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Clinical features

Last reviewed dd mmm yyyy. Last edited dd mmm yyyy

Authoring team

The clinical presentation mirrors the underlying pathology:

  • comedones -
    • open (blackheads) comedones - follicles have a wider opening and are filled with plugs of sebum and sloughed off cells which appear black in colour
    • closed (whiteheads) comedones - from obstruction of the follicles with the same material but the opening is smaller
    • 'sand paper' comedones - large number of comedones that cause a rough texture
    • macrocomedones - whiteheads with a larger diameter (>1mm)
    • 'submarine' comedones - deep comedones with a diameter >5mm, often develop into nodular lesions (1)
  • papules (inflamed) and pustules (contains pus) - superficial inflammation; or nodules and cysts - deep inflammation. In very severe acne, nodules may track together and form large, deep sinuses (acne conglobata and sinus track acne) (1)
  • haemorrhagic acne maybe caused by bleeding inflammatory lesions which can be very painful and disfiguring (1)

Lesions are usually present on the forehead, nose and chin. In more severe cases, the whole of the face, upper chest and back may be affected; usually, with periorbital sparing.

Scarring is a sequel of severe acne, caused due to the rupture of the follicle and dermal damage from inflammation. Scarring typically occurs from deep lesions. Significant scarring is seen in about 22% of patients (1).

Generally, the patient has greasy skin.

Types of scars include:

  • 'ice pick scars' on the cheeks (initially presents in purple colour and later fades becoming white) (1)
  • 'tissue paper scars' across the shoulders
  • keloid scars on the middle chest and shoulders

Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation is another complication of acne, especially in dark-skinned people (1).

Psychological problems too can occur as a complication resulting from acne. Patients can suffer from anxiety and depression due to the cosmetic appearance of acne or the scarring (1).


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