A blemish is any type of mark, spot, discoloration, or flaw that appears on the skin. Blemishes on the face may be unsightly and emotionally upsetting, but most are benign and not life-threatening. Some blemishes, however, can signal skin cancer.
Seeking medical treatment or using at-home remedies may help reduce the appearance of blemishes.
Read on to learn the different types of blemishes and how you can treat them.
Types of blemishes
“Blemish” is a broad term that refers to any type of skin mark. There are numerous types of blemishes.
Acne is a common condition. Acne can appear as:
Acne is caused when sebum (oil), bacteria, or dirt clogs hair follicles. Acne can sometimes leave dark spots, pockmarks, or scarring on the skin. These are also types of blemishes.
Hormonal changes are thought to play a role in the formation of acne. Stress may also make acne worse by increasing sebum production, although it’s not considered to be a root cause of this condition.
Papules are small skin lesions of varying types. They’re typically around 1 centimeter in diameter. They can range in color from pink and to brown. Pimples are sometimes referred to as papules. Papules can occur individually or in clusters and can be any shape. Examples of papules include:
- chickenpox rashes
Psoriasis and shingles may also cause papules to form.
Nodules are a collection of tissue. They’re hard to the touch larger than papules, usually 1 to 2 centimeters in diameter. Nodules can occur at any level of the skin. They can vary in color from flesh-toned to red. Skin tags and warts are examples of nodules.
Age spots (liver spots)
These small, dark spots can form on any area of the body that’s been exposed to the sun. They’re most common in people over 50, but they can also occur in younger people. Age spots are a type of hyperpigmentation.
Pustules are fluid- or pus-filled bumps. Whiteheads and chickenpox blisters are types of pustules. Other conditions that might cause pustules to form include scabiesand rosacea, a common skin condition marked by blisters and visible blood vessels.
Hair removal techniques, such as tweezing, waxing, or shaving, can sometimes result in ingrown hairs. These are hairs that grow back into the skin and become trapped. This can cause a red bump to form. People with curly hair may be more susceptible to ingrown hairs than those with straight hair.
Ingrown hairs can also turn into large, fluid-filled ingrown hair cysts. These can be red, yellow, or white in appearance. They may be uncomfortable or painful to the touch.
Birthmarks typically occur either at birth or shortly afterward. They can range in appearance, size, shape, and color. Moles and port-wine stains are types of birthmarks that typically last for life. Other types, such as hemangiomas and salmon patches, tend to fade over time.
Melasma is very common during pregnancy. It’s a skin condition identified by brownish patches. It can be brought about by sun exposure and hormonal changes.
There are several types of skin cancers, including:
- basal cell carcinoma
- squamous cell carcinoma
- malignant melanoma
Skin cancers can range in appearance and in color. Some forms of skin cancer look like dark moles with irregular borders. Others look like yellow scabs or raised red bumps. Only your doctor can tell for sure if a blemish is skin cancer.
There are several different types of cysts. They include:
- epidermoid cysts
- ganglion cysts
- sebaceous cysts
Cysts are benign (noncancerous) sacs that contain a substance, such as fluid. They may appear as bumps of varying sizes on or under the skin. They’re often round.
Scarring of the skin occurs when the dermis layer becomes damaged. The dermis is the deep layer of skin where small blood vessels (capillaries), sweat glands, hair follicles, and nerve endings are located. Anything that causes the skin to open can lead to scarring, such as a wound or popped pimples.
The herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) causescold sores. They’re fluid-filled blisters which are found on or near the mouth. They may itch or cause a tingling sensation. When the blisters open and drain, a red or yellow scab forms until they heal.
An overproduction of melanin can cause uneven skin tone or dark patches. The causes of hyperpigmentation include:
- sun exposure
- acne scarring
- hormonal changes, such as during pregnancy
What causes blemishes?
Some blemishes, like cold sores, are caused by viruses, such as HSV-1. The varicella-zoster virus (VZV) causes chickenpox.
Certain types of skin infections can cause blemishes to erupt on the skin. These include malassezia folliculitis (fungal acne), an infection in the hair follicles. This condition is caused by an overgrowth of yeast and causes pustules to form.
Acne may have a genetic link. Certain hereditary conditions can also cause blemishes to occur. These include:
- Darier disease. Wartlike blemishes form on the skin that are oily, smelly, and hard to the touch.
- Adult type 3 GM1 gangliosidosis. This is a rare, hereditary condition that causes noncancerous blemishes to form on the lower torso.
- Fabry disease. This is an inherited disorder that involves a gene mutation. Small groupings of dark, red spots are a symptom.
Overexposure to the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) A and B rays can cause skin cancer, hyperpigmentation, and other forms of skin damage.
An overproduction of oil by the sebaceous glands can cause blemishes. Hormonal changes often trigger this overproduction, such as puberty. Excess oil can mingle with dead skin cells, dirt, or bacteria. This results in pimples, pustules, blackheads, and whiteheads to form.
Pores can become clogged from products, such as makeup, sunscreen, or moisturizers. Look for products labeled as noncomedogenic. These are designed to not clog pores.
Hairstyling products can also clog pores if they get onto your face.
Environmental toxins, such as dirt, car exhaust, and pollution, can sit on your skin, mingle with oil, and clog pores. You can also transfer dirt and bacteria onto your face by touching your face with your hands.
What you eat might have an impact on your skin. Food allergies and contact dermatitis can both cause skin irritation and bumps. Dairy products, such as skim milk, may cause acne in some people. Diets high in sugar and simple carbohydrates may also lead to blemishes.
Some prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications may cause acne as a side effect. These include:
- androgenic steroids
- antiseizure drugs
Blemish color guide
The color of your blemishes may provide clues as to their cause.
Many types of blemishes appear red on the skin. These include:
- allergic reactions
- ingrown hairs
- cold sores
Certain types of skin cancer can also look red in color.
Skin cancers, such as malignant melanoma, can look dark brown or black. Some birthmarks and hyperpigmentation can be brown. Melasma causes brown or grayish brown patches on the skin.
Malignant melanoma presents as a dark-colored blemish. Blackheads may be surrounded by a halo of red or simply appear as black, raised dots.
Whiteheads and certain types of fungal infections appear as white blemishes.
How to treat blemishes
Treatment should be determined by the cause of the blemish. If your blemish becomes worse with any particular treatment, stop using it and speak to your doctor.
There are many OTC products that can help reduce or eliminate pimples, whiteheads, and blackheads. You may have to experiment with several before you find the best treatment for you. These include facial scrubs, astringents, and topical gels. If your acne doesn’t respond to OTC solutions, your doctor may prescribe oral antibiotics or topical medication.
Topical creams can reduce allergic reactions and irritations. They may also be beneficial for alleviating ingrown hairs. If you’re treating ingrown hairs, make sure to stop using hair removal techniques during treatment.
Sunscreen, sun-protective clothing, sunglasses, and hats reduce your exposure to UVA and UVB rays. This can help protect your skin from additional damage.
Dermatologic procedures for hyperpigmentation
There are several procedures which can remove age spots. These include:
- laser therapy
- chemical peels
Creams for hyperpigmentation
Prescription creams containing hydroquinone may help lighten age spots, acne scarring, and melasma. They work by slowing down the production of melanin.
Healthy hygiene habits
Regular cleansing of your face, body, and hair can help eliminate excess oil, dirt, and bacteria on the skin. But don’t overdo it. You can further irritate your skin with too much cleansing.
Blemishes not caused by underlying medical conditions can be treated with home remedies. These can include:
- witch hazel
- aloe vera
- apple cider vinegar
Experiment with diet
Keeping a food diary can help you pinpoint any foods that might be causing you to break out. Try eliminating one food at a time for a few days.
Eating foods high in vitamins C and E may help keep your skin healthy.
When to see your doctor
Blemishes can sometimes signal a serious condition that requires a visit to your healthcare provider. Blemishes can also lead to emotional upset, particularly if they become a chronic condition.
It’s important to see your doctor for any blemish that:
- changes in size or color
- begins bleeding
- has irregular borders
These may be signs of skin cancer.
If your blemishes are caused by a virus, such as cold sores or chickenpox, a doctor can help speed recovery by providing or recommending treatment.
Papules, nodules, and pustules can be painful signs of a skin infection. Your doctor may prescribe oral or topical antibiotics as well as other types of medications, such as topical retinoids.
If you have blemishes caused by ingrown hairs that don’t respond to home treatment, your doctor may be able to clean the area, freeing the hair and eliminating the blemish.
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