Acne is caused when the sebaceous glands in your skin get infected or inflamed. Blemishes and pimples are most commonly found on your face, chest and back. You have a system of oil glands under your skin, and this is where sebum is produced. Sebum is supposed to keep your skin healthily moisturized, but too much production of this oil can cause blackheads and whiteheads. When the oil is pushed out through your hair follicles, it can clog your pores if it attaches to bacteria or dead skin cells. If this happens, sebum will build up behind the plug and form a pimple. And we all know what that is.
The key is patience — don’t pick up a new cleanser and expect to see dramatic results right away. While you may be able to spot-treat a pimple or two overnight, it can take weeks before you really see a difference from switching cleansers. “It’s about trying different brands with different strengths and giving it sufficient time to work,” says Anna Avaliani, MD, a cosmetic and laser skin care specialist in NYC.
Many skin conditions can mimic acne vulgaris, and these are collectively known as acneiform eruptions. Such conditions include angiofibromas, epidermal cysts, flat warts, folliculitis, keratosis pilaris, milia, perioral dermatitis, and rosacea, among others. Age is one factor which may help distinguish between these disorders. Skin disorders such as perioral dermatitis and keratosis pilaris can appear similar to acne but tend to occur more frequently in childhood, whereas rosacea tends to occur more frequently in older adults. Facial redness triggered by heat or the consumption of alcohol or spicy food is suggestive of rosacea. The presence of comedones helps health professionals differentiate acne from skin disorders that are similar in appearance. Chloracne, due to exposure to certain chemicals, may look very similar to acne vulgaris.
Harsh soaps have ingredients that strip your skin of oil will put anyone at risk of pimples and clogged pores due to dry, tightened skin. Almost all body washes, no matter how gentle they claim to be, are designed to remove excess oils from your body quickly and easily. That includes removing dirt and oil from around tougher bodily hairs and pores. But the skin and hair on your face is nothing like the rest of your body. Facial skin is thinner than body skin, even though it has more sebaceous glands (glands that secrete sebum). This makes it more tender, more prone to acne and even more susceptible to aging. Thus, it has to be treated differently than the rest of your body.
If you take a close look at the acne-fighting ingredients, you will find that no single ingredient does all the work to get rid of acne. Each one has a unique effect that plays a role in the elimination of acne, but only when they are used combined or in sequence in a system do they have ability to get rid of acne altogether. This is why it is so important to use an effective system for fight acne, not just a single product.
How to Handle It: Think of these as bigger, pissed-off whiteheads. Your best bet, says Zeichner, is to stock up on benzoyl peroxide, which kills the bacteria. A spot treatment like Murad Acne Spot Fast Fix ($22) should do the trick. Also, try not to pop them — as tempting as that may be. Since they're inflamed, they're more likely to scar if you go the DIY route.
Sometimes birth control alone isn’t enough to really make a difference in hormonal acne. That’s when your doctor might recommend adding in an androgen blocker such as Spironalactone. Spiro (as it’s called) minimizes the amount of androgen hormones in circulation by blocking the receptors that bind with testosterone. When these pills are taken at the same time as an oral contraceptive, 90 percent of women see an improvement in breakouts, according to Linkner. The drug is sometimes prescribed to women with PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) to relieve androgen-related symptoms like excessive hair growth, hypertension, oily skin, and acne.
How to Handle It: Pair two of the best-known acne-fighting ingredients, salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide, in the week leading up to your period. (If you're feeling bloated, now's the time to do it.) The combo can help prevent hormonal acne from happening in the first place. Zeichner suggests following a salicylic acid wash, like fan-favorite Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash Pink Grapefruit Facial Cleanser ($7), with a benzoyl peroxide spot treatment, such as Murad Acne Spot Fast Fix ($22). If you're still seeing zits, "visit your dermatologist to discuss prescription options, like birth control pills, oral spironolactone — which blocks oil — or topical Aczone 7.5 percent gel," says Zeichner. "It's shown to be particularly effective in adult women without causing irritation." Oral contraceptives level out those hormone fluctuations, keeping your oil production normal and your skin clear.
One of the best face washes for sensitive skin, this soap-free, fragrance-free, non-comedogenic cleanser works to remove excess oil from your skin without irritation. It’s great for oily and combination skin types, as it cleans and purifies without making the skin taut and dry. Its formula is glycerin-based for a gentle cleanser that won’t provoke even the most sensitive of skin types.
Even though scientists know how pimples and blackheads are formed, they are still not sure what causes you to have a body full of blemishes and the guy sitting next to you not to have a single spot on his face? It’s probably related to hereditary factors. If your parents dealt with acne when they were younger, you’re more likely to struggle with acne, too.
Hypertrophic scars are uncommon, and are characterized by increased collagen content after the abnormal healing response. They are described as firm and raised from the skin. Hypertrophic scars remain within the original margins of the wound, whereas keloid scars can form scar tissue outside of these borders. Keloid scars from acne occur more often in men and people with darker skin, and usually occur on the trunk of the body.
Diet. Studies indicate that certain dietary factors, including skim milk and carbohydrate-rich foods — such as bread, bagels and chips — may worsen acne. Chocolate has long been suspected of making acne worse. A small study of 14 men with acne showed that eating chocolate was related to a worsening of symptoms. Further study is needed to examine why this happens and whether people with acne would benefit from following specific dietary restrictions.
The earliest pathologic change is the formation of a plug (a microcomedone), which is driven primarily by excessive growth, reproduction, and accumulation of skin cells in the hair follicle. In normal skin, the skin cells that have died come up to the surface and exit the pore of the hair follicle. However, increased production of oily sebum in those with acne causes the dead skin cells to stick together. The accumulation of dead skin cell debris and oily sebum blocks the pore of the hair follicle, thus forming the microcomedone. This is further exacerbated by the biofilm created by P. acnes within the hair follicle. If the microcomedone is superficial within the hair follicle, the skin pigment melanin is exposed to air, resulting in its oxidation and dark appearance (known as a blackhead or open comedo). In contrast, if the microcomedone occurs deep within the hair follicle, this causes the formation of a whitehead (known as a closed comedo).
Skincare is an extra challenge for those with sensitive skin because certain ingredients might cause irritation or inflammation. Spending too much time out in the wind and sun can also increase reactions. You can have oily, dry or combination skin and still have sensitive skin, too. For both skincare products and cosmetics, try out only one product at a time to see what effects it will have on your skin. The best way to start out is by patch-testing the product on your inner forearm. If you see no negative impact, you can apply it to the area behind your ear before trying it on your face. There are many products on the market now that advertise as effective for sensitive skin, but testing them is the only way to determine which is best for your skin.
For mild to moderate acne, dermatologists often suggest an acne face wash with bacteria-killing benzoyl peroxide (to minimize irritation, 3.5 percent strength should be your max if you have sensitive skin), along with a prescription topical antimicrobial such as clindamycin or erythromycin. If you rather go with a gentle face wash for sensitive skin, you can use that and apply a benzoyl peroxide acne spot treatment instead.
“Acne cleansers with these ingredients will gradually unclog pores, reduce the size of existing blackheads and slow or stop the formation of new ones,” she says. “Benzoyl peroxide is also the best ingredient for treating the acne-causing bacteria called p. acnes. In fact, study after study continues to show that benzoyl peroxide is more effective than prescription topical antibiotics at treating p. acnes.”
Our favorite for banishing blemishes on the fly, Glossier's zit stick is not only effective, but it's portable. Just stash it in your purse for any unexpected breakouts! Packed with acne-fighting benzoyl peroxide, this convenient roll-on works extremely quickly. In a clinical trial, 83% of test subjects said that it lessened the appearance of pimples in just 3 hours. We've tried it ourselves and can confirm the 3-hour claim is true.
Acne removal: Your dermatologist may perform a procedure called “drainage and extraction” to remove a large acne cyst. This procedure helps when the cyst does not respond to medicine. It also helps ease the pain and the chance that the cyst will leave a scar. If you absolutely have to get rid of a cyst quickly, your dermatologist may inject the cyst with medicine.