Most of us have suffered bouts of breakouts and blemishes at one point or another — some of us more than others. And while there is no denying that all pimples are a pest, they are not all created equally. That is right — there are several different types, each with their own root cause, treatment and healing process. The type of acne we get and the frequency of the acne, depends on several factors that include, but are not limited to hormones, heredity as well as dietary and lifestyle choices that can affect inflammation in our bodies, explains Deanne Mraz Robinson, M.D., assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Yale New Haven Hospital.
Here is a close look at some of the most common types of breakouts, what causes them and how best to treat them.
This is the type of acne most of us are familiar with: it is white in appearance and tends to be the easiest to “pop” (although dermatologists recommend against picking at your face by any means!). “Whiteheads form when the pore gets clogged with dead skin cells and oil, the bacteria that normally live in our skin are able to proliferate and stimulates the activation of the immune system,” says Nancy Samolitis, M.D., dermatologist, co-founder and medical director of FACILE dermatology + boutique. “Pus is basically a collection of inflammatory cells that are trying to kill excess bacteria and kill the skin and the redness and swelling around the pore (causing the bump) are all results of inflammation and dilated blood vessels.” Luckily, whiteheads are fairly easy to treat with over-the-counter products containing one of these effective ingredients that help unclog pores: alpha-hydroxy acids like glycolic or lactic, beta-hydroxy acids like salicylic acid, and topical retinoids.
View this post on Instagram
I’m not @drpimplepopper but who doesn’t love a good extraction video complete with sound effects! #drpimplepopper #nashvilleesthetician #mountjulietesthetician #blackheadremoval #cspsskingoals #cspsesthetician #clearskin #skincare
A post shared by Heather Happy ~ Esthetician (@heather_csps_esthetics) on
Also known as comedonal acne bumps, blackheads are notoriously different than whiteheads in terms of their appearance. Because the top of the pore remains open (unlike a whitehead which is closed at the top), the mix of sebum and dead skin cells meets the air, oxidizes and turns black, explains Robinson. The cause, however, is quite similar to whiteheads: trapped sebum and dead skin cells. To treat blackheads, Robinson recommends salicylic acid-containing products, which can help dissolve the keratin (protein in the skin) that clogs pores. She also suggests a HydraFacial every one to three months to gently suction out debris, while nourishing the skin with what it needs.
View this post on Instagram
acne? DON’T WORRY #beforeandafter —————————————————————————————-—— This was one of my first clients _______________________________________________________________________ We have been working for the past four months to improve this beautiful girls skin. Microderm Infusion with High Frequency, and a skin care regime that she stuck too religiously. 5 treatments back to back, and now she sees me monthly for regular up-keep of the skin. Not only will those improve the skin, BUT! You also need to eat healthy foods with lots of vitamins, and drink LOTS & LOTS of water to remove toxins and hydrate the skin. We have been working towards the fact that she wanted her skin clear before next summer so she didn’t need to wear makeup. It’s not too late to start. Book your app with me in January🙋🏼 . . #yyc #yycnow#yycliving#yycbuzz#yycblog##yycesthetics#beforeandafter#skin#skincare#skincareroutine#serums#acne#pimples#blackheads#satisfying#doctor#esthetician#drpimplepopper #esthetics#microdermabrasion#silkpeel#hydrafacial#yycbeauty#pustules#jradskin#behindthechair
A post shared by ｊｏｒｄａｎ ｒａｄｋｅ (@jradskin) on
Commonly referred to as pimples, pustules are a result of an inflammatory response to excess oil, bacteria (specifically Propionibacterium acnes) and debris on the top layer of the skin, explains Rina Allawh, M.D., a dermatologist at Montgomery Dermatology. “Our body recognizes all of the above as foreign, stimulating an inflammatory response causing redness and swelling.” Another potential culprit for pustules is hormonal changes, which impact our skin’s sebum production, specifically around the jawline, chin and neck. The best treatment is to seek the evaluation of your dermatologist as if pustules are left untreated, the result can be some pretty displeasing scars and hyperpigmentation, warns Allawh. She tends to recommend a combination of oral antibiotics in addition to topical retinoids, and topical antibiotic creams and gels.
View this post on Instagram
Amazing results achieved for this client of ours in just 5 weeks and 3 days. This skin condition is acne grade 3 and is a very challenging skin condition to treat as the inflammation is driven by so many individual factors. Poorly formulated skin care products containing fragrance (parfum), emulsifiers, preservatives and colours (major skin irritants) amongst having hormonal fluctuations were the cause and so needless to say, Mary and I swiped everything from her bathroom in order to rebuild her skin’s poorly formed barrier defence and get her innate/adaptive immune system under control because it was completely on fire! *HOT* *HOT* *HOT* Acne grade 3 is directly linked to the endocrine system (as with all grades of acne) as is the result of the pilosebaceous unit being the site of response for blockages that are driven by external irritating substances, physiological and psychological abuse amongst having systemic inflammation. The pilosebaceous unit contains our sebaceous glands (oil making factories) and these appendages are very abused when it comes to hormonal mediated acne, and those with any type of acne lesions tend to squeeze and pick. Even if one doesn’t touch their acne lesions, scar tissue is almost unavoidable in this situation because of the inflammation however, with the right treatment modalities and home-care products set in place, scar tissue can be significantly reduced and improved with ongoing consistency. So what did Mary and I do? We got on the roof and started to lay down new and improved roof tiles to keep her residing residents (immune system defence cells) under control without sending out inflammatory markings all day, everyday. Repair the roof, all of the underlying tissues and cells will stop acting like there is danger in the environment and the lifecycle of the keratinocyte (king of the epidermis) will form a stronger barrier defence against the outside world. Everyone’s journey with acne is different and that’s why you require a customized and tailored approach to your unique journey of skin health; whether that be acne, eczema, psoriasis, dermatitis or the ageing process, you are an individual and must be treated as such. 💙
A post shared by Mary's Skin Care (@marys_skincare) on
This type of breakout is distinct in the way that it tends to be inflamed — it often looks like a red bump on the skin. “Papules are your classic inflamed acne spot and occur when sebum and skin cells become trapped and angry,” says Robinson. The inside contains oil and bacteria that eventually erupts and spills out to the surrounding skin, which causes redness or irritation. The treatment for papules includes products containing acne-fighting ingredients such as peroxide, salicylic acid and sulfur.
View this post on Instagram
𝐷𝑒𝑎𝑟 15 𝑦𝑒𝑎𝑟 𝑜𝑙𝑑 𝑚𝑒: I have good news and bad news. The bad news: You’re still going to have cystic acne ten years from now. It’s still going to hurt, and it’s also going to start leaving severe scars and redness that stay for months. None of the prescription products you’re going to try over the years will work longer than a few months, and you will cry and mourn for your worsening skin frequently in the coming years. Also, makeup will never again sit as beautifully on your skin as it does today. Your skin… will never be the same. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ The good news: None of this will matter to you anymore. Because, even though your skin will stay stagnant in its ways, your spirit will overcome massive obstacles. Through leaps of faith and bold acts of vulnerability, God will shape for you a new perspective on beauty. Through God’s unconditional love, he will ignite a powerful revelation within you called true contentment. This contentment will lead to a joy and confidence that would never make sense to you now, but it will. Oh poor, broken girl, keep your chin up. It’ll all be better in the end.
A post shared by Madeline Roberts (@m.a.d.e.l.i.n.e) on
If there is a “worst type” of acne, it is without a doubt cystic acne, which occurs when the pores in the skin become blocked, leading to infection and inflammation. “Cystic acne occurs in certain people, and not others, but this type of acne is often seen as a result of hormonal stimulation of the skin,” says Samolitis. These lesions do not always respond well to topical treatments, so if you’re finding your salicylic acid, retinol or sulfur-based cosmetics aren’t quite solving the problem, in women, blocking the hormone receptors with a medication called spironolactone is the treatment of choice. In males, a high dose of systemic prescription vitamin A, called isotretinoin, tends to be effective. Whatever you do, do not let cysts linger, as treatment is most effective in the early stages to prevent scarring.
View this post on Instagram
ANOTHER PROGRESS SHOT💥 Nodular acne is characterized by hard, painful acne lesions deep under the skin. It often affects the face, chest, or back. Unlike regular pimples that often heal within a few days, acne nodules may last for weeks or months. Nodular acne requires a lengthy treatment plan including nutritional supplements, botanical medicine, and diet therapy! #sherynesayed
A post shared by SYDNEY SKIN & LASER CLINIC (@sherynesayed) on
Often affecting the face, chest and back, nodular acne is characterized by hard, painful acne lesions deep under the skin. Often they do not come to a head and remain underneath the skin’s surface, but some of them do. There are many factors that can cause nodular acne, the most common being overactive sebaceous (or oil) glands, an abnormal buildup of dead cells within the pores, androgen (or male) hormones and overgrowth of acne-causing bacteria. Since over-the-counter acne treatments are not effective against nodular acne, no matter how consistently you use them, Allawh recommends prescription medications such as Isotretinoin, as well as oral antibiotics.
One thing all of these types of acne have in common is that you should try not to touch and prod at them. In other words, step away from the magnifying mirror. “Acne is usually a temporary (albeit brutal) part of life, but the scarring that can result can follow us for years and be quite tricky to treat,” says Robinson.
We only recommend products we have independently researched, tested, and loved. If you purchase a product found through our links, Sunday Edit may earn an affiliate commission.