All the different breakouts explained
Unfortunately spots don’t introduce themselves then offer up an appropriate treatment. But that’s where we come in…
Say what? Blocked but open pores that take on a dark colour due to oxidisation (not dirt!).
Treat: All spots are the evil love child of overactive oil glands and dead skin cells – a paste-like concoction that blocks pores and acts as a breeding ground for bacteria. “Thorough cleansing and an exfoliating acid used once or twice a week will help dampen down inflammation, reduce sebum production and kill the acne-causing bacteria,” says aesthetician Dr Kemi Fabusiwa. If you’re worried about your skin’s sensitivity, ease in with mandelic acid – it’s one of the gentlest types and worth considering if you have dark skin prone to post-inflammatory pigmentation.
Say what? The closed version of blackheads. If you listen carefully, you’ll hear them whispering “squeeze me”, but do not engage.
Treat: Doing a gentle, sulfate-free double cleanse is a good habit for anyone to get into (scrubbing or “drying out” blemishes will only make things worse). Consultant dermatologist Dr Adam Friedmann recommends products containing benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid to unplug pores and see off acne-causing bacteria. Spot stickers, though not a long-term fix, are great for people prone to picking, and contain hydrocolloid, which can help speed up the healing process of an already open or oozing whitehead.
TYPE: Nodules & cysts
Say what? Ouch, in a word. These are the deep, painful eruptions, with nodules tending to be hard red lumps, and cysts filled with pus.
Treat: “Cystic acne should always be treated with prescriptionstrength medication,” says Dr Fabusiwa. “There is a very high risk of scarring and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation if this is left untreated.” Seek out hydrating and calming ingredients such as niacinamide, ideally within a light serum or gel formula. And remember that acne isn’t just a “surface” issue – diet, stress and illness can all be potential acne aggressors, as they trigger inflammation in the body. “The better you’re looking after yourself the better your chance of clearer skin,” explains Dr Friedmann.
TYPE: Papules & pustules
Say what? We’re moving into acne territory now – where breakouts tend to be more inflamed, often with redness and a tempting white tip.
Treat: Androgens (the “male” hormone) play a key role in stimulating pores to produce excess sebum. “Their effects are more noticeable just before your period,” says Dr Fabusiwa, “when female hormone levels drop lower, tipping the balance and causing breakouts.” It’s best to speak to your GP about recurring acne but, in general, skincare should be gentle, antibacterial and pore-clearing. Applying a retinol before bed will speed up skin-cell turnover too. And don’t forget your (oil-free) SPF! Active ingredients tend to sensitise the skin, and avoiding the inflammation caused by UV rays (even in winter) will go a long way.