It’s easy to recognize that you have acne, but it’s much harder to understand why you’re breaking out and how to prevent pimples in the future. We’re here to break it down for you!
What Is Acne?
Acne Vulgaris, what most of us just call acne, is a chronic skin condition that affects nearly 85% of Americans at some point in their lives. Acne forms when our pores become clogged with dead skin cells, sebum and bacteria.
Why do we get acne?
All of our pores contain a hair follicle and a sebaceous gland, which produces sebum, our skin’s natural oil. The body is constantly regenerating and shedding dead cells, but when those dead skin cells get trapped within the sebum of our skin, they combine to create noninflammatory acne. These are those black and white bumps on your skin — otherwise known as blackheads and whiteheads. If bacteria is present on the skin, it can combine with the dead cells and oil and cause an infection, otherwise known as inflammatory acne.
This type of acne, also called comedones, are simply clogged pores. You probably know them as blackheads and whiteheads, maybe even as the building blocks of acne.
A blackhead is an open comedo, meaning that the clogged pore is open to the surface of the skin, and the air has oxidized the gunk inside, turning it black.
A whitehead is a closed comedo, meaning the dead skin and sebum are unexposed but trapped within the skin.
Propionibacterium Acnes, or P. Acnes for short, is a bacteria that loves to feed on the sebum within our skin. When P. Acnes bacteria gets into clogged pores it reproduces rapidly, causing inflammation. Then your body realizes something is awry, and rushes blood to the scene — causing even more redness and inflammation.
Papules and pustules are the main types of inflammatory acne. Papules are red and hard, and pustules usually have a white head that’s surrounded by red, irritated skin.
The most severe type of acne, however, is cystic acne, which includes nodules and cysts. Cystic acne forms deep under the skin, and is large, red, and painful. This is the type of acne that worries dermatologists most, as it has the highest chances of causing permanent scarring. It’s also the main type of hormonal acne, which is caused by a imbalance of hormones, thanks to your genetics.
What Causes Acne?
There are a multitude of factors that can cause, or make us more susceptible to acne, but the most common causes of acne are:
Genetics: Those with a family history of acne are more prone to breakouts.
Hormones: High levels of types of hormones called androgens can lead to acne. Acne is common in teenagers and pregnant women because of the fluctuating hormones present in their bodies.
Environment. City air that’s filled with pollution can wreak havoc on the skin.
Other Factors: Dietary choices, comedogenic cosmetic products, certain medications, and sitting in tight, sweat-soaked clothing can also lead to acne. Consistent contact with dirty hands, sheets or towels can also lead to pimples.
There are lots of ways to treat different types of acne — at home or at a dermatologist’s office.
Treating Blackheads and Whiteheads
If you have blackheads and whiteheads, the key is to work to unclog your pores and prevent bacteria from infiltrating them. A cleanser like SLMD's Salicylic Acid Cleanser is great for this, as it’s formulated with an antibacterial ingredient, that will reach deep into your pores morning and night — soothing active acne and preventing future breakouts.
After cleansing — an exfoliating pad like SLMD Resurfacing Acne Swipes, made with salicylic acid AND glycolic acid and lactic acid can be used to continue to clarify skin by sloughing away the dull, dead, buildup that initially creates blackheads and whiteheads.
Noninflammatory acne is also typically responsive to topical retinoids. Retinol is an effective, less potent form of the retinoid, tretinoin that can be found in over the counter serums like SLMD's Retinol Serum. Just remember to only apply it at night, because it is deactivated by the sun and makes skin more sensitive to the sun’s UVA and UVB rays!
Treating Papules & Pustules
If you have red papules and pustules, that means bacteria is the main culprit of your breakouts. To treat this kind of inflammatory acne, choose products formulated with Benzoyl Peroxide, like SLMD's BP Lotion, for every day use, and BP Spot Treatment for a maximum strength, targeted solution for especially stubborn pimples. Benzoyl Peroxide works to kill the Propionibacterium acnes (p.acnes for short) bacteria, the kind that's responsible for your painful breakouts. Benzoyl Peroxide, combined with salicylic acid and a retinol serum make for an effective line of treatment products that are sure to improve your acne. People sensitive to Benzoyl Peroxide also may want to consider trying SLMD's Sulfur Lotion, which treats acne by stopping the growth of bacteria and regulating oil, without being too irritating or drying.
Severe or Cystic Acne
When people have a severe form of acne or cystic lesions, doctors may consider putting patients on a more intense treatment plan. These treatments can be a very powerful resort for severe or cystic acne — just be sure to consult with your physician, make sure it is the safest choice for you, and have them monitor it closely.
Visiting a Dermatologist
There are many procedures that can be done in a doctor’s office to help combat your acne. Estheticians are able to perform facials or comedone extractions which can help clear up your skin. Many dermatologists will offer cortisone injections, which can also help to quickly decrease inflammation. Heavier, more concentrated chemical peels are also an option for those with severe acne. Dermatologists can prescribe oral and topical medications, and can help put you on a skincare regimen that will help clear up your breakouts or confirm that you are maintaining the right one.