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What type of acne do I have? Acne types explained

Acne is a common skin condition that affects many people at some point in their lives. It can cause pimples, blackheads, whiteheads, cysts, nodules and other lesions on the face, chest, back, shoulders and neck. Acne can be mild, moderate or severe, depending on the number and type of lesions.

But not all acne is the same. There are different types of acne that have different causes, symptoms and treatments. Knowing what type of acne you have can help you find the best way to treat it and prevent future breakouts.

In this blog post, we will explain the main types of acne and how to identify them.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AADA), up to 50 million Americans deal with acne every year. The two main branches are non-inflammatory and inflammatory, which include: whiteheads (aka closed comedones), blackheads (aka open comedones), pustules, nodules, papules and cysts. Here’s a brief description of each type:

  • Non-inflammatory acne (aka comedones)
    • Whiteheads (closed comedones): These are a mix of sebum (oil), debris, and dead skin cells that clog your pores. The bumps usually have a white center and a red or discolored border.
    • Blackheads (open comedones): These form when zit gunk is exposed to air. This creates those tiny black dots that can be a pain in the A to get rid of.
  • Inflammatory acne
    • Pustules: These kinda look like next-level whiteheads. They also have a yellow-y or whitish center and a reddish or discolored base. But they’re usually bigger and tender.
    • Nodules: These happen when clogged pores get irritated or swollen. They occur deep within your skin so you might not be able to DIY them away.
    • Papules: These are solid, tender, raised bumps. They don’t have a visible center but can make the surrounding skin reddish, pinkish, or discolored.
    • Cysts: These pus-filled lumps are a combo of sebum, dead skin cells, and bacteria. Cysts occur under your skin and can be uber painful. They also tend to be bigger than other forms of acne and can cause scarring.

Non Inflammatory acne (aka comedones)

Comedonal acne is the most common type of acne. It occurs when the pores (hair follicles) on the skin become clogged with excess oil (sebum) and dead skin cells. This creates small bumps called comedones, which can be open (blackheads) or closed (whiteheads).

Comedonal acne is usually mild and does not cause inflammation or infection. It can affect anyone, but it is more common in people with oily skin or hormonal changes. Comedonal acne can be triggered by factors such as stress, cosmetics, humidity and certain medications.

Whiteheads (closed comedones): These are a mix of sebum (oil), debris, and dead skin cells that clog your pores. The bumps usually have a white center and a red or discolored border.

Blackheads (open comedones): These form when zit gunk is exposed to air. This creates those tiny black dots that can be a pain in the A to get rid of.

The best way to treat comedonal acne is to use gentle cleansers and exfoliants that can remove the oil and dead skin cells from the pores. You can also use topical products that contain ingredients such as salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide or retinoids, which can help unclog the pores and prevent new comedones from forming. Avoid squeezing or picking at your comedones, as this can cause scarring and infection.

Inflammatory Acne

Inflammatory acne is a type of acne that involves redness, swelling and pain. It occurs when the bacteria that normally live on the skin (Propionibacterium acnes) multiply inside the clogged pores and cause an infection. This leads to inflammation and pus formation in the pores, creating pimples such as papules (small red bumps), pustules (pus-filled bumps) or nodules (large, hard bumps).

Inflammatory acne is usually moderate to severe and can affect anyone, but it is more common in people with sensitive or immune-compromised skin. Inflammatory acne can be triggered by factors such as genetics, hormones, diet, stress and certain medications.

Pustules: These kinda look like next-level whiteheads. They also have a yellow-y or whitish center and a reddish or discolored base. But they’re usually bigger and tender.

Nodules: These happen when clogged pores get irritated or swollen. They occur deep within your skin so you might not be able to DIY them away.

Papules: These are solid, tender, raised bumps. They don’t have a visible center but can make the surrounding skin reddish, pinkish, or discolored.

The best way to treat inflammatory acne is to use topical or oral antibiotics that can kill the bacteria and reduce the inflammation. You can also use topical products that contain ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide or retinoids, which can help unclog the pores and prevent new pimples from forming. Avoid squeezing or popping your pimples, as this can cause scarring and infection.

Cystic Acne

Cystic acne is a type of acne that involves deep, painful cysts under the skin. It occurs when the infection and inflammation in the pores spread to the surrounding tissue and create large pockets of pus. Cystic acne can cause severe damage to the skin and leave permanent scars.

Cystic acne is usually severe and affects only a small percentage of people with acne. It is more common in people with a family history of cystic acne or hormonal imbalances. Cystic acne can be triggered by factors such as genetics, hormones, stress and certain medications.

The best way to treat cystic acne is to consult a dermatologist who can prescribe oral medications such as isotretinoin (Accutane), which can shrink the oil glands and stop the production of sebum. You may also need injections or drainage procedures to remove the cysts. Avoid self-treating your cystic acne with over-the-counter products or home remedies, as this can worsen your condition and cause more complications.

Conclusion

Acne is a complex condition that has different types and causes. Knowing what type of acne you have can help you find the most effective treatment for your skin and prevent future breakouts. If you are unsure about your type of acne or if your acne is severe or persistent, you should consult a dermatologist who can diagnose your condition and prescribe the best course of action for you.

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