn’t respond to other treatments.

Procedural acne treatments

are sometimes used together with topical and oral acne treatments. They include:

  • Salicylic acid peels
  • Pyruvic acid peels
  • Photodynamic therapy

Cosmetic acne treatments

can minimize acne scars. They include:

  • Dermabrasion
  • Chemical peels
  • Laser and radiofrequency resurfacing

The goal of any acne treatment regimen is to minimize scarring, reduce your acne, improve your skin’s appearance and help you feel your best.


Our dermatologists offer acne treatment at locations throughout eastern Wisconsin and northern Illinois, with clinics in:

Gurnee, IL
Menomonee Falls
New Berlin

*multiple locations

Choose the acne clinic nearest you or find a nearby dermatologist.

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