Acne vulgaris is the technical term for the most common type of acne, affecting 85% to 100% of people at some time in their lives. While some may develop only the occasional whitehead or blackhead, others experience more frequent breakouts including small and large pimples and even permanent scars. Acne typically starts at puberty and lasts for about 5 to 10 years until it finally resolves on its own when we reach our 20s. However, in some people, acne continues to be a problem well into their adult lives. The prevalence of acne is similar in all races. Teenage boys are affected more than teenage girls. Women tend to experience breakouts associated with their menstrual cycles and often experience acne flares as a result of acne-causing cosmetics or other beauty treatments such as hair styling products. Men on the other hand, often develop acne flares caused by skin irritation during contact sports in which chin straps, helmets or body gear may rub and irritate the skin. In adults, woman are more commonly affected than men and both men and women can continue to experience acne breakouts well into their 40s and 50s. Even women who are experiencing menopause can develop acne for the first time because of changes in their hormone levels.

A variety of factors contribute to acne development. Family history can be very important in determining a person’s genetic predisposition to developing acne during their lives. However, even people with no significant family history may develop the condition. Women with polycycstic ovarian syndrome or other conditions where there is an excess of hormones called androgens in the body are at increased risk of developing acne breakouts. In women, hormones called estrogens can have the opposite effect on acne. Estrogen levels in the body typically fluctuate during a woman’s monthly menstrual cycle. This is one reason that women often have monthly flares of acne. It is also why most birth control pills that contain estrogen can be helpful in hormonal acne treatment.