Beauty 101

Do You Know What Acne You Have?

Rachel Gibbons Beauty Expert
Do You Know What Acne You Have?

What are the causes of acne?

Acne is a common skin condition where the pores of your skin become blocked by hair, sebum (an oily substance), bacteria and dead skin cells. Clogged pores cause acne itself. These may be attributed to excess production of oil (sebum), bacteria, hormones, dead skin cells or ingrown hairs

Certain things can cause acne and/or make it worse:

  • Fluctuating hormone levels around the time of a woman’s period.
  • Picking at acne sores.
  • Clothing and headgear, like hats and sports helmets.
  • Air pollution and certain weather conditions, especially high humidity.
  • Using oily or greasy personal care products
  • Stress, which increases the hormone cortisol, can also cause acne to flare.
  • Some medications.
  • Genetics.

What are the different types of acne?

Acne can take several forms. They include:

Blackheads: Open bumps on the skin that fill with excess oil and dead skin. They look as if dirt has deposited in the bump, but the dark spots are actually caused by an irregular light reflection off the clogged follicle. Blackheads occur when a pore is clogged by a combination of sebum and dead skin cells. The top of the pore stays open, despite the rest of it being clogged. This results in the characteristic black color seen on the surface.

Whiteheads: Bumps that remain closed by oil and dead skin. Whiteheads can also form when a pore gets clogged by sebum and dead skin cells. But unlike with blackheads, the top of the pore closes up. It looks like a small bump protruding from the skin. Whiteheads are more difficult to treat because the pores are already closed. Products containing salicylic acid can be helpful. Topical retinoids give the best results for comedonal acne.

Papules: Small red or pink bumps that become inflamed. Papules happen when the wall of a hair follicle ruptures. Hair follicles are also called pores. Don't squeeze a papule to try and make it come to a head. You probably won't extract any debris from the pore. Instead, you may simply make it more inflamed. To treat papules try using products containing retinoids. 

Pustules: Pimples containing pus. They look like whiteheads surrounded by red rings. They can cause scarring if picked or scratched. Pustules follow papules. When the pore ruptures, the body sends white blood cells to fight bacteria. This is what causes pus. A mixture of pus, dead skin cells, and excess oil gives a pustule its white cap. Squeezing a pimple extracts this material. Mild acne or occasional pustules can be treated at home with OTC benzoyl peroxide creams or cleansers. Acne spot treatments containing salicylic acid can also help.

Nodules: Solid pimples that are deep in your skin. They are large and painful. An acne nodule develops when the follicle wall ruptures deep within the dermis. Contaminated debris from the follicle infects nearby follicles. The damage and irritation causes the area to swell. This makes nodules quite painful. Like pustules, nodules can be filled with pus. Because they occur deep within the skin, though, you won't see a white head. Occasional nodules can usually be treated at home. If your blemish is painful, you can ice the area to help relieve swelling. Don't try squeezing a nodule or any other pimple. Nodules can take between a few weeks and several months to fully heal. This is because they are large and deep. Ask your dermatologist about a cortisone injection. This can help make your pimples go away faster.

Cysts: Pus-filled pimples. These can cause scars. Like nodules, cysts begin as a deep break in the follicle wall. The body tries to wall off the infection by surrounding it with a membrane. As an acne cyst works its way to the surface, it damages healthy skin tissue. This can destroy the follicle. The likelihood of acne scarring is very high If you are prone to cystic acne, talk to a dermatologist. OTC acne treatments won't help these blemishes. There are no home remedies that can successfully treat cystic acne. Oral acne medications like Absorica (isotretinoin) are the best treatment options for cystic acne.

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