This document was prepared by the staff of the UWSP University Health Service.
This information should not be used in lieu of medical care.
Last updated: May 2000
Definition and Symptoms
Acne, also called zits or pimples, is very
common. More than 80% of people have it
at some time, usually as teenagers. It
occurs when the skin’s oil glands become
plugged up. Most acne is due to hormonal
changes. During the teenage years, the
amount of hormones produced by the body
increases. This causes the oil glands to
grow larger and to make an oil called
sebum. This oil spreads out over the skin,
thus teenagers complain of oily skin. The
mildest form of acne is blackheads, which
form when the oil and dead skin cells block
the skin’s pores.
times plugged material becomes
trapped under the skin, air can’t reach it,
and whiteheads or pimples form. Pimples
occur when whiteheads rupture and
become reddened sores. Bacteria feed on
the oil and weaken the oil gland walls.
They split the fat into fatty acids, which
are very irritating to the skin, and red
pimples may form. If the pimples are
located deeper in the skin, cysts may form.
Most breakouts occur on the face, neck and
back because these are the areas of skin
that have the most oil glands.
Causes and Risk Factors
People think eating certain foods causes
acne. This isn’t generally true, but if you
think that a particular food is making it
worse, try avoiding that food for 4 to 6
weeks. Eating a good balanced diet with
plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole
grains can’t hurt and may help your
complexion and your overall health.
Oily cosmetics and lotions may contribute
to acne. Try using water-based cosmetics
instead. If your parents had acne, you may
be more prone to it because of genetic
Young women may
notice a worsening of
Acne can also be a
side effect of some