Updated 02 October 2018

Symptoms of acne

Acne presents as skin lesions in the form of whiteheads, blackheads, red spots and pus-filled swellings, most commonly on the face, neck, shoulders and back.

The symptoms of acne are:

Oiliness of the skin: The sebaceous glands in the skin normally produce sebum (oil) under the control of the male hormone testosterone, which is produced by both men and women.

Sebum contributes to the normal protective barrier of the skin (otherwise known as the acid mantle).

In people with acne, however, there’s excessive production of sebum by the sebaceous glands. 

Blackheads: In acne, the top layer of the skin becomes stickier, blocking the pores and forming open comedones. These are usually flat and dark in colour. 

Whiteheads: These are closed comedones that are generally pale creamy or white and slightly raised.

Papules: These are small, red, tender, raised bumps that occur when the pores in the skin get blocked, causing bacterial overgrowth.

Pustules (pimples): These are raised red bumps with a creamy white or yellow head that contains pus. Many people are tempted to squeeze them to release the pus.  

Deeper cysts and nodules: These are often tender, abnormal, closed, sac-like structures that contain pus and blood. In more severe cases of acne, the bacterial infection may go deep into the skin, causing deep cysts and nodules that can lead to permanent scarring. 

Note that acne can appear on the face, back, chest, shoulders, neck and arms.

Importantly, acne doesn’t just cause physical symptoms; it can affect a person’s self-esteem. In some instances, it may lead to a great deal of stress, as well as anxiety and/or depression.

If acne isn’t treated, it may lead to dark spots and permanent scarring of the skin. 

Read more: Causes of acne

Reviewed by specialist dermatologist, Dr Ian Webster, MBChB (UCT) FF DERM (SA), February 2018

Image credit: iStock


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