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How to Treat Different Types of Pimples

Posted on November 09 2017

treating acne

Fighting acne feels like a never-ending battle. Some of us may be dealing with acne for the first time, trying to navigate the difficult arena of being in middle or high school while trying to keep acne at bay. Or maybe we’re dealing with acne for the first time in our adult years – yes, adult acne is very real. Or perhaps acne is something we’ve struggled with our entire lives, whether it’s a mild form or something more extreme. Regardless of where you might fall in this spectrum, you’re likely struggling, just like the rest of us, to figure out how to effectively treat your acne. You may have tried multiple treatments with no success.

If you’re confused as to why your acne treatments aren’t working, don’t worry, we may have just the explanation for you. Did you know that there are different kinds of acne? You’ve probably noticed blackheads, and then assumed everything else was just a form of a pimple, or whitehead. You get blackhead strips to fight those pesky blackheads, and then you either get an acne cream for the white head, or simply pop them and be done with it, right? Wrong!

Acne comes in quite a few forms, and each form requires a different kind of treatment to really notice a difference on your skin. While some treatments may require professional help by a dermatologist, many of them are simple treatments you can do at home by changing the way you take care of your skin. So if you’re ready to start attacking your acne in a way that will work, read on! We explain what acne is, what each form of acne is, and how to fight it.

What is Acne?

Before we dive into the particulars of each acne form, let’s provide some background of what acne is, some of its common terms/phrases used in the medical world, and how it forms. This background will provide a foundation to better understand how to best treat the acne we’re fighting!

Acne Vulgaris

If you’ve never heard this term, don’t worry, neither had we. Acne vulgaris is simply a medical term for what you envision when someone says acne. It’s the blackheads, whiteheads, and other forms of pimples people (or you) may have on their skin. You’re most likely to find it on your face, back, chest, or shoulders.

As we mentioned before, there are some forms of acne vulgaris that are extreme, or difficult enough to treat that professional help is required to really start noticing a difference. But there are quite a few forms of acne vulgaris that are treatable at home and don’t require professional help.

Comedones (or Acne)

A comedo is another term for the most common form of acne. This is formed when a hair follicle on your skin is clogged with oil and dead skin cells. When that hair follicle gets clogged, it develops bacteria, which then results in whiteheads, blackheads, or pimples on your skin. That is certainly not ideal!

Comedones (which is the plural form of comedo) can develop often as a result of the products you put on your face. A product that is considered comedogenic contains ingredients or products that tend to block pores and promote acne.  If you use makeup or other skin care products that contain comedones, that means you are using products that are proven to clog pores. As you’re shopping for your skin care and makeup products, looking for non-comedogenic products will certainly help, if you struggle with breakouts. While they may not diminish any current acne, they won’t clog your pores and contribute to any future breakouts, which is a plus!

Non-comedogenic Skin Care Products

Your Contribution

Comedones, or acne, don’t form only from the products you put on your face. While your skin type certainly plays a factor (you may suffer from acne no matter what products or habits your change), your habits may be contributing to acne as well! What kind of things could you be doing that contribute to acne?

Not washing your hands

    If you aren’t big on the whole hand washing thing, you may be contributing to your breakouts. Because acne is caused by bacteria, when there are germs on your hands and you touch your face, you spread that bacteria around, causing your skin to break out more often! The more you wash your hands, and the less you touch your face, the less you’ll be contributing to breakouts.

    Talking on the phone

      If you’ve noticed that you have jawline acne, you may be surprised to find that talking on the phone could be the cause. Bacteria can appear everywhere, but especially on something that is constantly close to your mouth. Wipe your cell, home, or work phone down with an antibacterial wipe every few weeks to keep the bacteria and acne at bay!

      Not showering quickly enough

        Do you exercise during lunch at work and think, “I don’t want to wash my face, I’ll wash off all my makeup!” and then move on through the day? Or maybe you’re in a rush at the gym and decide not to worry about showering until you’re ready to go to bed. If you aren’t cleaning your skin after a sweaty workout, or just from being in the hot sun, you’re letting bacteria sit on your skin and clog your pores. Instead of letting it dry on your skin, always wash off afterwards!

        Over-washing

          Sure, we want to keep our skin clean, but not at the expense of our complexion. Washing your face too much can cause breakouts! If we scrub too vigorously on our skin, we can irritate it, causing even more acne to appear. Even though you want to keep those pores clear, don’t do it at the expense of your skin. Moderation is always best!

          Acne Types

          Now that we’ve given a little background on what acne is and how we contribute to it, let’s dive into what we really want to know – what the different types of acne are and what the best way is to treat it!

          face mask for acne

          Blackheads

          Blackheads are a curse some of us just can’t seem to shake. Blackheads are technically acne that is open on the surface of your skin. They look like small, black dots on your face, without any redness or inflammation around them. Contrary to popular belief, blackheads are not black because there’s too much dirt on your face. They are black because excess oil and dead skin cells fill your pores and oxidize, making your pore look black!

          The good news is that blackheads can often be treated with over-the-counter treatments. You just need to be sure you’re treating it correctly. Many people assume blackheads aren’t acne, but to really get rid of blackheads, you need to use products with acne-fighting ingredients. The pore-cleansing strips are only one step in removing them once and for all.

          Whiteheads

          Whiteheads may appear for the same reason blackheads do (a clogged pore with oil and bacteria, preventing a hair follicle from opening), but they certainly look different. Whiteheads are covered by a very thin layer of skin. While this prevents the oil and bacteria inside the pore from becoming oxidized, turning black, it does result in a yellowish, white, or flesh-toned look, and is often raised above the skin.

          When you get a whitehead, popping it probably seems like the best option. It will get rid of it in no time, right? Resist that temptation! When you pop a pimple, you are releasing the bacteria, but that bacteria gets on your fingers, the same fingers used to pop the whitehead. Which means the bacteria often goes right back into the blemish, causing more problems, or even spreading to other areas of your face.

          Instead of popping a whitehead, look for skin care products with benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid. These ingredients are able to exfoliate that top layer of skin so the bacteria-fighting ingredients can kill whatever caused the whitehead to appear. 

          Papules and Pustules

          You’ve probably never heard of these terms, but we’re sure you’ve experienced them. Papules are the acne that becomes inflamed. They form small bumps on your skin that are pink or red, and can be sensitive to touch. A pustule (doesn’t that sound appealing?) is an inflamed pimple, similar to papules, but has a whitehead at the top of the red or pink bump. A pustule is filled with yellow pus, making popping or picking at the pustules very tempting. So what is the difference? Papules are a red blemish, pustules are a red blemish with pus underneath.

          Papules and pustules are considered inflammatory acne for obvious reasons, the redness and inflammation is the dead giveaway that you have this kind of acne. Popping them is the worst form of treatment you could pick to get rid of them and keep them away. And using spot treatments won’t provide you the results you’re looking for. Sure, they may help get rid of acne already on your skin, but they won’t keep the acne at bay.

          Your best treatment option is to come up with a full skin care routine that both treats and prevents. This includes incorporating products with salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide into your daily skin treatments. If the papules and pustules are severe enough and no treatment you have tried is working, involving a dermatologist in your skin care plan may be the best route.

          dermatologist treating acne

          Acne Mechanica

          Once you know what acne mechanica is, you’ll likely be surprised that there is even a term for it. Acne mechanica is acne that is caused by friction, heat, and pressure against your skin. This most commonly occurs from wearing sports gear, and is typically found on athletes. Just as we mentioned above with the behaviors that may be causing your acne, washing off all that sweat immediately after and intense game or workout will help prevent this. As will using more absorbent materials when dressing for the game or workout.

          Nodules

          If you’re wondering what a nodule is, envision a papule that is deep within your skin and is pretty painful. Nodules are a difficult form of acne to treat, because they develop so deep within the skin. They are so deep that even popping them (which you should not do in any circumstance. See above.) won’t make a difference, other than causing irritation to your skin. Treating them with over-the-counter medication is often not effective. A prescription drug from your dermatologist is the route you’ll need to go to clear them up permanently.

          Cysts

          If you thought nodules were bad, then meet their bigger, meaner brother, cysts. Cysts are pus-filled lesions that almost look like boils. They are incredibly painful, and while you may be tempted to pop them to relieve some of the pain, don’t. It will only make them worse. Cysts need to be treated by a dermatologist. Those suffering with both nodules and cysts are considered to have fairly severe acne and should be working with their dermatologists for the best treatment.

          Acne Conglobata

          This is one of the most extreme forms of acne. Acne conglobata is incredibly painful. You typically have nodules all over your body that are inflamed and are connected under your skin to other nodules. They often leave scars, and no form of over-the-counter treatment can cure them. A dermatologist is essential to treat this kind of acne. This tool from the American Academy of Dermatology will help you find a certified dermatologist.

          So there you have it, the various types of acne and how you can treat them. Acne is certainly overwhelming to deal with, and when the skin care treatments you try aren’t working, that makes acne even more frustrating. Instead of shooting in the dark as to the best way to treat it, figure out what form of acne you have. Just as different illnesses respond better to different medication, different acne will respond better to treatments that are specifically targeted to treat them, and will prevent acne breakouts in the future.

          For a quick recap, watch this video from Tech Insider as they review how to treat the many different types of pimples:

          What type of acne do you have? If you've figured out any effective treatments for your acne type, share it with our community in the comments below! 

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