Acne is a chronic inflammatory disease of the pilosebaceous unit resulting from androgen-induced increased sebum production, altered keratinisation, inflammation, and bacterial colonisation of hair follicles on the face, neck, chest, and back by Propionibacterium acnes. Although early colonisation with P acnes and family history might have important roles in the disease, exactly what triggers acne and how treatment affects the course of the disease remain unclear. Other factors such as diet have been implicated, but not proven. Facial scarring due to acne affects up to 20% of teenagers. Acne can persist into adulthood, with detrimental effects on self-esteem. There is no ideal treatment for acne, although a suitable regimen for reducing lesions can be found for most patients. Good quality evidence on comparative effectiveness of common topical and systemic acne therapies is scarce. Topical therapies including benzoyl peroxide, retinoids, and antibiotics when used in combination usually improve control of mild to moderate acne. Treatment with combined oral contraceptives can help women with acne. Patients with more severe inflammatory acne usually need oral antibiotics combined with topical benzoyl peroxide to decrease antibiotic-resistant organisms. Oral isotretinoin is the most effective therapy and is used early in severe disease, although its use is limited by teratogenicity and other side-effects. Availability, adverse effects, and cost, limit the use of photodynamic therapy. New research is needed into the therapeutic comparative effectiveness and safety of the many products available, and to better understand the natural history, subtypes, and triggers of acne. Copyright © 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.