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Acne 101: Types and Treatments

May 30, 2023

What is Acne?

According to the National Institute of Skin Diseases, acne is a common skin condition that happens when hair follicles under the skin become clogged. Sebum – the oil that helps skin from drying out – and dead skin cells plug the pores, leading to lesions outbreaks, commonly called pimples or zits. Acne can vary in severity, ranging from mild, occasional breakouts to more severe forms, such as cystic acne, which involves deep, painful, painful nodules or cysts. It can have physical and emotional effects, including scarring, low self-esteem, and social anxiety. However, effective treatments are available to manage and control acne. 


Who Suffers from Acne?

Acne can affect individuals of all ages and genders, but it is most commonly associated with teenagers going through puberty. It is estimated that around 85 percent of people between the ages of 12 and 24 experience some form of acne. However, acne can persist into adulthood and even develop for the first time in adulthood. 

It is important to note that acne is not limited to a specific gender or ethnic group. Both males and females can experience acne. Acne can occur on the face, chest, back, shoulders, and other areas where there are oil glands and hair follicles. 


Major Causes of Acne

Acne is caused by a combination of factors, and the exact cause can vary from person to person. 

Excess Oil Production

The sebaceous glands in the skin produce an oily substance called sebum. Excessive production of sebum can contribute to clogged pores and acne development. 

Clogged Hair Follicles 

When dead skin cells and sebum accumulate, they can block the hair follicles, leading to the formation of comedones (blackheads and whiteheads) and providing an environment for bacteria to thrive. 

Bacterial Activity 

The bacterium Propionibacterium acnes, which is normally found on the skin, can multiply in clogged hair follicles and trigger inflammation, leading to the development of inflammatory acne lesions. 

Hormonal Factors 

Hormonal fluctuations, particularly during puberty, menstrual cycles, pregnancy, and menopause, can influence oil gland activity and contribute to acne breakouts. Androgens (male hormones) can stimulate the oil glands to produce more sebum. 


The immune system responds to bacterial activity in the clogged hair follicles, leading to inflammation. Inflammation can cause redness, swelling, and the formation of pimples or cysts. 


Acne can have a genetic component, meaning that if your parents or close relatives had acne, you may be more prone to developing it. 

Certain Medications 

Some medications, such as corticosteroids, androgenic steroids, and certain anticonvulsants, may contribute to acne development as a side effect. 


While stress itself doesn’t directly cause acne, it can exacerbate existing acne or contribute to hormonal imbalances that can trigger breakouts. 

Skincare and Cosmetic Products 

Certain skincare products or cosmetics that are comedogenic (tend to clog pores) or irritating to the skin can worsen acne in some individuals. 


The role of diet in acne is still not fully understood, but some studies suggest that high glycemic index foods, dairy products, and diets rich in processed foods and unhealthy fats may contribute to acne development in some individuals. 


What are the Different Types of Acne?


Whiteheads, also known as closed comedones, appear as small, flesh-colored, or white bumps on the skin’s surface. They occur when a hair follicle becomes clogged with oil and dead skin cells, causing a closed plug. Whiteheads are generally non-inflammatory and can be treated with gentle exfoliation, topical acne medications, and a consistent skincare routine to prevent further clogging of pores. 


Blackheads, also known as open comedones, are a type of acne blemish characterized by small, dark, or black bumps on the skin’s surface. They occur when hair follicles become clogged with oil and dead skin cells, forming an open plug. The dark color of blackheads is not due to dirt but is caused by the oxidation of melanin (skin pigment) when exposed to air. It is important to avoid squeezing or picking at blackheads, as it can lead to inflammation and potential scarring. 


Papules are a type of acne lesion that appear as small, raised, red or pink bumps on the skin. They typically do not have a visible center or contain pus. Papules occur when the walls of the hair follicles rupture due to inflammation caused by clogged pores. They are mild to moderate forms of acne and can be tender to the touch. 


Pustules are a type of acne lesion characterized by raised, inflamed, and pu-filled bumps on the skin. They typically have a red base with a visible white or yellowish center. Pustules form when the hair follicles become clogged with oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria, leading to an immune response and the accumulation of pus. They can be painful and may be accompanied by inflammation. 


Nodules are a severe form of acne that appear as large, solid, and painful bumps beneath the skin’s surface. They are deeper and more severe than papules and pustules. Nodules develop when the hair follicles become severely clogged with oils, dead skin cells, and bacteria, leading to deep inflammation and infection. They are typically firm, deep-rooted lumps that do not come to a head and can cause significant discomfort. 


Cysts are a severe and often painful form of acne that manifests as large, fluid-filled lesions beneath the skin’s surface. They are deep, inflammatory nodules that can be filled with pus or a semi-liquid substance. Cysts are typically larger than other types of acne and can cause significant discomfort and scarring. They develop when the hair follicles become severely blocked, leading to a rupture of the follicle wall and a deeper inflammation. 

Cystic-Nodular Acne

Cystic-nodular acne is a severe and debilitating form of acne that combines the characteristics of cysts and nodules. It is characterized by large, deep, painful lesions that are filled with fluid, pus, or a combination of both. The affected areas may appear swollen and inflamed and often leave deep scars. 

Acne Conglobata

Acne conglobata is an uncommon and severe form of acne that is characterized by interconnected nodules and abscesses on the skin. It often affects the chest, back, and buttocks. This condition is marked by extensive inflammation, deep-rooted lesions, and the formation of large, interconnected nodules that can discharge foul-smelling pus. 


Acne and Mental Health 

Acne can have a significant impact on mental health and well-being. The visible nature of acne lesions on the face and other prominent areas can lead to feelings of self-consciousness, embarrassment, and low self-esteem. Acne-related stress and anxiety can affect social interactions, leading to social isolation and withdrawal. Individuals with acne may experience a negative body image and feelings of depression, as they may perceive their appearance as unattractive or flawed. 

Acne’s impact on mental health can be particularly pronounced during adolescence, a time when self-image and social acceptance are crucial. It is important to recognize the psychological effects of acne and provide support and understanding to those affected. Seeking professional help from dermatologists and mental health professionals can be beneficial in managing both the physical and emotional aspects of acne. 


Lifestyle Changes to Help Acne

Making certain lifestyle changes can play a role in managing acne. Here are five lifestyle changes that can help improve acne:

  • Maintain a Consistent Skincare Routine: Establishing a gentle and consistent skincare routine can help keep your skin clean and free from excess oil and debris. Use non-comedogenic (non-pore-clogging) products and avoid harsh scrubbing, which can irritate the skin and worsen acne.
  • Eat a Balanced Diet: While the link between diet and acne is still being studied, adopting a balanced diet can benefit overall skin health. Limit processed foods, sugary snacks, and beverages. Some individuals may find that certain foods trigger their acne, so paying attention to potential dietary triggers and adjusting accordingly can be helpful. 
  • Manage Stress: Chronic stress can exacerbate acne breakouts. Engage in stress-reducing activities such as exercise, meditation, deep breathing exercises, or hobbies that you enjoy. Prioritize self-care and make time for activities that help you relax and unwind. 
  • Avoid Touching or Picking at Your Skin: Touching your face frequently or picking at acne lesions can introduce bacteria and worsen inflammation and scarring. Keep your hands away from your face, and avoid squeezing or popping pimples. 
  • Get Sufficient Sleep and Exercise: Adequate sleep and regular exercise can contribute to overall well-being and skin health. Aim for seven to nine hours of quality sleep each night and incorporate regular physical activity into your routine. Exercise can improve blood circulation, reduce stress, and promote healthy skin. 


When to See a Dermatologist 

It is advisable to see a dermatologist for acne in the following situations: 

  • Persistent or Severe Acne: If over-the-counter treatments have been ineffective in managing your acne or if your acne is severe and causing significant distress or scarring, it is recommended to consultant a dermatologist for a comprehensive evaluation and appropriate treatment. 
  • Acne that Doesn’t Respond to Treatment: If you have been diligently following a skincare routine and using recommended acne treatments for several weeks without improvement, a dermatologist can provide a more tailored approach and prescribe stronger medications or therapies. 
  • Painful or Inflamed Acne: If your acne is causing pain, discomfort, or inflammation, especially if it forms deep nodules, cysts, or pustules, a dermatologist can help manage the inflammation and prevent potential complications. 
  • Psychological Impact: If acne is significantly affecting your self-esteem, confidence, or overall mental well-being, seeking professional help from a dermatologist who can address both the physical and emotional aspects of acne is important. 
  • Potential Scarring: If you have a history of acne scarring or are at a higher risk for scarring due to the severity of your acne, a dermatologist can provide appropriate interventions to minimize scarring and promote skin healing. 
  • Special Circumstances: If you are pregnant or breastfeeding and experiencing acne, it is important to consult with a dermatologist who can recommend safe treatment options. Additionally, if you have underlying medical conditions or are taking medications that may be influencing your acne, a dermatologist can help navigate the complexities and find suitable solutions.  

Acne Treatments 

Skincare Products 

Skincare products can be effective in managing acne when used appropriately. Here are some key points to consider when using skincare products to help acne:

  • Look for Non-Comedogenic Products: Non-comedogenic products are specifically formulated to not clog pores and are suitable for acne-prone skin. They can help prevent further breakouts by allowing the skin to breathe and reducing the risk of pore blockage. 
  • Choose Products with Acne-Fighting Ingredients: Look for skincare products that contain active ingredients known for their acne-fighting properties. These may include benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, sulfur, or tea tree oil. 
  • Follow a Gentle Cleansing Routine: Proper cleansing is essential for acne-prone skin. Use a mild, non-irritating cleanser twice a day to remove excess oil, dirt, and dead skin cells. Avoid harsh scrubbing or beaded scrubs, as it can aggravate acne and cause further inflammation. 
  • Moisturize Appropriately: Contrary to popular belief, moisturizing is still important even for acne-prone skin. Choose oil-free, non-comedogenic moisturizers that provide hydration without clogging the pores. Moisturizing helps maintain the skin’s natural barrier function and prevents excessive dryness that can trigger more oil production. 
  • Use Sun Protection: Protecting your skin from harmful UV rays is crucial, even if you have acne. Look for oil-free, non-comedogenic sunscreens with a broad-spectrum SPF or 30 or higher. Sunscreen helps prevent post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and protects the skin from potential damage caused by sun exposure. 
  • Be Patient and Consistent: Skincare products take time to work, and results may not be immediate. Consistency is key. Follow the instructions provided with each product and give them an adequate trial period before expecting significant improvements. It is also important to introduce new products gradually to monitor how your skin reacts and to avoid overwhelming the skin with multiple new products at once. 

Prescription Medication 

Prescription medications are often necessary for managing moderate to severe acne. Prescription medication for acne typically fall into three main categories: topical, oral, and hormonal treatments. Topical medications, such as retinoids, antibiotics, or combination creams, are applied directly to the skin to unclog pores, reduce inflammation, and control acne-causing bacteria. Oral medications, like antibiotics or isotretinoin (Accutane), work from within the body to target bacteria, regulate oil production, and reduce inflammation. Hormonal treatments, such as oral contraceptives (birth control pills) or anti-androgen medications, help balance hormones that can contribute to acne in certain individuals. These medications may be used alone or in combination, depending on the severity and underlying causes of acne. 

AviClear Laser Treatment 

AviClear is the first and only FDA-cleared energy device for the treatment of mild to severe acne. This treatment provides long-term, effective improvements of acne across all skin types. AviClear uses the power of laser light to treat acne at the source by selectively targeting and suppressing the sebaceous oil gland safely and effectively. Clinical trials demonstrate that current and future breakout episodes are shorter, less intense, and more infrequent following the AviClear procedure. Further, acne clearance results continue to improve over time, demonstrating the long-term efficacy of this novel treatment. 

Schedule a FREE AviClear Consultation Now!