Is Acne Contagious?
Is acne contagious? The short answer is NO, acne is not contagious and cannot be spread by skin-to-skin contact.1
So where did this myth come from? Most likely from people noticing how an outbreak of acne can appear to spread across the skin.
Acne occurs when pores are clogged by a mixture of bacteria, excess oil (sebum) and dead skin cells.2 When a skin pore is clogged, acne-causing bacteria cause inflammation (swelling, redness, heat pain), and eventually the follicle wall bursts.1,2 Once freed, the dead skin cells and oil can spread on the skin, causing other pores to clog and become inflamed, which in turn may trigger an outbreak of pimples and lesions.1,2
To make matters worse, the pore-clogging bacterium (known as C. acnes), as well as dead skin cells, can also be spread around your body by your hands or by objects like hairbrushes, razors, washcloths, and other everyday items used for hygiene.1,2 You can see why some people mistakenly believe that acne is contagious.
While acne doesn’t spread from person to person, your family genetics are known to influence the likelihood that you will develop acne as a teenager.3 So if one or both of your parents suffered from acne when they were teenagers, their offspring are more likely to develop the condition.3
Here are some tips from dermatologists at the American Academy of Dermatology to help improve skin care habits and slow the spread of acne4:
- Give your approved acne treatment time to work (clearing of skin can typically take 3–4 months)
- Apply acne treatments to your whole face. Don't just “spot-treat” pimples
- Use make-up and sunscreen that is approved for acne and won’t clog pores
- Don’t share skin brushes or make-up brushes and applicators
- Wash your face only twice a day, in the morning and evening. Over-washing your face can cause irritation
- Use a moisturizer made for acne-prone skin. Many treatments, as well as the sun, can dry your skin and irritate it, so moisturizing is recommended
- Be gentle on your skin—you can’t scrub away your acne, so gently washing your face and applying products will improve irritation
- Don’t wipe sweat off your face with a towel. This can spread bacteria after a workout and irritate your clogged pores. Instead, lightly pat your face dry
- Don’t pop or squeeze your pimples! As mentioned above, spreading the inflamed dead skin cells and sebum oil stored in your pimples can spread the bacterium that causes acne to spread
1. Cleveland Clinic. Updated March 4, 2022. Accessed July 14, 2022. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/22468-pimples
2. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Published September 1, 2016. Updated August 2020. Accessed July 14, 2022. https://www.niams.nih.gov/health-topics/acne
3. Petridis C, Navarini AA, Dand N, et al. Genome-wide meta-analysis implicates mediators of hair follicle development and morphogenesis in risk for severe acne. Nat Commun. 2018;9(1):5075. doi:10.1038/s41467-018-07459
4. 10 skin care habits that can worsen acne. American Academy of Dermatology. Accessed July 14, 2022. https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/acne/skin-care/habits-stop