How to Treat Every Type of Acne

Acne: That pesky skin villain, no matter how light or severe, can seriously throw you off your A-game when flare-ups make an appearance in your life, seemingly always before some huge event. Acne happens to literally everyone, including the ever so gorgeous Kate Bosworth above. However, not all acne is the same, meaning you can’t treat small, red papules the same way you’d approach an inflamed pustule. To break down the unique treatment plan required for each type of acne, we spoke to the experts at The Sloane Clinic. Keep reading for a complete guide to beating every kind of acne.

Ugh! How we all hate this. Cysts are hard, painful blemishes that develop deep within the skin and will eventually heal (your body eventually reabsorbs the infection), but can remain a painful lump for weeks. 

Do not pick at a cyst. We know that it's hard BUT KEEP YOUR HANDS OFF. Despite being sore, it's not meant to come out through the surface and if you attempt to do so, you’ll most certainly have a scar that will linger for months. If a whitehead does not form (which will never happen with a cyst), then keep your hands off. Dr Chua Han Boon recommends applying ice to the cyst to reduce swelling and soreness, and using an acne treatment with salicylic acid or azelaic acid. Salicylic acid washes or serums, or azelaic acid creams are a good way to start as they soothe the inflammation in active acne, while reducing oiliness, decongesting clogged pores and lightening pimple marks simultaneously to bring the whole skin condition under control.

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Need a quick fix? Schedule an appointment with your dermatologist to get a cortisone injection into the cyst, which will knock it out in a day or less. Also, if you're prone to cysts in the chin and jawline area, consider cutting back on your dairy intake, as for many, this can be the cause. For more severe cases with stubborn deep nodular zits or extensive breakouts, see your doctor for stronger prescription acne-controllers like tretinoin (vitamin A) creams and topical antibiotics.
Whiteheads, or closed comedones, are little annoying clogged bumps under the skin that aren’t red or sore. They’re just clogged pores that appear as white, clear, or flesh-colored bumps under the skin.

First of all, don’t go straight for your typical drying treatments. “Since whiteheads have no infection (meaning they are not generally sore), using harsh acne products will only make them worse by causing dry skin cell buildup, which traps the oil in the skin longer,” Dr Chua says. Instead, hisadvice is to exfoliate. “Keeping off surface dead skin cell buildup will help them to purge naturally.” She also notes that a deep pore-cleansing facial can be beneficial for removing the impurities within the pores. “Once you get the pores cleaned out, exfoliating products work deep within the skin to keep them clean.”

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Blackheads are large, open pores that contain oil, which has oxidized from the air, causing it to turn black. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not dirt, debris, or grime in there, but simply oxidized oil. There is no way to permanently get rid of blackheads but Dr Chua's best advice is to get monthly deep pore-cleansing facials and use well-formulated salicylic acid products at home to keep your pores clean long after the facial. She recommends using retinols like prescription Retin-A to keep your pores clean, but you have to use them consistently to see results. 

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Pustules are red, inflamed blemishes that contain pus and are known as your traditional zits. They are most likely to cause post-breakout red or dark scars if you don’t care for them properly.

“You must not touch these until you can see a whitehead,” Dr Chua says. “Then, you can carefully extract the infected pus and immediately dry it out with a spot treatment. Look for spot treatments with antiseptic, antibacterial ingredients like sulfur and zinc oxide, and a drying agent like camphor.

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“Papules are red, painful blemishes that do not quite reach the surface,” Dr Chua says. “It’s the stage past a whitehead where bacteria has caused inflammation, resulting in an infected blemish.”

When dealing with papules, you want to calm your skin, rather than dry it out. “The main symptom of a papule is inflammation and irritation, so the goal is not to dry it out with acne products, but rather to calm down the inflammation by using topical cortisone cream (from the drugstore) and ice compresses,” Dr Chua says. “These will all reduce the inflammation until the whitehead reaches the surface and can be gently extracted.” Look for products with soothing ingredients like green tea, white tea, kaolin clay, and sulfur.


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The Skin Radar is an online avenue which documents my tumbling thoughts, ideas and musings from my daily life, mainly based on skincare and beauty. It is designed to take the clutter out of beauty journalism to provide trustworthy and objective insights, new finds and sneak peaks- all in a beautiful and clean platform.

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