Definitive Guide

Acne causes and treatment

For many people, acne can be extremely distressing. However, it is much more common than you might think.

Acne vulgaris, otherwise known as common acne, is the eighth most prevalent disease in the world. Young people are most likely to have the condition – approximately 80% of people with acne are aged 11 to 30.

Although symptoms will usually fade over time without acne treatment, there are many steps you can take to help treat the condition.

If you’re ready to get help now you can book an online GP appointment to discuss your acne with a doctor, or refer yourself to a specialist dermatologist using the links below.

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Fast Facts

What is acne?

Acne is caused by the pores in the skin becoming blocked with dead skin, bacteria or oil. The pores act as openings to follicles, which are made up of hair and oil-producing glands called sebaceous glands. These glands produce oil (known as sebum) which travels up the glands, out of the pores, and lubricates the skin. When a problem occurs in this lubrication process, the pore becomes clogged and the oil is unable to escape. This causes spots to form.

How to get rid of acne?

Depending on the severity of acne, there are a range of treatments available. In mild cases, a local pharmacist should be able to advise you on an effective treatment using over-the-counter topical treatments. Severe cases may require prescription medications. There are also a variety of high street products, natural remedies and at-home approaches to treating acne.

GRAPHIC: acne pictures

The following images show what acne looks like. This includes pictures of acne severity, the six types of spot, baby acne and acne scars.

It is recommended that you see a GP who will be able to accurately diagnose your acne instead of attempting to diagnose yourself. We can help with:

What does acne look like?

This chapter covers

  • Mild acne
  • Moderate acne
  • Severe acne
  • Whiteheads
  • Blackheads
  • Papules
  • Pustules
  • Nodules
  • Cysts
  • Baby acne
  • Ice-pick scars
  • Boxcar scars
  • Rolling scars

Mild acne

There are a small number of spots, bumps and lesions so this acne is considered mild:

Moderate acne

Multiple whiteheads, blackheads, papules and pustules:

Severe acne

Large, painful papules, pustules, nodules or cysts. Spots have turned a deep red or purple colour:


A clogged pore closed with a layer of skin, appearing white on the surface:


A clogged pore exposed to open air, causing the surface of the spot to turn dark or black:


Red bumps on the surface of the skin that often feel hard, tender and sore:


Similar to papules but often larger with white tips at the centre from build-up fluid or pus:


Large, inflamed and painful bumps affecting deeper layers of the skin:


A similar size to nodules, cysts resemble boils and are often softer and contain pus:

Baby acne

Baby acne:

Ice-pick scars

Small, deep holes in the surface of the skin that resemble punctures

Boxcar scars

These are broad depressions with sharply defined edges

Rolling scars

These scars have smooth edges that give the skin a rolling or uneven appearance:

Get same day treatment with Medicspot

Our vision is to change lives with convenient, accessible healthcare. With over 150 private doctor clinics across the UK, you can find your nearest surgery and see a GP in minutes.

Our private doctors can diagnose the severity of your acne and provide expert treatment and advice. Find out how severe your acne is and get the right treatment today. We can help with:

Where is your nearest GP practice? And how can Medicspot help?

This chapter covers

  • How it works

How it works

The Medicspot clinical station allows doctors to look at your skin close-up to diagnose and treat acne vulgaris.

Find your nearest walk in centre today.

About the authors


This chapter covers

  • Dr Farah Gilani
  • Emma Coleman
  • Dr Faiza Khalid
  • Disclaimer

Dr Farah Gilani

Dr Farah Gilani completed her medical degree at Glasgow University in 2007, also achieving a First class BSc in Psychological Medicine. Initially training in paediatrics, she moved on to General Practice and now works as a portfolio GP. As well as working in general practice, she has a role as paediatric scholar and as a forensic offences examiner. She is developing a range of interests, including child and women’s health, nutrition and allergy. She enjoys writing and has published articles in the British Journal of General Practice, and its sister publication, Innovait. Outside work, Dr Gilani is a busy mum to 8-year-old Zakariah and newly arrived twins, Noah and Elijah. She loves to cook for her husband and children, trying out new recipes and transitioning to a more plant-based diet. She enjoys yoga, running and netball.

Emma Coleman

Emma Coleman qualified in General Nursing in 1996 and went onto study Dermatology at the University of South Wales, gaining a Distinction at Diploma level before specialising in cosmetic procedures and non-surgical facial rejuvenation in London. Emma has a special interest in acne and is the founder of Emma Coleman Skin clinics across Kent and London in the UK. Emma adopts a holistic approach to dermatology, designing tailored programs for her clients combining prescription medications, diet, lifestyle and skincare. Emma launched her own natural antioxidant skincare line in 2013, designed for clients to use alongside her treatments.

Dr Faiza Khalid

Dr Faiza Khalid is a Medicspot GP with 12 years of experience. Born and raised in the Home Counties, she pursued her passion for medical sciences at The University of Leeds and proceeded to read her degree in Medicine at The Leicester-Warwick Medical School. In addition to being a GP, she is a qualified GP trainer with an interest in medical education and lifestyle medicine.


This article is for general information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Medic Spot Limited has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but makes no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. In the event of an emergency, please call 999 for immediate assistance.

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