Acne is not a single diagnosis. It is what we call a "multifactorial disease", which means that it can be caused by many factors. For this reason, your outbreak may look very different from that of your best friend. Acne or acne vulgaris is a skin disease that occurs when a pore becomes clogged with dead skin cells, oils and a type of bacteria called Propionibacterium acnes.
We wrote about myths surrounding acne and you can read more about it here.
TYPES OF ACNE
The following are common types of blemishes associated with acne:
- blackheads pustules, commonly known as pimples
blackheads and whiteheads
papules, pustules, nodules and cysts
Also known as "closed comedones", whiteheads are one of the most typical forms of acne. They appear on the skin as small or medium-sized bumps, usually whitish or skin-colored.
Whiteheads occur when a pore is clogged with a mixture of dead skin cells and sebum. This clogged pore is covered by a layer of skin and develops pus within. It is this pus that gives the whiteheads their white appearance.
It may be tempting to pop those pimples, but we advise against it. Picking on pus-filled whiteheads will only spread gunk and bacteria into other pores.
Blackheads are also known as open comedones. They are small, black or dark colored spots that can appear as slightly raised bumps. The skin around a blackhead usually appears normal, while the center of the blackhead is darker than the surrounding area.
The coloring is not the result of trapped dirt. Blackheads are simply whiteheads that have opened and widened. When the contents of a blackhead are exposed to air, they darken.
For blackheads we can recommend a product that with salicylic acid as its main ingredient. This typically works great also on whiteheads.
Papules are formed when the wall of a hair follicle is broken through. This allows bacteria and cellular debris to easily penetrate the dermis (deepest layer of skin). The tear causes an inflammation and the red bump (pimple). Papules develop when whiteheads or blackheads cause so much irritation that they damage part of the surrounding skin.
For treating Papules we recommend using our 10 % Azelaic acid - Zero Acne Cream. The cream provides deep hydration and helps to balance the oil production of your skin to prevent clogged pores with the help of Azelaic acid. Meanwhile, the Acne Treatment oil gently soothes sore spots and helps reduce inflammation.
After a few days, most papules develop into even more noticeable blemishes called pustules. (See below!)
Pustules are essentially papules that become infected and fill with pus. The red bumps develop a swollen white or yellow cap and give the pustules the classic pimple look. Immune cells and bacterial cells gather to form this pus. It is important to resist the temptation to pop these. It can worsen the acne.
Not sure if it's a pustule or a whitehead? Pustules are reddened and swollen from the inflammation. Whiteheads are non-inflammatory spots, so they should be less reddened and less painful.
We can recommend here the same treatment as for papules and balancing the sebum production. But balancing the sebum production does not mean skipping the moisturizer. In fact, skipping the moisturizer can dry out your skin, overcompensating your pores with even more oil. So make sure your routine includes plenty of skin-friendly moisturizer!
When the wall of a hair follicle tears deep into the dermis, contaminated debris penetrates the dermis and contaminates adjacent follicles. The damage causes swelling in this part of the skin called nodules.
Nodules are a more severe form of acne. They appear similar to papules, but start deeper into the skin layers where they are difficult to treat and almost impossible to burst (which is not recommended!).
In an ideal world, the best way to deal with nodular acne is to prevent breakouts before they start. Priority number one: maintaining a consistent skin care routine. Here is a great read on how to treat acne prone skin!
Cysts are very large, soft, painful, red or white lumps that are deeply embedded in the skin. They are filled with pus. Cysts form deeper in the skin than nodules, and they are the most severe form of acne blemish. Cysts can also cause skin complications such as scarring.
Of all acne blemishes, cysts are most likely to leave a scar, and trying to burst them will only make the scarring worse. Also, picking at cysts can spread the infection. Translation: If you pick at cysts, they can actually get bigger.
Following a nourishing skin care routine designed for acne prone skin can help keep cystic acne under control and prevent future outbreaks.