What is acne? What are the acne causes?

(Updated 9/21/2020)

The term “acne” comes from the Greek word “acme,” which means point or peak. The best current English interpretation of the word “acne” would be “pimple.” The first known use of the term acne in medicine was in the sixth century AD by Roman physician Aetius Amidenus.

Why I go in all of this history? Who cares? I assume that you are reading this because you are a little bit tired of acne, and you just want to know how to get rid of it. We will get there. I just wanted to demonstrate that our humankind has been suffering from acne for many, many centuries. Still, about 85% of people between 12 and 24 years of age currently suffer from it. The point is that historically and presently, you are not a lone sufferer even though it sometimes can definitely feel like that. Actually, you are probably among, historically, luckiest acne sufferers because you live in the 21st century with many, many great treatment options for acne.

Here are some facts about acne:


Acne is a disorder of hair follicle and its oil gland. (Message for insurers who do not cover for acne: It is a serious condition because it may cause not only permanent scars, but also anxiety, and depression.)


  1. Genetics (there is not much you can do about that)
  2. Elevated androgens (male sex hormones) – it happens in both sexes, mostly during puberty
  3. Increased skin oil production due to androgens and stress which causes plugging of the skin pores with resulting build-up of skin debris and oils under the skin.
  4. Overgrowth of Cutibacterium (old name: Propionibacterium) acnes bacteria that cause a lot of skin inflammation. The resulting swelling then pushes and obstructs nearby skin pores causing acne to spread.
  5. There are probably many more still unknown causes of acne.

Most common types of acne:

  1. Acne vulgaris (i.e., common acne with blackheads, whiteheads, and small pimples),
  2. Hormonal acne (usually in females after adolescence in the form of red, sore bumps sometimes under the skin along the sides of face and jawline),
  3. Adult acne (there is a raging epidemic of this acne, particularly in females)
  4. Acne conglobata (nodular and cystic acne with lumps and pus-draining cysts),
  5. Acne excoriee (excoriated acne- usually in more anxious patients who just have to scratch their acne spots off),
  6. Pomade acne (acne caused by cosmetic products in the form of blackheads)
  7. Acne fulminans (extremely severe cystic acne usually in teenage boys causing severe ulcerations on the chest and back).

Acne statistics:

Acne affects 50 million Americans

85% of people between 12 and 24 years of age have acne

Acne is most common in 17-year old

Only about 10% of high schoolers have seen a doctor for acne

Adult acne statistics:

Up to 24 million American women and 3 million American men have adult acne

51% of females age 20-30 years have acne

35% age 30-40 years

26% age 40-50

15% age 50 and older

More about acne in the next post!

Please send me your comments or questions!

Thank you, and take care in these challenging times for everyone!

Dr. T

Viseslav Tonkovic-Capin, MD, FAAD

Dermatologist & Dermatopathologist

Diplomate of American Board of Dermatology

Fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology

Fellow of the American Acne and Rosacea Society

Fellow of the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery

Dermatology Foundation Leaders Society Member

Instagram: Dr. T (@acnedoc)

Dr. T practices in the greater Kansas City metro area and has authored more than twenty articles and book chapters on various skin diseases, including acne, in the top scientific national and international journals. He was also interviewed by multiple national media outlets, including NBC, HuffPost, Men’s Health, and Cosmopolitan, on different topics, including skincare and acne.