Just about everyone gets acne at some point. And unfortunately, these annoying bumps tend to pop up at the worst times â€” like before a big date or an interview for a dream job.
Many young adults deal with acne. But if you think itâ€™s only a teenage problem, youâ€™re mistaken. Acne also occurs in adults, and even some infants have acne, too. (2bcf2-9edd-11eb-8b0b-bb8321bf4e79' target='_blank' rel='noopener noreferrer' >1,2)
Acne develops when pores or hair follicles become blocked with oil and 3013075' target='_blank' rel='noopener noreferrer' >dead skin cells. (3) Most people complain about acne on their face, but the truth is, you can get acne anywhere on your body. This includes your back, neck, buttocks, shoulders, and chest. (4)
Even though many people use the term â€œacneâ€ to describe all bumps, acne is actually a broad term for different types of bumps. (5)
Read on for more information about acne types and symptoms, and learn when itâ€™s time to see a doctor.
Different Types of Acne and Their Symptoms
The occasional bump or breakout might not be a big deal to some. Persistent acne, on the other hand, can be a frustrating problem, affecting your self- esteem and confidence. Your feelings about acne may have everything to do with the extent of your skin problem, which can range from mild to severe.
â€œMild acne is the less severe form of acne,â€ says Yoram Harth, MD, a dermatologist and the medical director of MDacne whoâ€™s based in San Francisco. â€œThis kind of acne is easier to control and doesnâ€™t usually leave long-term scars.â€ (6)
Itâ€™s a different story with moderate and severe acne, though.
Moderate acne, continues Dr. Harth, is more noticeable and can leave dark spots and scars, whereas severe acne is the worst form. Itâ€™s more difficult to treat and often leaves scars when it heals. (6)
Itâ€™s important that you learn how to recognize common types of blemishes â€” as well as their severity â€” because different types of acne respond to different treatments.
Bottom line: If you want clearer skin, you need to know what youâ€™re dealing with.
Different types of acne (and their symptoms) include the following:
Whiteheads are a type of acne that develops underneath the skinâ€™s surface. (7)
These blemishes are round and small. Theyâ€™re also covered by a thin layer of skin, resulting in a white or yellowish appearance. (8) Different factors contribute to whiteheads, such as oily skin, hormones, puberty, diet, and the use of cosmetics and moisturizers on your face. (1)
Blackheads look similar to whiteheads. But instead of a white bump, blackhead pimples are black or dark. (8)
Blackheads arenâ€™t covered by skin like a whitehead. Instead, they rise to the skinâ€™s surface. (7). Exposure to air causes trapped oil inside the pore to turn black, resulting in the bumpâ€™s darker appearance. (8)
Possible causes of a blackhead include oily skin, an irritated hair follicle, hormones, and diet, as well as skin-care products. Some medications can trigger blackheads. (1)
A papule forms when a pore or hair follicle becomes clogged with bacteria. Your immune system reacts to the bacteria by producing white blood cells, which fight infections. This inflammatory response causes clusters of red, inflamed pimples. (8)
This type of acne is similar to papules. But with a pustule, your bodyâ€™s inflammatory response causes pimples to fill with pus composed of oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria. These clusters of bumps are red, slightly larger, and sensitive to the touch. (8)
Nodular acne is a severe form of acne characterized by large, hard bumps underneath the skinâ€™s surface. This type of acne also involves bacteria, and develops when the walls of a pore break down. As a result, bacteria and oil extend deeper into the skin, affecting other pores. Nodules are painful and can cause permanent scarring. (7,8)
Cystic acne also develops deep underneath the skin, and itâ€™s the worst form of acne, says Harth. It occurs when a severe inflammatory reaction in your pores triggers boil-like, fluid-filled nodules, and is commonly seen in menstruating women. Varying levels of estrogen act at the level of the follicle to cause cysts deep underneath the skin. (7,8)
When Should You See a Doctor for Acne Treatment?
Acne may or may not warrant a trip to your doctor. Some people can control their blemishes with over-the-counter treatments and other self-care measures, while others feel their acne is serious enough to require medical help.
The decision to see a doctor will likely depend on how well youâ€™re able to manage bumps, as well as the severity of your acne.
Itâ€™s always a good idea to make an appointment for persistent acne that doesnâ€™t clear up. What you think is run-of-the-mill acne could actually be another skin condition like rosacea, keratosis pilaris, or perioral dermatitis. (9)
To diagnose acne and determine the type of acne and the treatment youâ€™ll need, your dermatologist will visually examine your skin. (10)
For mild-to-moderate acne, start with over-the-counter medicine before you see a doctor. These include topical creams (retinoids) and acne face washes that contain acne-fighting ingredients such as salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide. (10)
Retinoids and retinoid-like drugs prevent clogging of pores, while topical antibiotics kill bacteria on the skin. Salicylic acid facial washes remove dead skin cells by exfoliation. (10) Some of these products may not be safe to use during pregnancy. Check with your doctor to be sure.
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For the best results, make sure these medications match the acne severity and your skin type, warns Harth. â€œIf used properly, one can expect initial improvement at four weeks and a significant reduction of acne at 12 weeks,â€ Harth says.
But what if acne doesnâ€™t respond to self-treatment?
According to Harth, you may need something stronger to get rid of stubborn acne. â€œPeople with severe acne, and people with moderate acne that doesnâ€™t improve after three months of treatment with an over-the-counter_products/article.htm' target='_blank' rel='noopener noreferrer' >over-the-counter medication, will need to see a dermatologist for oral medication,â€ he says.
Drugs that are powerful enough to treat moderate-to-severe acne include antibiotics, which kill bacteria and fight infections. When antibiotics donâ€™t work, your doctor may suggest an anti-androgen agent (a hormonal treatment only available to women and adolescent girls), or isotretinoin, a retinoid used to treat nodular or cystic acne. (10)
Depending on the severity of your acne, your doctor may also recommend extraction of a whitehead or blackhead, or a steroid injection. (10)
Initially, you might discuss bothersome acne symptoms with your general practitioner â€” and you doctor might even recommend more effective over-the- counter treatments.
If these treatments donâ€™t work and your family doctor suggests seeing a dermatologist, prepare for this visit by writing down any questions or concerns you might have. For example:
- What are the side effects of a particular acne treatment?
- Will medication treat the cause of my acne, or only the symptoms?
- What are possible causes of acne, and how can I reduce future breakouts?
- Will the acne medication interact with other medications I take?
- Are acne medications safe to use while pregnant or breastfeeding?
- How can I reduce the appearance of acne scars?
A Final Word: Take Action Against Stubborn Acne
Acne is a common problem that affects people of all ages, but it doesnâ€™t have to take over your face. (1) Some acne is mild and only a minor annoyance, whereas severe acne can affect your self-esteem.
If your skin doesnâ€™t improve with self-treatment, donâ€™t hesitate to speak with your doctor.
The right treatment not only gets rid of acne, but also protects against new acne.
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