Medically reviewed by Sophia Yen, MD, MPH – Written by Pandia Health Editorial Team
TLDR: depends but usually for a new acne lesion to be gone it could be 1-2 weeks.
What is acne?
Acne is a skin condition that occurs when follicles in the skin become clogged with oil (sebum), dead skin cells, and sometimes bacteria. It can cause skin problems such as whiteheads and blackheads and can cause scarring.
Although it’s mostly seen in teenagers aged 13-20 — the age at which acne is most common and severe — acne can affect people of all ages. For most people, acne goes away over time with age and a proper skincare regimen. It can occur anywhere you have skin, including the face, neck, shoulders, and back. Risk factors for acne include a change in hormones during puberty, PCOS, anxiety, diet, stress, and genetics.
What causes acne?
Acne can be caused by several factors. These include hormonal changes during puberty, such as an increase of the hormones (androgens) that increase the size of the skin’s oil glands and the rate of production of oil (sebum), PCOS, genetics, anxiety disorder, stress, and allergic reactions.
Because the causes of a person’s acne will be unique to them, their treatment should be personalized. What works for you may not work for another person whose acne is caused by something different. Effective treatments are available but acne can be very persistent and you may need to be on treatment as long as you are hormonal (usually through the teen years and sometimes into your college years).
When does acne stop?
It’s common for acne to start between the ages of 10 and 13 and to last for 5 to 10 years or throughout your adult life (depends on your family history). Acne normally goes away with age but may require treatment for at least 5-10 years. Ask your doctor about prescription acne treatment. It beats anythnig they have over-the-counter.
Although these are statistical averages, it’s impossible to guess how long acne will last for each individual person. Many teens and young adults find that their acne improves as they get older and others have acne into their adult years.
How long does it take for a pimple to form?
Normally, pimples can take anywhere between 1-2 weeks to fully develop and form. It may seem that they form overnight, but in reality it’s a very long process that involves weeks of development.
What’s the life cycle of a pimple?
Acne starts as microscopic bumps called microcomedones that can’t be seen with the naked eye. Oil glands within the skin are stimulated by hormones and enlarge to become overactive and pump out excess oil. Many infected blemishes come from preexisting whiteheads or pimples that are already present in the area within the pores. Bacteria can get stuck behind the blockage and multiply as the skin begins to become inflamed with bacteria, inflammatory cells, and oil.
How long does it take a pimple to go away?
Most pimples take 1-2 weeks to go away on their own. Some can take up to 6 weeks. Although they can’t be cured overnight, they can be treated with many different methods that have been proven to work such prescription acne treatment like tretinoin and topical antibiotics.
What is the best acne treatment?
The best acne treatments are those that:
- decrease oil production
- make the pores smaller
- make the cells less sticky
- drain the acne lesion (comedolytic)
- decrease the effect of hormones
- kill the bacteria
The first-line treatment for all acne should be a product containing a retinoid (like topical tretinoin, adapalene, etc) as retinoids offer all of the benefits listed above except the final two. For over-the-counter treatment, look for products that contain benzoyl peroxide or alpha hydroxy acids as active ingredients. Usually, it takes 6-8 weeks of product use to see any improvement. Other treatments you can access without seeing a doctor can include:
- avoiding touching your face
- applying warm compresses to big acne lesions
- using acne spot treatment creams (benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid), or creamy toothpaste or baking soda (make a paste with less than 2 teaspoons of baking soda and water, put on zit for 20 minutes).
- washing your face and other acne-affected skin regularly (1-2 times a day maximum). However, if you wash too much, it can cause more oil to be made, so it’s important to find a balance.
- changing your diet (but only if you notice a specific food makes it worse)
Sometimes, you may need to get further medical support from your doctor. After a doctor or dermatologist reviews your acne, you may be prescribed:
- a medical acne treatment
- cortisone shots
How Can Pandia Health Help?
If you suspect you have acne and would like to get on the road to clearer skin, get started with Pandia Health today!
Acne is a journey, so you’ll want guidance along the way. Our expert doctors can prescribe a range of acne treatments based on what’s best for you and your skin. Plus get free delivery straight to your mailbox with automatic refills and free goodies!
Here are some acne treatments available through Pandia Health:
Tretinoin (topical retinoid)
One option for acne treatment is tretinoin cream (also available as a gel), which is commonly used to treat acne and sun-damaged skin. It also improves the appearance of surface wrinkles and dark spots. Tretinoin is also known as a retinoic acid, which speeds up the life cycle of skin cells by making them divide faster, so newer cells can grow in their place. It’s much stronger than typical over-the-counter acne treatments so must be prescribed by a doctor or medical provider. It is suitable for normal, combination, and sensitive skin.
Research shows that tretinoin exfoliates the skin, reduces inflammation associated with acne, prevents clogging of pores altogether, and can make existing acne lesions disappear. You apply tretinoin once a day (preferably before bed) to the areas where your acne pimples usually appear. Avoid using tretinoin at the exact same time as benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, astringents, lime, spices, and alcohol because they will kill its efficacy and prevent it from helping your acne.
Clindamycin lotion (Topical Antibiotic)
Clindamycin is an antibiotic that kills Cutibacterium acnes (the bacteria that makes acne worse). Before recommending oral antibiotics, your doctor will prescribe topical antibiotics, which are applied directly to the skin. Clindamycin will kill the bacteria, decreasing acne and redness. It also has an anti-inflammatory effect.
Be careful if using Clindamycin all over your body as it’s possible for it to affect your gut, causing a diarrhea infection. This is a very rare side effect, but one to watch out for.
Doxycycline is a tetracycline-family antibiotic that kills bacteria within the body, including in the follicles (where hair grows out from) and oil-filled pores. It’s also used to treat bacterial infections such as acne, chlamydia, syphilis, gum disease, and urinary tract infections. Although Doxycycline is a great method to control the bacteria in your pores and body, doctors and Pandia Health don’t recommend using it for more than 12 weeks at a time because of the risk of antibiotic resistance. Theoretically, oral antibiotics might affect your hormonal birth control just like any other antibiotic, but research has shown that only griseofulvin and rifampin truly affect birth control.
Doxycycline is prescribed as an oral pill to be taken once or twice a day with a full glass of water. There have been a few case reports of esophagitis, which is when a pill eats through the side of the esophagus because the patient didn’t drink enough water with the pill. Although it is an antibiotic, it’s also useful against the inflammation caused by acne. This is a short-term treatment method so once the skin improves, your doctor will stop prescribing Doxycycline. Don’t take Doxycycline if you’re pregnant (it’s pregnancy category D), or allergic to tetracyclines, and don’t give it to children under 8 years of age.
Everyone who has acne will have a different experience. As such, the treatment you receive should be tailored for your unique experience. It’s important to remember that acne is extremely common. Most people you know will have experienced it at one point in their lives and may even still be going through it.
While acne can’t be cured overnight, it can be managed with a combination of the right holistic treatments and medication. If needed, you can have a doctor prescribe more powerful acne treatments like tretinoin and topical antibiotics.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is acne genetic?
There is no specific acne gene, but genes can play a role in determining who is more likely to get acne or how bad it might get. Specific genetic mutations may increase your risk of developing acne and the immune system’s response, such as the chances of scarring and how much pus your body creates.
At what age is acne the worst?
Most people get acne between the ages of 10-19, which is when it is usually the most severe.
What is good for treating acne scars?
Acne breakouts, as we all know, can be very frustrating and tedious. They also have the capability of leaving scars on the face and other areas of the body. But, these scars don’t have to be permanent. Most of the time they go away on their own if you haven’t picked your skin or squeezed your acne pimples.
Below are some methods that have been found to help decrease the appearance of acne scars:
• Salicyclic acid
• Alpha hydroxy acids
• Lactic acid
• Coconut oil
• Shea butter
• Raw honey
• Aloe vera gel
• Lemon juice
• Chemical peels
• Dermal filler
• Laser treatment
What foods cause acne?
An excess of any food can be bad for the body. However, you are not advised to cut any food group out of your diet without talking to a doctor.
These foods have been anecdotally linked to an increased amount of acne growth. However, most contemporary research has shown these foods do not increase the growth of the bacteria that causes acne:
• Sodas or sugary foods
• White bread
• Fast food or greasy food
If you notice that certain food makes your acne worse, you can always limit how much you eat that food.
What is acne-prone skin?
Having acne-prone skin means that your skin type is more likely to see breakouts than other skin types, and can mean that you’re sensitive to certain products. If you have frequent breakouts, you may have acne-prone skin. This means that your pores clog easily, making you more susceptible to whiteheads, blackheads, and pimples.
What is the difference between acne and pimples?
Acne is the condition and pimples are what non-doctors call the white and blackheads that make up acne.
Does acne require a medical diagnosis?
Typically, your general practitioner can diagnose you by just looking at your skin. What treatment they suggest will depend on the severity of your acne. Most cases don't require a diagnosis but it helps to see a doctor to better understand your skin type and ways of managing common skin conditions.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article intend to inform and induce conversation. They are the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Pandia Health, and are for informational purposes only, even if and to the extent that this article features the advice of physicians and medical practitioners. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.
- The Lifespan of a Pimple: How It’s Born, How It Lives, and How It Dies written by Amanda Montell Updated Feb 23, 2021 reviewed by Dr. Morgan Rabach Dermatologist
- Byrdie: What is a pimple
- Mayo Clinic: Acne symptoms, causes, and complications
- What to Expect When Treating Acne with Tretinoin (Retin-A) Medically reviewed by Dena Westphalen, Pharm.D. — Written by Kathryn Watson on January 9, 2019
- Healthline: Tretinoin for acne