Understanding the Different Types of Acne and How to Treat Them
Acne is the most common skin condition that can cause spots, oily skin and blemishes. Understanding the different types of acne can help you find the best treatment for your skin.
Noninflammatory acne includes black and whiteheads and clogged pores that can either be open, creating a blackhead or closed, producing a whitehead. These blemishes don't cause inflammation and respond well to over-the-counter treatments.
Blackheads and Whiteheads
Blackheads are small, dark bumps on the skin, often in the T-zone. While they may look like dirt, these pesky blemishes come from clogged pores. "A blackhead forms when a pore gets filled with excess oil and dead skin cells but isn't ruptured yet,." "That clogged pore then oxidizes, giving it that dark appearance."
Experts add that we see the color change in a blackhead because the blemish has been exposed to air. The air's chemical, melanin, combines with the trapped natural oil and dead skin cells to create the dark mark.
Whiteheads are similar to blackheads but are closed and don't have that distinct black hue. They also form when a pore gets clogged, but the walls of the pore remain intact. That's why whiteheads are milder than their inflammatory counterparts and usually look like a firm, white bump at the skin's surface.
Papules and Pustules
Acne blemishes are red or pink, dome-shaped bumps that do not contain pus. They are inflamed and tender to the touch. Pimples are the most common type of acne lesion. They occur when a pore gets clogged with bacteria from the P. acnes bacteria, along with excess oil and dead skin cells. The body's immune system then fights the infection, which causes a cluster of red, inflamed bumps to form.
Pimples aren't usually serious, but you should seek a doctor's advice if they become oozing or inflamed. You should also avoid picking at or squeezing them, which can lead to scarring. Instead, it would help if you tried applying a cool compress, an over-the-counter acne treatment, or an acne prescription cream. You should also use non-comedogenic products like those from SkinHealth, wear sunscreen, and drink two liters of water daily. This will help you get clearer skin and prevent future breakouts. Acne papules tend to affect teenagers and young adults undergoing hormonal changes, but they can continue to appear into adulthood.
Nodules and Cysts
Like papules and pustules, nodules are inflammatory acne lesions that develop when bacteria on the skin get trapped in clogged pores. Unlike less severe pimples, nodules don't have a head and are often hard to the touch. Nodules can appear on their own or in patches. When they are paired with cysts, the condition is called nodulocystic acne.
Cysts are softer and look like angry boils. Like nodules, they're painful and should be treated by a dermatologist because they can scar. Compared to other types of acne, nodules and cysts are harder to treat with over-the-counter medication.
A doctor may recommend hormone-regulating pills for women (like birth control) or antibiotics to help with severe nodular acne. But most often, they recommend regular skincare routines, which include daily washing with a gentle cleanser and using a clay mask at least twice a week to extract excess oil and bacteria. You should also avoid picking at or popping nodules and cysts since this can lead to more significant scarring.
Hormone changes trigger this type of acne and usually appear during puberty due to high levels of androgens, but can continue to flare up throughout adulthood due to fluctuating estrogen and progesterone levels. It's most common in women but can affect men as well.
These hormonal fluctuations can increase oil production and trigger the overgrowth of bacteria, leading to clogged pores, redness, swelling and inflammation. Hormonal acne can also cause hard-to-treat acne scars.
Despite being a bit more difficult to treat than other types of acne, there are ways to keep it at bay. For instance, using a skincare routine with non-comedogenic products that don't contain pore-clogging ingredients like sodium lauryl sulfate and alcohol can help. A dermatologist can also prescribe medications that address the underlying issue, such as oral contraceptives to balance the body's hormone levels or a pill with anti-androgen spironolactone. In addition, a doctor can prescribe topical retinoids that reduce sebum production and decrease inflammation.