Bummed out by your acne breakouts?
You’re not alone! Research shows up to 85% of Aussies will experience acne in their lifetime – and over 90% of adolescents. From blackheads to pustules and those pesky blind pimples, acne breakouts come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and severity. And each breakout needs to be handled differently if you want it to disappear. To help you on your way to smooth, clear skin, we’ve created this go-to guide. Here are the worst kinds of breakouts and some tips for how to solve them!
How to Prevent Acne 101
Breakouts fall into two categories – non-inflammatory and inflammatory – and there are a bunch of different types within each.
To learn how you can spot exactly what you’re dealing with (see what we did there?), and quickly send each type of blemish packing, read on.
This type of acne isn’t painful like its inflammatory cousin, but – if you’ve ever experienced blackheads or a crop of whiteheads – you’ll know it’s equally annoying!
Thankfully, a targeted anti-acne skincare regime and good hygiene can work wonders for congested skin.
On the flip side, if you’re addicted to picking, you should try to break the habit – STAT. Squeezing blemishes can spread bacteria, cause infection and result in an angrier, inflamed pimple – while also increasing your chances of scarring.
Consider yourself warned!
In congested skin, an accumulation of sebum (oil) can combine with dead skin cells in the pores to create a ‘plug’.
Blackheads, or open comedones, form when the pore is stretched open and oxidation occurs when the plug comes into contact with air. This results in discolouration, i.e. those black/brown spots we love to hate. Super common on the nose, due to its high concentration of oil glands, blackheads also tend to appear on the t-zone, back and chest.
WhiteheadsWhile blackheads are open comedones, whiteheads are closed.
This means there’s still a plug within the pore, but it hasn’t been stretched open. Whiteheads appear on the face and body as little white bumps, without the tenderness and redness associated with an inflamed pimple.
How to banish blackheads & whiteheads
To treat blackheads, whiteheads and how to prevent acne from appearing, start by using non-comedogenic (non-pore clogging) skincare and practising good hygiene.
- This means touching your face as little as possible, resisting the urge to pick, and regularly changing towels and pillowcases.
- Cleansing your face twice daily is a no-brainer, especially after wearing makeup or working up a sweat at the gym.
However, as well as cleaning the surface of the skin, you need to rid the pores of the excess dirt, oil and debris that’s at the root of the problem.
Gentle chemical exfoliation is key, here, with products that contain AHAs or BHA (salicylic acid). Our Flash Perfection Exfoliator, formulated with a blend of gentle physical exfoliants and AHAs from Australian Finger Lime, is ideal as it resurfaces the skin AND speeds up cell turnover to prevent congestion.
Another power product to have in your blackhead-busting arsenal? A clay mask!
With powerful pore-purging properties, clay helps draw out impurities, clear congestion and regulate oil production.
Formulated with A-Beauty hero Australian Pink Clay, our Porefining Face Mask – which also contains witch hazel for added pore refining benefits – can be used 2-3 times a week for oily and breakout-prone skin to prevent getting the worst blackheads ever.
Before and after using Sand & Sky's Australian Pink Clay Porefining Mask @biancafurnello
Cysts, nodules, papules, pustules. These are the kinda gross, scary sounding names given to the main types of inflammatory acne (read: swollen, painful, red). They differ in severity and appearance and need to be handled – or not handled! – with care.
If you have a pinky-red, tender bump without a visible head (as seen in a whitehead or pustule pimple), you’re probably dealing with a papule.
Or perhaps you’re dealing with a large sandpapery cluster of them and would prefer not to be!
Papules arise when the clogging of a hair follicle (pore) and bacterial growth triggers an inflammatory response. This can occur when untreated blackheads and whiteheads cause enough irritation to damage surrounding skin3.
They are papules that have accumulated pus, due to the body’s immune response. They resemble whiteheads in appearance, but are larger and angrier.
Nodules & Cysts
Nodules and cysts are more severe forms of acne that should typically be assessed by a healthcare provider. The infection here occurs deeper in the skin, with nodules similar to larger, more painful papules. The deepest form of acne, cysts are large, pus-filled, usually painful lumps.
Cystic acne isn’t always hormonal acne, however hormones – alongside genes, skin care habits, lifestyle etc – can play a part. Blind pimples are a type of cystic acne that seemingly turn up overnight, often around menstruation in women – then decide to stick around!
How to treat pimples, nodules & cysts
When dealing with pimple-prone skin, good hygiene is crucial.
Papules and pustules can often be managed by over-the-counter anti-acne skincare products containing ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid to reduce bacteria and unclog pores.
Regular exfoliation is vital to remove dead skin cells, however a chemical (AHA, BHA) rather than manual exfoliant is best to prevent damaging inflamed skin and spreading bacteria.
Think you can skip moisturiser?
Think again. All skin needs moisture, including oily skin.In fact, if you go without you actually risk triggering an increase in oil production – and more blemishes as a result! The same goes for sun protection, which should be worn daily regardless of skin type. Just make sure you select a product formulated for oily and acne-prone skin.
If you want to fast-track the lifecycle of your pimple or draw out blind pimples, a clay mask is ideal to mop up oil and help bring a pimple to a head sooner. Just avoid masking up right before a special event!
- In the case of severe acne, including nodules and cysts, your dermatologist will likely recommend prescription products and/or medication.
- Early intervention is important to minimise your chance of post-acne pigmentation and scarring.
- Applying ice can also help reduce the pain and inflammation of an occasional blind pimple or nodule.
Another type of unwanted bump...
Not all bumpy skin is caused by acne, however, and there’s another breakout that can be incredibly annoying – milia.
Also known as ‘milk spots’, milia are tiny, painless, keratin-filled cysts that form just under the skin. With a white or yellowy appearance, they’re common in babies (hence the nickname), but can also occur in kids, adolescents and adults – where they’re often confused with whiteheads.
There are two major causes of milia. The first is dead skin build up, and the second is skin damage, for example from sunburn, topical prescription creams, or skin resurfacing treatments. Milia will also often occur alongside rosacea.
How to treat & prevent milia
First things first – do not attempt to squeeze these bumps at home.
You simply won’t be successful at removing them, and you’ll likely cause infection or scarring. Milia will often resolve by itself in time, but in some cases professional extraction or removal methods such as cryotherapy can be employed4.
As always, however, prevention is easier than the cure, and regular exfoliation is one of the best ways to minimise your chances of developing milia.
For super-gentle exfoliation for all skin types, including dry and acne-prone, an enzyme exfoliant is ideal.
With a velvety powder-to-foam formula, our Australian Emu Apple Enzyme Powder Polish gently removes dead skin cells with papaya fruit extract while brightening with a juicy burst of Vitamin C.
To pick, or not to pick?
As for the eternal picking question?
While general wisdom is you shouldn’t pop any pimple, it can take superhuman restraint not to squeeze a pustule, and some beauty experts say it’s ok as long as you’re super gentle, hygienic and it’s ready to go.
However, you definitely shouldn’t have a crack at a blemish that has no head.
This means leaving those papules and especially nodules and cysts alone unless you want to risk infection and post-acne scarring!
Best to pop some pink clay on that sucker to draw out toxins and let it naturally come to a head.
Got more breakout questions? Let us know in the comments or jump into our live chat to discuss with our fab customer service team!
Written by: Pip Jarvis
Edited by: Elaine Lalchand