DermNet NZ

Facts about the skin from DermNet New Zealand Trust. Topic index: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Acne vulgaris

The common type of acne is called acne vulgaris. It mainly affects adolescents but may persist or even become more severe in adulthood.

What are the clinical features of acne vulgaris?

Acne is easy to recognise because it is so common; nearly all of us have it at some time or another. It most often affects the face, but it may spread to involve the neck, chest, back and sometimes even more extensively.

Individual lesions are centred on the pilosebaceous unit, ie the hair follicle and its associated oil gland. Several types of acne spots occur, often at the same time.

Superficial lesions

Deeper lesions

Secondary lesions

Individual acne lesions usually last less than two weeks but the deeper papules and nodules may persist for months. Many acne patients also have oily skin (seborrhoea).

Acne vulgaris Acne vulgaris Acne vulgaris
Acne vulgaris

More images of acne ...

Acne grading

Acne may be classified as mild, moderate or severe1. Comedones and inflammatory lesions are usually considered separately.

Mild acne:

Moderate acne:

Severe acne:

Classification of acne
Mild acne vulgaris
Mild acne
Acne vulgaris
Moderate acne
Acne vulgaris
Severe acne

Many dermatologists assess the severity of a patient's acne more precisely by using a grading scale, such as the one developed by the Leeds' group. The inflammatory lesions are compared with a set of standard photographs to determine the grade, which may be 1 (very mild) to 12 (exceptionally severe).

In clinical trials evaluating acne treatment, the numbers of uninflamed and inflamed lesions are carefully counted at regular intervals. It is remarkably difficult to count consistently.

What is the treatment for acne vulgaris?

Which treatment is best for acne vulgaris depends on the patient's age and sex, the extent and the severity of the acne, how long it has been present, and response to previous treatments.

Related information


  1. Lehmann HL, Robinson KA, Andrews JS, Holloway V, Goddman SN. Acne therapy: a methodological review. J. Am. Acad. Dermatol. 47, 231-240 (2002)

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Author: Reviewed and updated by Dr Amanda Oakley Dermatologist, Hamilton, New Zealand, and Vanessa Ngan, Staff Writer, February 2014.

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If you have any concerns with your skin or its treatment, see a dermatologist for advice.