Wondering how to treat acne? You’re in the right place. We’ll step you through the different types of acne and a skincare routine to clear breakouts, reduce redness and tackle scarring.
What causes acne?
Regardless of what type you're dealing with, acne occurs when your pores become clogged with excess sebum, dead cells and other debris.
When this happens, acne-causing bacteria known as Propionibacterium acnes (p. Acnes) flourish inside the pore which leads to breakouts and inflammation.
As pressure builds up inside the pore, the surrounding cells weaken and the sides of the pore rupture. The contents spill into the surrounding skin causing it to become infected too.
Acne-prone skin produces excess sebum. In addition to genetics, various factors can influence the amount of oil production within the pore. For example hormonal changes; puberty, pregnancy and menopause - known as hormonal acne.
Or you may simply have an oily / combination skin type that is more prone to breaking out because it produces more oil than normal skin.
Stress can also increase sebum production. If you are prone to acne, you may notice breakouts occurring when you’re feeling under pressure.
Different types of acne: non-inflammatory vs inflammatory
Acne can be classified as non-inflammatory or inflammatory with symptoms ranging from mild to severe. While all types of acne start the same (clogged pores) they present differently.
Whiteheads and Blackheads: Non-Inflammatory acne
Most people deal with pesky blackheads and whiteheads here and there, regardless of skin type.
Known as an ‘open comedone’, blackheads occur when the pore (comedone) becomes blocked, it is open and exposed to the air. This exposure turns the debris trapped inside the pore a dark colour; how a blackhead gets its name.
Whiteheads are still clogged but they are known as a ‘closed comedone’ as the pore remains closed so the build-up isn’t exposed to the air.
Although all acne is inflamed on a cellular level, blackheads and whiteheads aren’t usually accompanied by painful redness and swelling. As such, they’re considered non-inflammatory.
These types of acne are straightforward to treat and prevent. We’ll get to how to treat acne further along.
Inflammatory types of acne
Now let’s take a look at the more severe forms of acne which can be harder to tackle and likely to scar if not treated properly.
Cystic and nodular acne
Cysts are inflamed lesions that occur deep in the dermis, are filled with pus and are visible on the surface. Inflammation and redness are present and the lesions can be painful to touch.
Nodules are similar in the way they are rooted in the deeper layers of the skin but unlike cysts, they have no visible head but are still seen on the surface.
Both can persist for weeks and months and can be extremely uncomfortable.
Cystic and nodular acne can call for additional support, including medication, homoeopathic or extraction solutions, in addition to an acne-focused skincare routine.
We recommend seeking advice on evaluation and management from a trusted health professional if you are dealing with cystic or nodular acne.
Acne scarring and marks
Acne scars are characterised by textural changes. They develop in the second layer of the skin (the dermis) and show as indentations or raised lumps.
Acne marks, on the other hand, are pigment changes - discolouration on the skin known as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation caused by breakout inflammation.
The different types of acne scars:
- Ice pick scars - Deep and narrow indents
- Boxcar scars - Box-like indents that are most common in the jaw and cheek area
- Keloid scars - A raised mound that is darker than the surrounding skin
- Rolling scars- Sloping indents that vary in depth and give the area a wavy appearance
How to treat acne with skincare
How to treat hormonal acne? How to treat acne on cheeks? Cystic acne? Blackheads and whiteheads? Your basic at-home skincare routine to treat all types of acne is based on 4 core steps.
If you’re using prescription topical medication to treat cystic or nodular acne, be sure to understand at which step and when (AM or PM) to incorporate the application into your routine.
Morning and evening
Many over-the-counter oil-stripping washes for acne are extremely strong, and designed to remove all oil from your face.
However, our skin needs some oil to keep itself protected and moisturised! Even acne-prone skin. Stripping it all away only leads to increased inflammation and oil production. When the skin is dry, it becomes inflamed and sends a message to the pores to produce yet more oil to counteract the lack of sebum.
This cycle can be exacerbated if you’re taking prescription medication for acne too, as many have a side effect of increased skin dryness.
So, how to treat acne with this dryness in mind? Start by choosing a gentle cleanser that works in harmony with your skin’s natural pH levels, moisture and oil balance. This mild approach can reward you with a more rapid clearing of active breakouts.
We recommend: Oil-to-Milk Face Cleanser - 3 in 1
Moisturise (You don’t have to shy away from face oils)
Morning and evening
Moisturising should always have a permanent place in your routine, no matter the skin condition you’re dealing with.
Once again, circling back to the dryness issue, moisturising is especially important when you are taking medication or using potentially drying exfoliation treatments with a high percentage of active ingredients like salicylic acid.
Choose a light moisturiser or opt for a facial oil. The right face oil can have remarkable benefits for acne-prone skin, although this may seem counterintuitive! Non-comedogenic botanical oils won’t block pores and can help keep skin hydrated and reduce inflammation to assist in clearing acne.
Excellent non-comedogenic oils include:
- Hemp seed oil
- Jojoba oil
- Sunflower seed oil
Wondering how to treat red acne? The anti-inflammatory (anti-redness) properties of hemp seed oil are calming and can reduce acne redness.
We recommend: Moisturising Active Oil Serum. Our Moisturising Active Oil Serum can be used with a moisturiser or on its own.
Regular exfoliation can help keep pores clear of build-up but don’t go overboard. You’ll end up damaging the skin barrier which results in sensitised skin, inflammation, and yes, you guessed it, more dryness.
Ingredients with a proven track record for acne management include:
Salicylic acid: A beta hydroxy acid, salicylic acid is oil-soluble which means it is particularly beneficial for acne as it can penetrate deeply into the pore to remove excess oil. It also works to decrease oil production, leading to fewer breakouts.
Glycolic acid: Unlike salicylic, glycolic acid is water-soluble and takes action on the skin’s surface by removing the buildup of dead cells to keep pores clear.
Both can have a positive impact on reducing the signs of scarring.
Choose an acne-friendly (non-comedogenic), broad spectrum sunscreen formula for daily application. Protecting your skin from the sun prevents discolouration and acne scars from becoming worse.
Treating acne scarring and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation
Treating acne scars takes time and patience. When tackling acne scar with treatments like laser therapy and injections you must wait until active acne and inflammation have cleared up before commencing treatment.
Resist the temptation to squeeze active nodules or cysts - you’ll accelerate inflammation and increase the chances of scarring.
How to treat acne scars and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation at home? The best ingredients include:
- Vitamin C
- Azelaic acid
- Hemp seed oil
At-home skincare routine can improve the appearance of some scars. However, if you are struggling with deep scars, the most effective treatments will usually require you to see a dermatologist so they can put together a plan for your skin.
Have questions about treating acne? Reach out to our team, we’re here to help!