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Last Updated on March 26, 2024

Acne conglobata (AC) is a severe form of acne, characterized by dome-shaped nodules. It primarily affects men aged 18 to 30. It is rare in women, children, and older adults, with limited reported cases outside the U.S. The American Academy of Dermatology notes that acne affects around 50 million Americans yearly.

What is Acne Conglobata

This condition affects a person’s confidence and hinders their daily life. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into what acne conglobata is, its causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and the various treatment options available.

What is Acne Conglobata?

Acne conglobata is a severe and chronic form of acne vulgaris, characterized by extensive and interconnected nodules and abscesses on the skin. It primarily affects areas with a high concentration of sebaceous glands, such as the face, chest, back, and buttocks. This condition often presents with deep-seated cysts, inflammation, and scarring, leading to significant physical and emotional distress for those affected.

Moreover, it is characterized by the formation of large, deep abscesses and sinus tracts, creating long tunnels beneath the skin. These abscesses contribute to the development of polyporous comedones and non-inflammatory cysts, often appearing in groups of three.

Consequently, upon rupture, these cysts discharge pus onto the skin’s surface. Additionally, the condition may lead to deep ulcers below the nodules, resulting in keloid-like scars and the formation of crusts. Acne conglobata nodules commonly appear on areas such as the shoulder, chest, upper arms, buttocks, face, and thighs.

Causes of Acne Conglobata

The exact cause of this is not fully understood. However, it is believed to be significantly influenced by the hormone testosterone. This hormone, responsible for developing secondary male characteristics such as facial hair and body size, also stimulates the production of skin oils by the sebaceous glands.

There are several factors contribute to its development:

Genetics: A family history of severe acne can increase the likelihood of developing it.
Hormonal Changes: Fluctuations in hormone levels, especially during puberty, pregnancy, or due to hormonal disorders, can trigger or exacerbate acne conglobata. Females with PCOS may experience this condition due to hormonal imbalance.
Androgen Levels: Studies show that increased levels of androgens, such as testosterone, can stimulate the sebaceous glands, leading to excessive oil production and acne formation. Furthermore, some individuals suffering from Hidradenitis suppurativa, get acne conglobata
Inflammatory Response: The immune system’s response to bacterial colonization in the hair follicles plays a role in the development of severe acne

Symptoms of Acne conglobata

Patients suffering from acne vulgaris may also develop acne coglobata in the future. The condition arises when acne nodules form deep within pores due to a build-up of bacteria, oil, and skin cells. This creates hardened plugs. A key characteristic of is the presence of paired or clustered blackheads on the trunk, neck, upper arms, and buttocks.

Additionally, cysts develop in areas like the back, buttocks, chest, forehead, cheeks, anterior neck, and shoulders, containing a thick, yellowish, stringy fluid with traces of blood. When inflamed, these pimples fill with pus that drains onto the skin, causing pus-filled skin.

In contrast to typical acne vulgaris, acne conglobata presents with more severe symptoms, including large, painful nodules and cysts, pus-filled abscesses, pronounced inflammation and redness, scarring and keloid formation, draining sinuses or tunnels beneath the skin, and significant psychological distress due to the visible and distressing nature of the condition.

Differential Diagnosis

Diagnosing acne conglobata requires a comprehensive approach that includes a thorough examination of the skin and a detailed review of the patient’s medical history. Dermatologists play a crucial role in this process, utilizing their expertise to identify specific characteristics and patterns associated with this condition. During the examination, dermatologists carefully assess the presence of large, deep-seated nodules, abscesses, sinus tracts, and any associated scarring.

In addition to the physical examination, dermatologists may perform various tests to support the diagnosis and rule out other skin conditions. One such test is a skin biopsy, where a small sample of affected skin tissue is collected and examined under a microscope. This allows dermatologists to observe histological characteristics, such as inflammation, cyst formation, and tissue damage.

The differential diagnosis of acne conglobata involves distinguishing it from other skin conditions that may present with similar symptoms. One common condition in the differential diagnosis is hidradenitis suppurativa, which manifests as painful nodules and abscesses in areas such as the armpits and groin. Additionally, folliculitis, characterized by hair follicle infections, and other severe acne forms like acne fulminans are potential considerations.

Treatment Options

The treatment of acne conglobata requires a personalized and comprehensive approach. The treatment aims to address inflammation, bacterial overgrowth, lesion prevention, and scar reduction. The main treatment methods include:

Medications – Topical and Oral

  • Topical retinoids like isotretinoin for unclogging pores and reducing inflammation over several weeks.
  • Antibiotics such as minocycline, tetracycline, or doxycycline to control bacterial infections, with dapsone as an alternative if needed.
  • Oral isotretinoin (Accutane) decreases oil production and prevents new breakouts, often administered with pre-treatment prednisone and low initial doses.
  • Steroids may be prescribed for systemic symptoms or intense inflammation, often combined with other treatments for improved efficacy.

Intralesional Therapy

Corticosteroid injections like intralesional triamcinolone to directly reduce inflammation in cysts and nodules, are especially helpful for systemic symptoms.

Hormonal Treatment

Oral contraceptives for hormonal regulation, are particularly beneficial for females with hormonal acne, aiding symptom improvement and lesion prevention.

Laser and Light Therapies

  • Utilizing carbon dioxide laser combined with topical tretinoin to target bacteria and reduce inflammation, proving effective when conventional medications are ineffective.
  • External beam radiation or cryotherapy for severe and unresponsive cases.

Surgical Procedures

  • Surgical excision of large, interconnected nodules, especially when other treatments are unsuccessful.
  • Draining of hemorrhagic nodules and skin grafting for significant scarring, using tissue from other areas to smooth affected skin.

Furthermore, clinical trials play a vital role in advancing our understanding of acne conglobata and developing new treatment options. These trials actively test new therapies, medications, or procedures to assess their efficacy and potential side effects in the patients. Participating in these trials allows patients to access cutting-edge treatments that may not be widely available.

The Impact of Acne Conglobata

It is considered the most severe form of acne, often causing extensive and permanent scarring. This significantly affects one’s physical appearance and mental well-being. This visible scarring can lead to low self-esteem, heightened anxiety, depression, and social withdrawal among patients.

Furthermore, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and keloid scarring are common complications associated with nodulocystic acne, further exacerbating the cosmetic concerns. In some instances, it has been linked to renal amyloidosis, a condition characterized by the accumulation of amyloid protein in the kidneys. This can lead to symptoms such as proteinuria and hypertension, ultimately progressing to renal failure if left untreated.

Additionally, the medications prescribed for acne conglobata may come with potential side effects that can pose risks to overall health. These side effects may include complications during pregnancy, increased sensitivity to sunlight, and a higher susceptibility to sunburn. It is crucial for healthcare providers and patients to carefully weigh the benefits and risks of treatment options while closely monitoring for any adverse effects.


In conclusion, acne conglobata is a severe and distressing skin condition that requires specialized medical attention and tailored treatment approaches.

Individuals with this condition need to collaborate effectively with healthcare professionals and dermatologists. They need to understand its causes, recognize symptoms, and embrace diverse treatment options to manage symptoms and improve quality of life.

Furthermore, participating in clinical trials offers individuals with acne conglobata a chance to explore potential permanent treatments. This opportunity can significantly contribute to regaining their confidence and living a better quality of life.


MetroBoston Clinical Partners is a well established and experienced research center in the greater Boston area. Under the leadership of qualified physicians and medical professionals, we coordinate a range of clinical research trials in Dermatology and Internal Medicine.

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