Is Acne Contagious?

Can You Catch Acne?

Girl with acne
Photo: WIN-Initiative / Neleman / Getty Images

No one wants acne.  So maybe that's why you're feeling a little nervous getting to close to that person who has obvious pimples.

Or, if you've just started breaking out, you may be wondering why.  Where does acne come from?

Is acne contagious? Is it possible to catch acne from someone else?

No, Acne Is Not Contagious

There are some skin problems that are contagious, but acne isn't one of them. Common acne (what's called acne vulgaris in med-speak) can't be passed from person to person like a cold or flu can.

You can touch, hug, and kiss someone with acne without fear of catching the skin disorder. You can even share the same towel or soap with someone who has acne without fear.  You won't develop pimples because you can't catch acne.

Acne is an incredibly common skin problem. Nearly every person will develop some level of acne at some point in their lives.

So, just because you developed a pimple a week or two after hanging out with someone with acne doesn't mean you caught pimples from them. Coincidental, maybe. But the origination of your acne? No.

Here's How You Really Get Acne

So if acne isn't contagious, how do people get acne in the first place?

Three major factors contribute to acne -- a plug of skin cells that becomes trapped within the pore, a surplus of the skin's natural oil (called sebum), and the acne-inducing bacterium Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes).

P. acnes are bacteria that are routinely present on the skin.

It isn't passed from person to person, so you don't have to worry about "catching" this bacterium and developing acne.

P. acnes are generally harmless. But when a plug of dead skin cells and oil blocks the pore opening, it creates an anaerobic environment where the P. acnes thrive. The bacteria irritate the pore lining, creating redness and inflammation.

Are You Sure It's Acne? It May Be Another Skin Problem

While a pimple, or two or three, can appear overnight, a full face (or back, etc.) of acne doesn't appear that quickly.  There are other skin problems that can cause pimples and acne-like rashes

If you've quite suddenly developed pimples when your skin has always been clear before, you should see your physician.  Ditto if a friend or family member had a rash last week and now you have pimples that look just the same.  Acne isn't passed from person to person, but other types of rashes can be.  

If you're not 100% sure it's run-of-the-mill acne, your best bet is to make an appointment with your doctor.  Let the medical professionals tell you exactly what's going on with your skin.

Acne Can Be Treated

If it does turn out to be regular acne, your doctor can also help you devise a treatment plan to get your skin clear. 

So, if you have a friend ar family member with acne, you can't catch it from them. If you're the one with acne, you don't have to worry about passing acne along to them.

Although there is no cure for acne, it can be treated. If you're acne is mild, try an over-the-counter treatment first.

If your acne is more serious, or if you can't control your acne with OTC products, make an appointment with a dermatologist. Your doctor can help you develop a successful acne treatment plan.

Sources:

Eichenfield LF, Krakowski AC, Piggott C, et al. "Evidence-Based Recommendations for the Diagnosis and Treatment of Pediatric Acne." Pediatrics. 2013; 131: S163.

"Questions and Answers About Acne." National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS). Jan 2006. National Institutes of Health.

Whitney KM, Ditre CM. "Management Strategies for Acne Vulgaris." Clinical Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology. 2011; 4:41-53.

Zaenglein AL, Pathy AL, Schlosser BJ, Alikhan A, Baldwin HE, et. al. "Guidelines of Care for the Management of Acne Vulgaris." Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 2016; 74(5): 945-73.

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