How to Treat Every Type of Pimple
If only there were just one type of acne. Maybe then it wouldn’t be as complicated to fix. Instead, there are several forms of acne — each requiring a specific treatment plan to get you clear again. From blackheads to whiteheads, pustules to cysts, here’s how to treat every type of pimple that pops up on your face (or anywhere else on your body for that matter!).
Blackheads are a mild and common form of acne, known as comedones. These little black dots that typically accumulate on your nose and chin are caused when dead skin cells, sebum, and grime clog your pores — or hair follicles. A blackhead is, essentially, the mixture of dead cells, bacteria, and grime that that oxidize when exposed to the air.
The fix: While there’s no cure for blackheads, there are some things you can do to minimize their appearance. Your main mission should be keeping your pores clear, since clogged pores are the leading cause of blackheads.
Incorporate a salicylic acid-based cleanser in your daily skincare routine, along with topical acne treatments formulated with either SA or benzoyl peroxide. While salicylic acid gently exfoliates skin and removes the buildup of excess oil and dead skin, benzoyl peroxide fights acne-causing bacteria, preventing the formation of blackheads.
Whiteheads are closed comedones — or clogged pores that appear as white or flesh-colored bumps under the skin. Like blackheads, whiteheads form when dead skin cells, oil, and bacteria build up in the pore. They’re a common type of breakout, which can also be seen on other areas of the body like your back, chest, and butt.
The fix: "Topical medications are the best way to treat a lesion like this," says Jennifer Chwalek, M.D., a dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology in New York City. "Benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, or sulfur-based products can help to dry it up."
In addition to trying an over-the-counter topical treatment, the derms recommend exfoliating on a regular basis. Exfoliation prevents dead skin cell buildup, keeping your pores clear and whiteheads away. Retinol and glycolic acid are two other active ingredients you can look out for that keep pores clear.
Pustules are red, inflamed blemishes that are known as traditional zits. They’re a form of mild acne, but they can cause scarring and leave behind dark spots and marks if you don’t care for them properly. When dealing with these angry red bumps, try to avoid touching them in a bid to prevent spreading bacteria and getting even more breakouts.
This form of inflammatory acne can be caused by bacteria, stress, and using non-comedogenic skincare products like heavy moisturizers and lotions.
The fix: There are many different treatment options for pustules. According to dermatologists, pustules react really well to antibiotics. However, you will need to book an appointment with your derm, since you won’t be able to get them over the counter. For a quicker fix, try applying hydrocortisone cream to temporarily reduce redness and swelling.
Another effective treatment: acne patches. Acne patches are a type of spot treatment that drains active zits of sebum and impurities while speeding up the healing process and protecting from picking fingers, which often lead to scarring. Look for pimple patches infused with hydrocolloid and one or more of the renowned acne fighters: salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide.
“Papules are red, painful blemishes that do not quite reach the surface,” says celebrity esthetician Renée Rouleau. “It’s the stage past a whitehead where bacteria has caused inflammation, resulting in an infected blemish.” Ouch!
Inflammation and irritation are the main symptom of a papule. The primary causes of papules include bacteria, excess oil production, and excess activity of androgens.
The fix: When it comes to treating papules, the best thing you can do is calm your skin. Stay away from potentially irritating skincare products that might make things worse. Stick to soothing formulas made with inflammation-quelling ingredients like green tea, white tea, and kaolin clay. You’ll also want to steer clear of in-office treatments such as peels which may irritate your skin even further and lead to more breakouts.
Cystic acne is a form of severe acne that shows up as hard, painful blemishes (aka cysts) that develop deeper under the skin’s surface. While cysts heal eventually, they can remain a painful bump for weeks. As a type of inflammatory acne, cystic acne involves redness, puss, and bacteria. And yep, it can definitely feel uncomfortable.
Like almost all other different types of acne, cysts are made up of sebaceous content (oil, dirt, and bacteria) that's trapped beneath your skin and can’t get out. As a result, they live and grow under the skin, leading to an inflamed bump that lasts for weeks. Cystic acne also leaves you more prone to acne scars if you don’t care for them properly.
The fix: Topical treatments could include a combo of salicylic acid and topical retinoids (vitamin A), which can help increase cell turnover, neutralize hyperpigmentation, and prevent new blemishes from forming.
If you get frequent cysts, it might be time to consider acne medications such as isotretinoin, doxycycline, or spironolactone. Your health provider may even suggest birth control (oral contraceptives) if you are dealing with a severe case of cystic acne caused by hormonal fluctuations. Just remember to discuss the side effects of any acne products or prescription medications before using. And make your derm aware if you have a skin condition, such as eczema or rosacea.
Since there are many different types of acne, it’s important to identify which kind you’re dealing with in order to get the best possible treatment. If you’re struggling to decipher which type of pimple you’re seeing, seek advice from a professional dermatologist.
In the meantime, make sure you’re following a daily skincare routine that consists of a gentle cleanser, toner, serum, and SPF to keep your skin in peak shape.