6 Different Types Of Acne & How To Prevent Them

Lucia.DawsonLucia.Dawson
May 8
We know how frustrating (and upsetting) acne breakouts can be, especially if they’re long-lasting or badly timed, but about 80% of people experience acne, so if your skin is acting up, you’re not the only one.
Not all types of acne are the same - they are each caused differently and there is no one-size-fits-all treatment that works for every type. But finding out what type of acne you’re experiencing will help you to correctly identify the right treatments and set you on your way to clearer skin. 
Scroll down for our full guide to the different types of acne and how to prevent them.
Blackheads
Blackheads are a common and mild form of acne which most people will experience at some point in their lifetimes. Blackheads are typically found in the T-zone area (chin, nose, and forehead) and are often experienced by people with oily or combination skin types. A blackhead forms when a pore becomes clogged with oil, dirt, and dead skin cells. As this build-up is exposed to oxygen it oxidizes, which turns it black and gives it is noticeable appearance. Blackheads don’t cause any pain or long-term damage, but if the pore remains clogged, then a pustule (see below) may form.
The best way to keep blackheads at bay is to exfoliate your skin regularly. You could use physical exfoliants like scrubs or you could use chemical exfoliants like acids - both will help to keep your pores clear of buildup. One of the most effective acids for treating and preventing blackheads is salicylic acid. It’s oil soluble which means it can penetrate deep into the pore to keep it clear.
Whiteheads
Like blackheads, whiteheads form when a pore becomes clogged, however because they are closed over at the top (unlike blackheads), the buildup doesn’t come into contact with air and oxidize. Instead, whiteheads appear as a pimple with a rounded white or yellow top - this is made up of dead skin cells, causing the blockage to the pore. Again, these are a really common form of acne which most people will be familiar with and are typically experienced by people with oily skin or in areas of oiliness like the T-zone.
Once again, salicylic acid is the ingredient to look out for when it comes to treating whiteheads - since it breaks down and removes the buildup that’s causing the pimple. Other acids like glycolic acid and lactic acid will help too. Another great ingredient you could use to prevent whiteheads is retinol - which prevents dead skin cells from sticking together and causing the blockage in the first place.
Papules
Papules are small areas of swelling that appear red and feel hard beneath the surface. They don’t break through the surface and form a ‘head’ and are usually caused by the growth of acne bacteria which causes inflammation. If you’re experiencing papules, it’s important to make sure you’re washing your face efficiently, removing your makeup every night, cleaning your makeup brushes regularly, and avoiding touching your face - these are the most common ways in which acne bacteria spread on your face.
As well as following the above guidance to prevent papule from occurring, look out for an ingredient called benzoyl peroxide, which works to prevent future breakouts by killing the acne bacteria. If you experience really bad papules and find that benzoyl peroxide doesn’t help, your dermatologist may prescribe you a stronger antibiotic treatment to help kill the bacteria. 
Pustules
Pustules appear as a papule with a head - similar to a whitehead but much more angry, red, and inflamed in appearance. They often form when a blackhead or whitehead worsens or becomes infected and the clogged skin begins to swell with pus. The pus is formed of white blood cells which help to fight the infection. Pustules can be painful and last for a long time, but it’s important not to pop them because the white blood cells will be lost and will have to form again - basically prolonging the spot’s lifespan.
Cleansing twice a day, masking regularly, and using a chemical exfoliant like glycolic acid will help to prevent pustules from forming in the first place, and ingredients like retinol and benzoyl peroxide can help to reduce existing ones. Clay masks can also really help to reduce inflammation and soothe pain. Above all, be gentle to your skin and avoid physical exfoliants like scrubs which may pop the pustule and cause further damage and irritation. 
Nodules
Nodules are exactly the same as cysts - the only difference being that they remain beneath the skin and don’t show signs of redness or inflammation. Nodules can be persistent for weeks and sometimes even months, and may eventually turn into cysts.
As with cysts, strong concentrations of salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide are the best treatment to start with - followed by professional medical advice should the nodules persist.
Cysts
Cysts are the most severe form of acne. They lie deep beneath the skin and form when oil and bacteria spread within and between pores, infecting multiple follicles and swelling up with pus that has nowhere to go. As they worsen, they become larger and more painful, and are often incredibly sore to touch. Because cysts are so deep, they often don’t break through the skin and so can reform time and time again in the same place. They’re hard to get rid of and can leave deep scarring. Many women notice that cystic acne flares up around their period - this is known as hormonal acne - breakouts are usually found around the mouth, jaw, and chin.
A combination of benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid in high quantities is best for preventing cysts from forming. Look out for leave-on spot treatments that have 1.5-2 percent salicylic acid or more than 5 percent benzoyl peroxide. Experts also recommend applying an ice cube to cysts as soon as you feel them forming as this can reduce both the swelling and the pain. If cysts persist, your dermatologist may recommend antibiotics or an alternative medication.
References:
  • https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/acne/
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