Acne is a common skin condition that affects people of all ages and skin types. While it is commonly associated with adolescence, breakouts can continue into adulthood.
Over-the-counter acne products can help unclog pores with ingredients like benzoyl peroxide, resorcinol, and salicylic acid. However, moderate to severe inflammatory acne often requires prescription medication or an antimicrobial cream.
Type 1: Whiteheads
Acne is caused when hair follicles (also called sebaceous glands) under the skin become clogged with excess oil, bacteria and dead skin cells. This causes pimples or spots to develop, usually on the face, neck and chest, but it can occur anywhere on the body.
Whiteheads are small, closed bumps on the skin that look flesh colored or white on lighter skin. They are also known as closed comedones or pimples. They aren’t contagious and don’t cause swelling.
These are noninflammatory blemishes and can be treated at home with over the counter products that include sulfur or salicylic acid. These ingredients help to unblock pores and prevent them from becoming blackheads in the future. You can also do simple things like steam inhalation twice or thrice per week to clear them. If over-the-counter treatments don’t work, consult a dermatologist. Whiteheads are most common on the nose, chin and forehead, but they can appear anywhere on the body.
Type 2: Blackheads
Blackheads are small, dark spots with a black tip on the skin’s surface. They are usually found on the nose and forehead. Blackheads develop when the skin’s oil (sebum) and dead skin cells clog the pores. They can also be caused by cosmetics such as makeup, sunscreen and hair products that are oil-based or contain irritating fragrance, as well as from poor cell turnover. Avoid squeezing or scrubbing your skin, as this can lead to infection and permanent scarring. Instead, use a mild exfoliant that contains Azelaic acid or salicylic acid to help unclog the pores. Steam inhalation twice or thrice a week also helps. Avoid pore strips, which are usually abrasive and can make your acne worse.
Inflammatory acne is caused by hormones that change the way your skin produces oil. These changes cause the grease-producing glands next to hair follicles to produce too much sebum, which increases the activity of P. acnes, a normally harmless skin bacteria that causes inflammation and pus. This type of acne is usually more painful than other types.
Type 3: Pustules
If your acne is inflammatory, you may develop papules and pustules. These are blemishes with red or pink skin and white or yellow centers that can feel tender to touch. They are a sign of inflamed skin and can result from oil buildup or from bacteria, an allergic reaction or psoriasis.
Unlike blackheads and whiteheads, papules do not have open pores. Instead, they are solid bumps that feel tender to the touch. They are usually smaller than a pimple and are filled with a combination of dead skin cells, bacteria and immune system cells.
A thorough patient history and examination of the distribution and evolution of pustular skin lesions can help to generate a differential diagnosis. In general, the cause of these skin lesions is determined by taking into account the timing of lesion onset and progression, prior exposure to infectious agents, medications, and possible environmental triggers. A dermatologist can treat pustules by using over-the-counter or prescription medications.
Type 4: Cysts
Acne is a disorder of the oil glands (sebaceous glands) in your skin. When these glands become overactive, they produce more oil than normal and clog pores. This leads to a buildup of sebum, bacteria, and dead skin cells. These blockages lead to the formation of pimples, which can vary in size and shape. Pimples generally form on the skin’s surface in areas with a lot of hair follicles, such as the face, neck, shoulders, and chest. They can be inflamed or non-inflamed and include closed comedones (whiteheads), open comedones, papules, pustules, nodules, and cysts.
Papules and pustules can be treated at home with OTC acne cleansers, such as benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid. In some cases, dermatologists may prescribe hormone-regulating pills for women or antibiotics for adults. If you have severe inflammatory blemishes such as nodules or cysts, they may require surgery to drain and remove the fluid. This will help prevent the cyst from recurring and scarring.