Know Your Enemy: Understanding Acne and How to Treat It

Know Your Enemy: Understanding Acne and How to Treat It

Do you struggle with acne?

If so, you know that it’s more than just an annoying skin condition.

There are many different types of acne. And no matter which one you struggle with, it can cause your self-esteem to take a serious hit.

You might even be experiencing pain.

But knowing what is going to be the most effective treatment for your acne starts with knowing exactly what kind of acne you have.

What Are the Different Types of Acne?

Generally speaking, there is noninflammatory and inflammatory acne. But within each of these categories, there are subcategories. 

1. Noninflammatory Acne

This is the kind of acne that’s generally a nuisance. It normally doesn’t cause swelling and is typically cleared with over-the-counter (OTC) treatments.

Blackheads (Open Comedones)

Only the most blessed teenager has avoided the blackhead.

These occur when a pore is clogged by a combination of dead skin cells and sebum – which is the oily secretion of the sebaceous glands.

With a blackhead, the pore is clogged, but the top of it stays open. It’s this phenomenon that gives it a black color on the surface. 

Whiteheads (Closed Comedones)

Just like with the blackhead, a whitehead can also form when a pore gets clogged by dead skin cells and sebum

But in this case, the top of the pore closes up and it appears simply as a small bump coming up from the skin.

2. Inflammatory acne

When pimples become red and swollen, they’re considered inflammatory acne.

Although dead skin cells and sebum are culprits here, they’re often joined by bacteria clogging up pores.

The addition of bacteria introduces the risk of infection deep beneath the skin’s surface. And with that infection comes painful swelling. 


If severe inflammation causes the walls around your pores to break down, the result is these hard and clogged pores that are tender to the touch.

Papules are easily identified, as the skin around the pores is usually pink.


Pustules are also the result of the walls breaking down around your pores.

They differ from papules in that they’re filled with pus, are red in color and frequently have yellow or white heads on top.


When clogged and swollen pores go untreated, they become irritated and grow larger. At this point, they become nodules underneath the skin

Because nodules are so deep within the skin, they’re difficult to treat with topical solutions and often require prescription medication that needs to be taken daily for four to six months.


Even further below the skin than nodules are cysts. These develop when pores are clogged by a combination of bacteria, sebum, and dead skin cells. 

Cysts large red or white bumps that are the largest form of acne. They tend to be painful and are the most likely to scar. 

Prescription medication is commonly used to treat a cyst. In severe cases, a dermatologist may need to surgically remove it.

What Are Some Treatments for Acne?

There are definitely certain foods to avoid. And water-based cosmetics can cover the occasional acne outbreak. But neither of these is a treatment.

The most effective treatments are those that do more than cover the condition. They inhibit sebum production, encourage shedding of skin cells or limit bacterial growth in an effort to unclog pores.

Below are some of the more common treatments for different types of acne.

Soap and Water

Clogged pores could just be a matter of not keeping your skin clean enough. Especially if you have oily skin.

A gentle cleansing of the face twice per day with soap and water could do the trick to ward off future breakouts. But it’s not going to take care of acne that’s already there.

Just be careful to avoid harsh scrubbing which could damage your skins and make the acne worse.

Benzoyl Peroxide

If soap and water aren’t cutting it, you could try cleansers used specifically for treating acne.

Look for cleansers that contain benzoyl peroxide. It seems that this compound destroys the bacteria associated with acne. It’s not a quick fix though.

You’ll need to use it continuously for at least four weeks to keep the acne at bay. And since it doesn’t affect sebum production or the way dead skin is shed, the acne could come back once you stop using it. Especially if your hormonal levels are fluctuating.

So you may need to use it in combination with other treatments.

Salicylic Acid

Unlike benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid does nothing to combat bacteria. 

But it does naturally exfoliate the skin to eliminate the dead skin cells that can cause blackheads and whiteheads.

That’s why salicylic acid works best on noninflammatory acne. Whiteheads are inherently more difficult to treat because the pores have already closed. But salicylic acid helps unclog pores to prevent further damage.  

It must be used continuously though. Because just like benzoyl peroxide, when you stop using it, pores can clog up again. 

Topical Retinol Serum or Cream

Retinol works in a way entirely different from benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid.

A topical retinol cream or serum works to keep pimples from forming in the first place. It does this by impacting the growth of cells which increases cell turnover to unblock pores.

Using this remedy could give your acne the appearance of worsening before it gets better. That’s because it works on pimples that have already started forming beneath your skin. But it must be used continuously for 8-12 weeks in order to get results.

Retinol used to be available only in prescription strength. But you can get it as an over-the-counter treatment for acne. Topical retinol serums are helpful in combatting inflammatory papules and pustules, as well as comedonal acne. 

So it seems to have a wide range of applications. 

Prescription Medication

Depending on the type and/or severity of your acne, you may need to see a dermatologist who will prescribe medication. These could include (but are not limited to):

  • Retinoids or Vitamin A Derivatives
  • Anti-inflammatory Antibiotics
  • Azelaic Acid
  • Oral Contraceptives 
  • Spironolactone 
  • Triamcinolone
  • Dapsone

Whether using a prescription or OTC acne product, be aware of possible side effects. Stop using immediately if you develop hives or itching. And seek medical attention if you have symptoms such as throat tightness, feeling faint, difficulty breathing, swelling of the face or tongue. 

Are You Looking for Natural Acne Solutions?

With all of the different types of acne, there’s a good chance you may have a combination of types. And that’s going to require a combination of treatments.

To get started, take a look at our line of natural products for your skin. And keep checking back with our blog for more information on how to deal with your acne.

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