When your skin is breaking out, it can feel like you’re the only one who can’t seem to get their acne under control. In reality, you’re far from alone. More than 50 million American teens and adults experience acne each year, making it the most common chronic skin condition. Even more, approximately 85 percent of people between the ages of 12 and 24 experience at least minor acne (and approximately 15 percent of adult women struggle with acne). But for something so common, finding the cause is easier said than done.
What causes acne
Every case of acne is unique, but several underlying causes have been identified, like genetics and hormonal fluctuations associated with puberty, pregnancy, menstrual cycles, perimenopause and menopause. Stress, pore-clogging skin care products and medications like oral contraceptives can contribute to acne flare-ups as well. External factors like UV rays and pollution can also play a role in acne development by generating free radicals that promote a process called oxidation that can lead to breakouts.
Despite the wide array of potential triggers that can contribute to breakouts, the acne cycle generally involves a specific chain of events. First, excess oil (due to genetics and/or hormones) and dead surface cells clog the pores. From there, bacteria thrive within the clogged pores which is what ultimately leads to the inflammation associated with acne.
The different types of acne
There are several types of acne, and it’s possible to experience one or more depending on your unique skin. Acne can range from whiteheads and blackheads to deeper, more painful lesions—and it’s important to understand what kind of blemishes you’re dealing with in order to treat them accordingly.
Non-inflammatory acne: This type of acne includes blackheads and/or whiteheads that are caused by clogged pores. Blackheads are open comedones, and their dark appearance is the result of oxidation that occurs when sebum and dead skin cells within the pore are exposed to the air and other environmental factors. Whiteheads are closed comedones that lead to a white or yellow bumps that are trapped beneath the uppermost layers of skin. Non-inflammatory acne generally does not cause redness or tenderness around the lesions. However, if you have a hard time getting these blemishes under control with an over-the-counter skin care regimen, a dermatologist can recommend the ideal skincare routine that helps reduce excess oil, dead skin cells and acne-causing bacteria.
Inflammatory acne: This type of acne includes red or tender blemishes that may (or may not) have a white center and tend to reside deeper in the skin. The specific types of inflammatory acne include:
- Papules: Red or pink bumps under the skin’s surface
- Pustules: Large, tender bumps with a defined pus-filled center
- Nodules: Large, inflamed bumps beneath the skin that are tender to the touch
- Cysts: Large, pus-filled lesions that resemble boils
Nodules and cysts are considered to be the most severe forms of acne and they are more likely to lead to long-term scarring. If you struggle with these types of blemishes, it’s a good idea to consult a dermatologist who can recommend the ideal treatment approach—which often includes prescription-based antibiotics and other topical treatments. The key to successful acne treatment is addressing all of the factors that contribute to breakouts. An effective skin care regimen should include a specially formulated cleanser, moisturizer and blemish treatment that work together to target excess oil, dead skin cells and acne-causing bacteria.
We’ve put together a few of our favorites:
- Vichy Normaderm PhytoAction Daily Deep Cleansing Gel. This daily cleaner targets oily and acne-prone skin with salicylic acid, zinc and copper to gently exfoliate, help unclog pores and reduce excess oil while promoting clearer-looking skin and minimizing shine.
- La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo Acne Treatment with Benzoyl Peroxide. Featuring a potent blend of micronized benzoyl peroxide to minimize bacteria plus lipo-hydroxy acid to prevent the build-up of dead skin cells, this powerful spot treatment helps provide visible breakout improvement.
- La Roche-Posay Effaclar Adapalene Gel 0.1% Retinoid Acne Treatment. As the first prescription-strength topical retinoid for acne available without a prescription, this once-daily acne treatment helps clear and prevent clogged pores, blackheads, whiteheads and acne blemishes.
- La Roche-Posay Effaclar Clarifying Solution Acne Toner with Salicylic Acid. This exfoliating toner for acne-prone skin is formulated with salicylic and glycolic acids to remove excess oil and dead skin cells, help prevent clogged pores and smooth skin texture.
- La Roche-Posay Anthelios Ultra Light Fluid Face Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 60. A non-comedogenic, fragrance-free daily sunscreen that provides advanced broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection. Its antioxidant-rich formula helps visibly reduce the appearance of sun damage and leaves skin with a matte finish.