Acne occurs when a hair follicle, or pore, becomes blocked. The sebum, which is the natural oil your skin produces, becomes trapped inside your pore. The two main types of acne are non-inflammatory and inflammatory.
There are two types of non-inflammatory acne: blackheads and whiteheads.
Contrary to popular belief, blackheads are not dirt trapped in your pore. They are caused when sebum rises to the surface of the skin. Sebum contains melanin, which gives our skin its color. When exposed to air, it turns a brown or black color. Blackheads disappear when the sebum slowly drains out of the pore. Whiteheads form when the sebum remains under the skin’s surface. They can sometimes be very small and barely noticeable. They might feel like small, hard bumps.
What you can do
Skin products containing retinoid are good for unclogging pores, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Using products with benzoyl peroxide to help reduce excess bacteria on your skin also is recommended.
Inflammatory acne occurs when the wall of your hair follicle breaks. White blood cells rush to the area to aid in healing. This causes inflammation. You might first notice the beginnings of a pimple, such as a small red, inflamed area on your skin. This is called a papule. As the white blood cells rise to the surface of your skin, you will see a white bubble filled with white or yellowish pus. You probably know this as a pimple or a zit.
What you can do
Wash your face twice a day with a skin care product containing benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
Over-the-counter acne products are often effective. You should see improvement within four to eight weeks. If not, the American Academy of Dermatology suggests talking with a dermatologist, who may prescribe stronger skin care products. There are also medications, such as isotretinoin (Accutane) or antibiotics that can help reduce inflammation and kill the bacteria causing your acne. Some women find that birth control pills help to reduce their acne. For severe acne, your doctor might suggest in-office procedures such as laser or light therapy, chemical peels or drainage and extraction.
Other types of acne
There are a few types of acne, which are rare but even more severe. If you have one of these types, you should consult with your doctor, as they can cause scarring, disfiguration and emotional distress.
Nodulocystic acne is found most often on the shoulders, back chest, neck and face. It can appear as a single inflamed cyst or a cluster of cysts. The most common types of treatment include the medication isotretinoin (Accutane), antibiotics and corticosteroid injections. This type of acne can sometimes be resistant to treatment.
Another rare form, acne conglobate, is most prevalent in males between the ages of 18 and 30. It most often appears on the face chest, back, buttocks, upper arms and thighs. It is characterized by large lesions that often interconnect. You may have blackheads interspersed with the lesions.
Acne fulminans, also known as acute febrile ulcerative acne, is a sudden onset of acne conglobate. It is accompanied with a fever and joint aches. This form of acne does not respond to antibiotics and often requires hospitalization for treatment.
Gram-negative folliculitis is characterized by pustules and cysts. It may be the result of long-term antibiotic use for acne according to a report published in the Dermatology Online Journal. The medication isotretinoin (Accutane) has been found an effective treatment.
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Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.