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What is Active Acne: Causes, Treatments & Prevention

What is Active Acne: Causes, Treatments & Prevention

Active acne is an endless cycle that can feel like it has taken over your life. It affects not only our physical appearance but also has an emotional toll. From oily skin to painful cysts, those living with acne know how frustrating and embarrassing this condition can be. Though there is no flawless solution, understanding what active acne is and the available treatments and preventative measures are key to finding relief. 

In the following sections, we’ll dive deeper into the causes, treatments, and prevention methods for active acne.

Person with Active Acne - Pimples and Redness on the Skin

What Is Active Acne?

Active acne means having pimples, blackheads, or whiteheads on your skin with redness and sometimes pain. It’s not the same as acne scars or marks left after acne is gone. Scars or marks signify past inflammation but don’t involve ongoing inflammatory processes like active acne. They can be discolourations or indentations on the surface of the skin that linger long after the acne has healed.

Active acne doesn’t just happen randomly. Things like hormones, lifestyle, diet, and your genes influence it. These factors often work together to make acne worse.

Causes of Active Acne

The causes of active acne are many and varied, often interconnected, and can vary significantly from person to person. Some people may suffer from acne due to one or a combination of these causes. To give you a clearer picture of what might be causing your breakouts, here are some factors that may trigger or exacerbate this acne type.

Hormonal Influences

Hormonal shifts, common triggers for active acne, occur during puberty, menstrual cycles, pregnancy, menopause, or due to conditions like PCOS. These changes increase androgen production, such as testosterone, stimulating oil glands to produce excess sebum. This surplus oil can clog pores, leading to acne. Understanding this hormonal link is vital for managing acne.

Genetic Factors

Genetics also play a role in acne susceptibility. If your family has a history of acne, you may be prone to it due to shared genes. Some individuals have genetic predispositions for overactive oil glands and heightened inflammatory responses to acne-causing bacteria. However, genetics alone don’t guarantee acne- lifestyle and environmental factors also contribute. Knowing your family history can aid in acne management.

Environmental Factors

Active acne can also result from environmental factors, such as exposure to certain chemicals or pollutants that irritate the skin. Smoking, air pollution, and extreme weather conditions can trigger acne flare-ups in some people. Additionally, wearing tight-fitting clothing and using harsh skincare products can worsen acne.

Diet and Lifestyle

Diet and lifestyle choices can also influence active acne in several ways. For instance, consuming foods with a high glycemic index (like sugary and processed foods) can increase insulin production and worsen acne. An unhealthy diet may also lead to inflammation, which can aggravate existing acne. Lifestyle factors like stress, lack of sleep, and inadequate skincare habits can also contribute to active acne.

Active vs. Inactive Acne Comparison

Active Acne vs. Inactive Acne

Types of Active Acne

Active acne refers to the breakouts or lesions that are currently present on the skin. Here are some common types:

  • Pimples, also known as papules, are small, inflamed bumps on the skin. These occur when sebum and dead skin cells clog the follicles. 

  • Pustules are a type of acne that contains yellowish pus. They are typically larger than pimples and often present as red bumps with a white or yellow centre. 

  • Nodules are large, hard bumps that develop deep within the skin. They are more severe than pimples or blemishes and are often painful.

Types of Inactive Acne

Inactive acne refers to the remnants of a breakout that linger after the acne has healed. This can take the form of:

  • Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) is the dark spots or patches on the skin following a breakout. These inflamed spots occur when the skin produces excess melanin (the pigment responsible for skin colour) in response to the inflammatory skin condition. 


Signs and Symptoms

Active acne presents itself in various ways, often characterised by different signs and symptoms depending on the severity of the condition. 

  • Mild Acne: Characterised by whiteheads and blackheads.

  • Moderate Acne: Includes papules and pustules alongside whiteheads and blackheads.

  • Severe Acne: Nodules and cystic acne become prominent.

It’s essential to understand that everyone’s acne experience is unique.


The diagnosis of active acne is typically based on a visual examination of the skin by a dermatologist or healthcare provider. 

Clinical Evaluation

A dermatologist’s evaluation is crucial for accurately diagnosing and treating active acne. During this process, the skin specialist visually examines your acne, assessing its type, severity, and location. This thorough examination helps them identify any patterns, triggers, or underlying issues contributing to acne. Additionally, they can check for scarring or post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation caused by the acne. 

Based on these findings, they can recommend a tailored acne treatment plan that suits your needs and skin type. Regular evaluations by a skin specialist are also important to track treatment progress and make necessary adjustments for the best results. 

Additional Tests

While a visual examination is often enough to diagnose active acne, doctors may suggest additional tests in specific cases to better understand the patient’s skin condition and rule out other skin disorders.

  • Skin Analysis: This test uses advanced imaging technology to examine the skin’s surface and deeper layers. It can pinpoint issues like oiliness, dryness, elasticity, pigmentation, and bacteria, all of which can contribute to acne. 

  • Skin Biopsy: A skin biopsy may be recommended when acne is severe or unresponsive to standard treatments. This procedure involves taking a small skin sample for microscopic examination.

  • Hormonal Tests: These tests can detect excessive androgen or other hormone levels that may trigger acne.


Treatment options for active acne include topical treatments, oral medications, and dermatological procedures. 

Treatments for Acne - Topical Acne Creams

Topical Acne Creams

Topical medications can help reduce oil production, encourage skin cell generation, fight bacterial infection, and reduce inflammation. Examples include benzoyl peroxide, which kills acne bacteria, and salicylic acid, which helps clear blocked pores. Retinoids, derived from vitamin A, can also effectively treat acne by promoting cell turnover and preventing the clogging of pores. 

Treatments for Acne - Oral Antibiotics

Oral Antibiotics

Skin specialists may prescribe oral medication for more severe cases of acne. These include antibiotics to decrease bacteria and inflammation and contraceptives, which can help balance hormones. In extreme cases, an oral medication called isotretinoin may be used, which works by shrinking the skin’s oil (sebaceous) glands.

Active Acne Treatment Options

Dermatological Procedures

For severe or persistent acne, doctors may recommend non-invasive treatment procedures such as chemical peels, laser therapy, or extractions to help improve the appearance of active acne and reduce the risk of scarring. 

Proper skin care is an important step in managing acne. It is recommended for acne sufferers to wash their face twice daily with a gentle, non-drying soap. Avoid scrubbing the skin harshly and touching the face unnecessarily, as it can increase oil production and irritate the skin. Additionally, non-comedogenic products that don’t block pores can reduce the risk of acne. Always ensure that cosmetics, toiletries, and sunscreens suit acne-prone skin.

Preventing Active Acne

Preventing active acne involves maintaining a healthy lifestyle:

  • Healthy Eating: Choose a balanced diet with fewer processed foods.

  • Regular Exercise: Promote good circulation and skin health.

  • Stay Hydrated: Helps flush out toxins.

  • Get Enough Sleep: Adequate sleep reduces excess oil production.

  • Stress Management: Practice relaxation techniques to avoid stress-related breakouts.

When to Seek Professional Help

Consult a health care provider who specialises in the skin if acne causes distress, is severe, unresponsive to over-the-counter products, or leaves scars. Also, seek help if other symptoms accompany acne or don’t improve after using prescribed treatments.


Active acne is a complex skin issue with various causes, including hormonal changes, stress, and diet. Effective management involves a range of treatments, from medications to procedures. Patience is key, as results may take time. Prevention matters, too, with a balanced lifestyle, healthy habits, and stress control.

While plenty of information exists on acne control, everyone’s acne is unique. Consult a skin specialist or healthcare expert for a personalised treatment and skincare plan that fits your needs. Prioritising skin health can boost your confidence and quality of life.

Remember that early professional help can prevent acne and further complications like scars or dark spots. Take the first step to healthier skin by contacting a dermatologist today.