Do You Know What Type of Acne You Have?January 08, 2020
When it comes to treating acne, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Products that help clear up one person’s complexion may not have the same effect on your skin and vice versa. One reason for this phenomenon is that there are different types of acne, all of which need to be addressed in specific ways. The first step to reducing acne is identifying what type of acne you actually have. To find out if you’re experiencing blackheads and cysts or whiteheads and pustules, read our guide to identifying different types of acne below.
Blackheads look just as the name suggests, like tiny black dots. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), these small spots occur when pores become clogged with excess oil, bacteria and dead skin cells. That debris-filled pore can form dark-hued clog in the skin, or a blackhead. Blackheads typically have slightly raised borders, differentiating them from sebaceous filaments, which aren’t a type of acne. It may come as a surprise that the name is a slight misnomer, too. In reality, the oil that clogs your pores turns brown, not black, when exposed to the air and oxidizes, according to Mayo Clinic.
When it comes to treatment, hold off on harsh scrubs. Because blackheads aren’t dirt, scrubbing won’t wash them away. In fact, it’s likely that scrubbing may aggravate the appearance of this type of acne. To help unclog pores and remove excess bacteria, the AAD recommends using a retinoid in combination with a benzoyl peroxide face wash. Try pairing an over-the-counter retinol, like the La Roche-Posay Effaclar Adapalene Gel, with an oil-free cleanser like the CeraVe Foaming Facial Cleanser. If you don’t see improvements with topical treatments, consult with your dermatologist. Don’t try extracting your blackheads at home.
While the color is different, whiteheads and blackheads actually have a decent amount of similarities. Both are a form of clogged pores. That being said, a clogged pore only becomes a whitehead when it closes (i.e., a closed comedone), whereas a blackhead is an open pore, or an open comedone. Whiteheads present as tiny white or flesh colored bumps.
Due to their similarities, whiteheads and blackheads can be addressed in exactly the same way. That means if your skin suffers from both, you won’t need separate products or routines to manage breakouts. The AAD suggests using a retinoid and a benzoyl peroxide face wash. If, after six to eight weeks, you still see whiteheads, the AAD adds that you should consult a dermatologist about the possibility of extractions or stronger topical aides.
Papules, raised areas of skin tissue, commonly present as small, hard and red bumps. The AAD explains that these pimples form when excess oil, bacteria and dead skin cells push deeper into the skin and cause inflammation. The inflammation translates as visible redness and swelling.
To address papules, you’ll want to continue washing your face twice daily with a face wash formulated with benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid, ingredients that help manage breakouts. We recommend the SkinCeuticals LHA Cleansing Gel.
Pustules are pus-filled pimples. According to the AAD, these blemishes are comparable to papules; the main difference is that pustules contain a yellowish flush. Oftentimes, this makes pustules easy to identify because there will be a visible yellow or white center to the blemish. Pustules differ from whiteheads because they are more inflamed and irritated. Pustules may be tempting to pop, but popping your pustule will increase the likelihood of scarring. Instead, wash your face with a benzoyl peroxide cleanser.
Sometimes blocked pores get worse, becoming more irritated and even going deeper into your skin; that’s when nodules can form. Mayo Clinic refers to this type of blemish as large, solid, painful lump beneath the surface of the skin. More severe types of acne, like nodules, require a trip to a dermatologist. According to the AAD, nodules can cause scarring, so the sooner you and your dermatologist address them, the fewer permanent scars you’ll likely have.
Cysts are similar to nodules, but cystic lesions are softer and filled with pus. Cysts should be treated in a similar fashion: with a trip to the dermatologist. According to the AAD, a dermatologist will often recommend taking an antibiotic and using a topical prescription treatment.