Blemish and acne-prone skin - Causes, triggers, symptoms and advice

Author: Beiersdoft UK Ltd.

Date: Apr 2018

Acne Vulgaris is the most common skin disease in industrialised nations. It usually begins during puberty, in line with hormone changes, and may persist into later adulthood. Between 70% - 95% of adolescents1 are affected to some degree by blemished skin and 15-30%1 of them will use acne medication to relieve symptoms. There are also increasing numbers of adults, particularly women, experiencing acne later in life.

What is blemish-prone skin and acne?

Blemish-prone skin is skin that has a propensity to develop comedones and pimples. It is often oily and appears shiny. This is because the sebaceous glands produce more sebum than in other skin types.

Acne (full name, Acne Vulgaris) is a non-contagious skin condition characterised by pimples caused by inflamed and infected sebaceous glands. The disease is most common in adolescents, but symptoms can persist into adulthood and some people, especially women, experience symptoms for the first time after the age of 25. Persistent or late-onset acne is known as acne tarda. Find out more about adult acne is our article Acne Tarda and if you’re looking to treat acne as well as signs of ageing you can find out how in acne and aging skin.

Acne typically appears on the face, neck, shoulders, chest and back and ranges in severity from light acne (known as Acne Comedonica) through moderate acne (Acne Papulopustulosa) to severe acne (Acne Conglobata). You can find out more about these different types of acne in the different types of acne.

But acne doesn’t just affect people’s skin, it impacts on their quality of life too. Symptoms can be stressful and cause issues around self-confidence. Read more in the psychological impact of acne. This is just one reason why it’s important to consult a dermatologist if you are in any way troubled by your skin condition.

There is a range of acne treatment options available and timely medication can prevent a deterioration in skin condition and subsequent damage, such as hyperpigmentation and scarring.

What causes and triggers blemishes on skin?

There are several myths surrounding acne - for example, that people with blemishes are less hygienic than others. There are many key factors that medical professionals know are likely to make some people more prone to acne than others, including: Genetics; hormones; medication; diet; stress, smoking and inappropriate skincare.

How do blemishes and acne develop?

There are many, complex and interrelated factors involved in the development of blemishes and acne.


Acne is an inflammatory disease and inflammation is present at every stage of its development. As we know, our genetics and hormones make some of us more prone to inflammation than others. Micro-inflammation (non-visible inflammation) is a root cause of acne and can be triggered by many different factors including changes in hormones, bacteria and changes in the composition of sebum on the surface of skin.


The sebaceous glands secrete an oily substance called sebum that keeps skin and hair supple. Excess sebum production (triggered by hormones), which typifies blemish- and acne-prone skin, is known as seborrhea. Excess sebum on skin’s surface interferes with the natural process by which skin sheds dead cells (known as desquamation). The composition of the sebum lipids which build up in the sebaceous glands also cause further micro-inflammation.


Hyperkeratosis is an abnormal thickening of the external layers of skin. It is caused by excessive cell production (triggered by hormones) and inadequate desquamation of dead cells. These cells form plugs that block the sebacous glands. Sebum builds up and the follicle wall bulges causing comedones (blackheads and whiteheads).


Propinionbacterium acnes (or P. acnes) is a bacteria that normally lives harmlessly on skin’s surface, but people with blemish- and acne-prone skin can be more sensitive to it and it can trigger inflammation. Excessive sebum production also creates an environment which helps P. acnes to grow. It starts to colonise the duct of the plugged sebaceous gland causing further inflammation and leading to papules and pustules.

In severe cases the follicular wall bursts in the late stages of inflammation. Lipids, fatty acids, corneocytes (cells), bacteria and cell fragments are released and can cause further inflammation in the surrounding skin.

What can I do to help reduce blemishes and care for my skin?

Blemished skin benefits from special care:

A thorough skincare routine

Cleanse your skin twice a day and care for it using products that have been specially formulated to suit your skin’s particular needs such as those in the Eucerin DermoPurifyer range. Find out more in the ideal skincare products and routine for blemish-prone skin.

Non-comedogenic coverage

Only use concealers and make-up products that have been specially formulated for acne-prone skin such Eucerin DermoPurifyer Cover Stick.

Medical treatment

There is a selection of options available for acne. Your doctor will be able to advise which is best for you. Find out more in acne medication and possible side effects.

Sun protection

Blemishes can cause pigmentation issues if over-exposed to the sun, and acne medications can make skin more sensitive to UV rays, so it’s important to use appropriate sun protection. Try Eucerin Sun Gel-Creme Oil Control SPF50+.

The Eucerin DermoPurifyer Range:

Eucerin DermoPurifyer Adjunctive Soothing Cream is a moisturiser for blemish-prone skin specially formulated to support people undergoing medical acne treatment.

One of the side effects of acne medication is that it frequently causes severe dryness in skin. This intensely moisturising, non-greasy cream soothes these symptoms. Ceramides support skin’s protective barrier and reduce moisture loss, SymSitive helps to calm irritation such as stinging and burning directly at source and Licochalcone A helps to reduce redness. The formula helps to bring demanding, blemish -prone skin under control and it feels smooth and supple after the first application. Suitable for use during pregnancy.

Soap- and fragrance-free, Eucerin DermoPurifyer Cleansing Gel is a non-comedogenic daily face wash for blemish- and acne-prone skin. With 6% Ampho-Tensides, it cleanses skin gently but effectively removing dirt, make-up and any excess sebum. Thanks to its antibacterial properties, the gel eliminates skin bacteria and prevents bacterial growth.

The cleansing gel can be used alongside medical acne treatment and during pregnancy.

Eucerin DermoPurifyer Micellar Water is a refreshing solution with APG Complex: an effective yet extra-mild make-up remover, cleanser and toner.

Alcohol-free, it gently but effectively removes all water-soluble eye and face make-up without irritating or disrupting skin’s natural moisture barrier. Quick and convenient to use, it helps prepare your skin for your topical acne treatment product or moisturiser and has been tested on, and proven to be compatible with, sensitive skin and eyes. Skin feels clean and soothed, is noticeably soft and supple and is well prepared for care products. The Micellar Water is suitable for use alongside medical acne treatments and during pregnancy.

Eucerin DermoPurifyer Scrub is an oil-free skin peel with 1% Lactic Acid that removes impurities without drying out the skin. Suitable for face and body, the exfoliating action of natural micro particles works against dead skin cells − one of the key causes of blackheads and spots − and gently cleanses skin and removes make-up. Pores are unclogged, impurities and blackheads are reduced and skin texture is visibly smooth and refined.

The product has been specially formulated for oily and blemish-prone skin which is not undergoing medication and can be used during pregnancy.

Eucerin DermoPurifyer Facial Toner has been specially formulated for oily and blemish-prone skin and for those with mild to moderate adult acne. It is also suitable for all other forms of acne such as acne vulgaris. It clears the skin and prepares it for subsequent care.

The active antibacterial formula contains 2% Lactic Acid which unblocks pores, inhibits bacterial growth and prevents all types of blemishes without over drying the skin. It is particularly effective when used in the T-Zone and other problem areas.

Eucerin DermoPurifyer Facial Toner can be used during pregnancy but should not be used by skin undergoing medical acne treatment.

Eucerin DermoPurifyer Mattifying Fluid effectively counteracts pimples and blackheads and helps to control demanding blemish- and acne-prone skin in the long term. The mattifying fluid contains:

  • Salicylic Acid: both antibacterial and comedolytic, this helps to reduce blemishes and prevent them from re-appearing
  • Licochalcone A: soothes skin irritation and inflammation, and reduces redness
  • Sebum-regulating technology: reduces sebum production
  • Mattifying particles: provide an 8h anti-shine effect without clogging the pores

Skin is noticeably clearer and the long-lasting matt effect improves the complexion. Can be used during pregnancy.

Eucerin DermoPurifyer Skin Renewal Treatment has been specially formulated to reduce the appearance of pimples, papules and pustules as well as to fade post acne marks.

It is suitable for all mild to moderate forms of acne and has a triple effect:

  • The 10% Hydroxy Complex contains a highly effective combination of peeling agents − Glycolic Acid, Salicylic Acid and Polyhydroxy Acid – which help to resurface skin, unclog pores, reduce bacteria, remove dead skin cells and prevent new blemishes from appearing
  • The formula also contains Licochalcone A which has been proven to reduce inflammation and help soothe irritation.

Eucerin DermoPurifyer Skin Renewal Treatment starts to visibly improve skin after just one week, revealing clearer and smoother-looking skin over time.

Can be used during pregnancy but should not be used by skin undergoing medical acne treatment.

Eucerin DermoPurifyer Cover Stick is a concealer with Salicylic Acid proven to both reduce and cover pimples and blackheads. It smoothly covers blemishes and evens out skin while reducing pimples and unblocking clogged pores. The concealer can be used alongside medical acne treatment and is also safe for use during pregnancy.

1 C.C.Zouboulis, Hautarzt 2014 65: 733-750

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Last revised: 25 April 2018

Next review: 28 October 2018