So you’ve got a pimple. Not a big drama, but it's not ideal either and is getting you down. As you are here reading this post, we can make the safe assumption that you therefore have a beauty drawer containing products meant for this exact situation. But a well-stocked skincare wardrobe is only helpful if you know how and when to use each product. Does that new friend on your face need to be left alone, or can you harness the power of witch hazel? Should you consult someone, or can you safely pop that spot and deal with it on your own? It all depends on the type of acne, so read on to learn about what you’re dealing with so you know how to treat it.
Firstly, we define what acne is and what causes it.
Acne is just one of many skincare problems that people face each day. It is caused when bacteria, dead skin cells, or excess sebum produced by your follicles get trapped in the pores of your skin, and appears in the form of blemishes on what could otherwise be smooth skin.
Most people often suffer from breakouts during their adolescent and teenage years, however there are some who continues to have this kind of problem well into adulthood. But what exactly does it mean to have acne-prone skin?
Everyone can suffer from excessive oil production and hormonal imbalances, and is prone to bacteria that can cause acne breakouts. The reasons why others are more prone to developing acne lies in their skin can be due to reasons relating to external environment, such as lifestyle factors, climate, stress, diet and physical activity, and internal environment, relating to biological factors such as metabolic factors, hormones, gut microflora, inflammation and oxidative stress.
Before we move into a sexy breakdown of the different acne types, the general advice we can offer for keeping acne at bay are:
- Use makeup that is water-based or labeled “noncomedogenic” (i.e. not pore-clogging).
- Select a handful of products that use high-quality ingredients to craft clean, effective and harmonious acne-fighting and skin-soothing products, and trial them for a month. Be patient! Don't change up your skincare routine every single week as skin cell turnover requires four weeks.
- Clean skin daily with micellar water followed by a mild cleanser and potentially follow up with a witch hazel toner to remove excess oil and dirt and tone.
- Washing hair regularly and keeping hair and hats out of your face.
- Refrain from squeezing or picking pimples, which spreads bacteria and excess oil.
- Do not touch your face in general.
- Leave it to the professionals: Get a facial tailored for acne-prone skin that uses the right products and treatments (including LED light therapy), or consult a dermatologist for moderate to severe and inflammatory acne that is resistant to topical treatments, who could potentially prescribe medications to keep acne under control.
Types of Acne
1. Comedonal Acne
The most common types are ones you’re probably already familiar with: whiteheads and blackheads. The root of both is the same, but the former has a layer of skin over the follicle (closed comedone) whereas the latter is open (the “black” you see is when the contents of the clogged pore are exposed to air and oxidise). This type of acne is fairly harmless in that it’s often hardly noticeable, and is rarely painful the way in which cystic acne can be.
While this form can develop in anyone, it is most common amongst young adolescents through to young adults. The papules, called microcomedonal and comedones, usually occur in the T-zone area across the forehead, nose and chin, and can prevent the skin from appearing smooth and even.
How to treat it: While you can’t change the fact you have pores, you can treat comedonal acne with ingredients such as salicylic acid (which removes dead skin cells and absorbs excess oil), benzoyl peroxide (which kills bacteria) and retinoids (which promote cell turnover and remove dead skin cells so they can’t clog up pores).
Self-extraction of comedones can cause more harm than good. The follicle walls in blackheads and whiteheads can be ruptured quite easily, and this rupture allows bacteria to enter the surrounding pores and leads to inflamed acne.
If you have itchy fingers, only tackle the blackheads, ensure you steam your face thoroughly beforehand with a warm, damp towel or with your face over a bowl of hot water infused with a few drops of tea tree and lavender. Use only disposable tissue papers, squeeze the spots extremely thoroughly, and double-cleanse thoroughly before applying a clay mask to absorb impurities. Cleanse, tone, then moisturise lightly. Apply an SPF during the day, even if you are just roaming around the house.
2. Inflammatory Acne
If your garden variety comedonal acne transforms into a red and angry situation, you have inflammatory acne. Inflammatory breakouts are a result of Propionibacterium acnes bacteria infecting the follicles, causing a response from the body that can lead to acne breakouts. Four types of acne make up this category are papules, pustules, nodules, and cysts. These start off as whiteheads or blackheads, before morphing into red, pus-filled bumps. Most inflammatory acne is chronic, so you may be able to keep track of flare-ups and figure out if there is something specific causing it, such as sleeping in your makeup, or not showering after a gym session.
How to treat it: Try your very best to keep your hands off your face — picking and squeezing will only make it worse and can lead to scarring. Because the root cause of inflammatory acne is bacteria, your main focus should be a solid skincare routine you adhere to, and bacteria-fighting ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide and niacinamide. A facial treatment incorporating LED light therapy and tailored products are very good at keeping acne at bay in the medium term.
3. Nodular Acne
If you’ve ever had nodular acne, you’d know it: these tender bumps are the ones that often feel painful to the touch. The reason they feel like this? Well, they are buried deep under your skin and are often connected to other nodules or cysts. Both nodules and cysts are caused by bacteria deep within the pore, though cysts tend to be more severe since they’re pus-filled and can burst, thereby infecting the surrounding skin.
How to treat it: Because nodules and cysts are so deep within the skin and most acne-fighting ingredients work topically, nodular acne often requires a trip to the dermatologist and a prescription. What you can do to help prevent them is focus on ingredients that exfoliate, such as alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs) to keep pores clear and encourage cell turnover.
See a dermatologist if the acne persists / gets worse over time, and for medium term acne prevention follow a facial treatment programme incorporating LED light therapy and tailored products to keep acne at bay.
4. Hormonal Acne
Unlike the previous three, hormonal acne isn’t so much a type of acne as it is an indicator. Comedonal, inflammatory and nodular acne can all be caused by hormones. When you experience a sudden surge or drop in hormones like progesterone, your carefully calibrated oil production also changes suddenly, leading to flare ups.
How to treat it: While hormonal acne certainly isn’t fun, one silver lining is that since it’s so often associated with your menstrual cycle, you can likely anticipate when it’s going to happen. Keep up with the clay mask and double-cleansing regimen, and regular physical or chemical exfoliation will also help. If a spot manages to get the best of you, dab it with benzoyl peroxide to reduce bacteria and then treat with salicylic acid to remove skin cell buildup and clear pores.