We can all agree that pimples are a real nuisance. They can range from being a slight eyesore on an otherwise perfectly clear complexion, to being huge and angry monsters that cause you overwhelming discomfort and distress. So what causes pimples to occur? Sebaceous glands are glands in our skin that secrete an oily substance called sebum into hair follicles that lubricates hair and skin to protect them. When these glands become too active, dead skin cells will clog up the pores, resulting in the formation of pimples, with infections happening in some cases. You will usually find pimples popping up on the face, chest, shoulders and backs because these are the areas with a large concentration of sebaceous glands. Here are the types of pimples listed from the least severe to the most severe, and what you can do to treat them effectively.
These are small white bumps made up of sebum and dead skin cells and are frequently seen on people with oily skin. They are medically known as a “closed” comedone as they are pimples that remain under the skin. You can easily get rid of them by doing chemical exfoliation and by cleansing your skin thoroughly.
These are formed when the opening of a hair follicle gets clogged with sebum and dead skin cells. They are known as “open” comedones as they appear on the surface of the skin. Melanin, a skin pigment found in the sebum, oxidises and turns black upon contact with air, hence the term blackhead. You can treat them in the same way as whiteheads by cleansing and exfoliating your skin. Products like clay masks can also help to cleanse your skin of the impurities. If you get blackheads regularly, check to make sure that you are using non-comedogenic products in your skincare routine. You can apply pore strips once in a while but try not to use them too often as they are only a temporary fix that does not solve the root of the issue.
These are small, raised bumps on the skin that are usually pink in colour and less than a centimetre in size. It’s often part of a grouping of other papules that forms a rash such as eczema, contact dermatitis or keratosis pilaris. In acne terms, a papule is a red-coloured bump that is inflamed and swollen. They are more painful than whiteheads or blackheads but are not the most serious form of acne. You can use drying lotions or spot treatments to treat them. They also respond well to ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide.
These are your typical pimples that are filled with pus. They have a red base and are white on top. A pustule is formed when the skin gets inflamed and bulges due to pores being clogged with oil and dead skin cells. They usually contain pus because the pore cavity has been infected and may be painful when touched. Pimples at this stage will pop easily and you can wait for it to heal with time. If they are too stubborn, you can try washing the affected area with warm water and a mild cleanser twice a day to remove oil buildup from your skin. Once it does pop, keep the pustule covered with a pimple patch until it has healed to prevent further infection.
You should never try to squeeze a pimple on your own no matter how tempting it is as you run the risk of pushing the bacteria and pus deeper into the skin which will cause more redness and swelling. You may also end up with acne scars. Instead, apply topical creams that include ingredients like peroxide and salicylic acid. They help treat pustules by drying the top layer of skin and absorbing the excess surface oils.
This is a severe form of acne. The acne nodule looks like a hard bump deep within the skin and is painful to touch. The nodules are usually 1 to 2cm wide and can occur on their own or can be spread out over a large area. They can be the colour of your skin but will turn red when the surrounding area gets inflamed. They do not develop a white head and may take weeks and even months to heal.
The nodules are formed when a type of bacteria that lives on the skin named P.acnes gets trapped inside a clogged pore ,together with sebum and dead skin cells, and causes an infection that affects the deeper layers of the skin. For this type of pimple, treating it with over-the-counter medication will have limited results as the nodules lie deep beneath the skin. It is necessary to pay a visit to the dermatologist to determine what solution is most appropriate for your condition. You may be given topical acne medication to apply directly on the nodules and oral antibiotics to reduce inflammation and clear up excess bacteria on your skin in order to prevent the nodular acne from coming back after treatment. You may also be asked to take long-term medications to keep the condition under control such as hormone-regulating birth control pills or isotretinoin.
Nodular acne might sound bad, but the most severe form of acne is cystic acne. Cysts are formed deep within the skin when nodules get inflamed and end up being filled with pus. The cysts are large in size, and the bumps are visible from the surface, often looking like boils on the skin. They are red and swollen due to inflammation and are extremely painful when touched.
You can’t do much to prevent cystic acne as it is usually genetic, and you are most likely to experience flare-ups when your body is going through hormonal changes. The cysts can take a long time to heal and due to the severity of the acne, it is highly likely that permanent scarring will occur.
A dermatologist can prescribe you topical or antibiotic medication such as birth control pills, isotretinoin and spironolactone if you have recurring cystic acne to regulate your condition. In some cases, it is also possible to get a cortisone injection to reduce swelling and redness around a cystic pimple within 48 hours. Procedures such as chemical peels, laser therapy and acne drainage and extraction can also help to lessen inflammation and bacteria and reduce scarring of the skin.