When most people talk about acne-prone skin, a complexion covered in bright red bumps probably comes to mind, but there are several other ways acne can manifest. Although it’s the most common skin condition in the U.S., many people aren’t quite sure what acne really is, which can make treating and preventing breakouts feel frustrating, if not, impossible. The good news, however, is that with a consistent treatment plan, you can be on the path to clearer skin.
Learn what acne is, how it forms, and what you can do to manage it!
The Different Types of Acne
Although acne is technically the name of the skin condition that can result in breakouts, pimples of all types have become synonymous with the term. While acne symptoms do all start out the same way, some may progress to form different types of breakouts.
All acne lesions have the same starting point, the microcomedone, a microscopic blockage of the narrow duct extending around a fine hair follicle unit from the deeper dermis to the skin surface. As the microcomedone persists, it can become a normal open comedone (blackhead) or a closed comedone which resembles a tiny whitehead at the skin surface.
Inflamed comedones are sometimes raised with surrounding redness. Some microcomedones do not progress into typical comedones, but instead, develop underlying inflammation. Depending on the degree of inflammation and its depth within the skin, these red and tender bumps are called papules and, when there are pus points centrally, pustules. Deeper painful papules are called cysts. Larger cysts are sometimes referred to as nodular cysts.
Comedones: Generally, comedonal acne—which is considered whiteheads and blackheads—commonly show up in oily prone areas of the skin such as the T-zone, but can occur anywhere.
Papules and pustules: These are the "classic" symptoms you probably think of when you picture a pimple. Red papules and pustules are considered more inflammatory acne, and as such, can also be attributed to bacteria and inflammation. The main difference? papules are raised bumps, while pustules contain pus.
Cysts: Hormonal breakouts, while they can occur anywhere, tend to show up as deeper cystic breakouts involving the lower one-third of the face or the jawline area. For many people, these breakouts can be cyclical and occur around their menses.
The development of acne is multifactorial. It involves follicular hyperkeratinization (exfoliating or shedding skin cells form a plug within a pore,) hormonal influences (androgens or sex hormones that signal sebum or oil production,) and inflammation related to bacteria. To put it simply, acne symptoms, like red, raised lesions, occur when too much oil and dead skin cells clog a pore and form bacteria, which initiates an inflammatory response from the body, resulting in breakouts.
More detail, below:
Excess sebum: Sebaceous glands, which are located at the end of a hair follicle, or pore, produce sebum, which is an oily substance designed to keep the skin healthy by hydrating it, and protecting it from external stressors. Sometimes, these glands can go into overdrive and produce too much oil, which can result in clogged pores, and eventually, breakouts.
Hormones: Those sebaceous glands become triggered mainly by hormones. Acne tends to be hormonally driven. The same hormones that drive acne also tend to promote more oily skin. Which hormones are mostly responsible for increased oil production? Androgens are the main drivers of acne. Androgen levels tend to rise in adolescence and, especially in women, early adulthood.
Dead skin cells: It’s not just oily skin that leads to acne symptoms—debris like dead skin cells can contribute to clogged pores, and when they mix with too much oil, bacteria called Cutibacterium acnes forms within the pore, causing breakouts.
Diet: While highly disputed as an official cause, many believe that what they eat has a direct impact on the condition of their skin. A high glycemic index diet is thought to be related to acne. These types of foods cause large increases in blood sugar levels, which leads to the release of hormones that may promote acne formation. Some examples of high glycemic foods include starches, sugars, and dairy.
The Best Skin Care Routine for Acne
While acne symptoms themselves will fade over time, the condition of acne should be treated if you want your skin to be free of bumps more often than not.
- Cleanse Your Skin.
A regular cleansing routine will go a long way in keeping your complexion healthy, just be sure to keep the severity of your acne symptoms in mind when applying a cleanser. A skin care routine can vary based on the type and severity of breakouts. For most people with acne, it’s best to wash the face 1-2 times per day. For those with mild breakouts or oily skin, it can be helpful to use a salicylic acid-based cleanser which helps to unclog the pores.
In addition to your breakouts, be sure to consider your skin type when cleansing, and adjust as needed with the change in seasons. Those with dry skin do not want a cleanser or treatment that will remove all the oil from their face, while those with oily skin may tolerate something stronger.
Cleansing can remove excess oil and dirt from your skin, but you’ll want to scrub away those dead skin cells as well, as gently as possible.
This step is not required, but a toner can help balance the skin or treat it, depending on the ingredients, such as sulfur or tea tree oil, both of which reduce acne symptoms. Toners are wonderful products to use, and while not everyone needs to use them, everyone can use them. Those with true acne-prone skin and oily skin tend to reap the most benefits from toner, because they’re formulated to remove sebum, oil, and dirt from the pores.
- Implement Active Ingredients.
Specific treatments will vary from person to person, but according to dermatologists, the top products for acne-prone skin include retinol and a spot treatment. This can be a hardcore ingredient or even something like manuka honey!
It may feel counterintuitive to add more moisture to already oily skin, but because acne treatments can be drying, it’s important to hydrate. Why? The body can actually signal for the sebaceous glands to produce more oil if it senses that the skin is dry, which can result in more clogged pores or breakouts.
- Always use SPF.
As many anti-acne products can make you more sensitive to the sun, it is important to also commit to sunscreen.
- Treat the body if needed.
For those with back and chest breakouts that are red and inflamed, varying acids are good to use or you can find a natural body wash that will have all the ingredients you need to cleanse and treat your skin for regular acne!
- Find the right skin care brand.
Keeping a skin care routine regular is vital for acne-prone skin. The ingredients you use can range from prescription to natural, and it’s best to find the ones that won’t have side effects or negative ingredients like preservatives or counterproductive ones included (mineral oil, fragrance, etc). For the best in natural skin care for acne, check out the Wild Naturals online store and see just how clear and healthy your skin can get with our products! Acne will be a thing of the past in no time!