Acne problems got you down? Understandable. But there’s no need to get totally despondent. You may have heard this before, but only because it’s so true– acne is extremely common, and loads of teens and pre-teens and even adults deal with it in their lives. In fact, around 85% of people between ages 12 to 24 experience some form of acne– regardless of how you might feel when it’s just you and the bathroom mirror, you’re not alone.
But just knowing that you’re not the only one who’s dealing with pimples and zits right now might not be so soothing, or even particularly helpful if you’re trying to figure out how to deal with your newfound (or old) friends. Read on to learn about the different types of acne, what causes pimples in the first place, why you always seem to have bigger breakouts around your period, and how to handle them.
So, What Is Acne Anyway? And What Causes It?
First, let’s talk about how your skin works. All over your body, there are oil glands in the pores of your skin. When you hit puberty (link), the increase of hormones affects these glands. We’re especially talking about sex hormones called androgens, which help kickstart puberty and help with your body’s development. An excess of these hormones cause your oil glands to act up, and they become overactive, which causes them to get bigger and bigger, and when all this happens, they often start to produce too much oil– also known as “sebum.”
Then, as you might have seen, when too much sebum is produced, your skin can look really oily. That excess oil often ends up clogging your pores and follicles, which leads to acne.
The Quick & Easy Acne Dictionary
There’s dozens of different kinds of pimples, zits, and spots out there, so we’ve compiled a handy guide to help you identify what type of acne you’re dealing with and figure out how best to clear it up.
Blackhead: Blackheads happen when your pores clog but stay open. They look like little black dots on your skin, and aren’t inflamed or red like whiteheads are. When your pores clog, they turn black due to oxidation. Blackheads are NOT dirt. It’s just all of the clogged bacteria and skin cells reacting with air. You can help rid yourself of blackheads with pore strips, exfoliators, and AHA and BHA cleansers.
Cyst: Cysts are often large, pus-filled pimples that form deep under the skin. They happen when blockage and inflammation act up and produce large bumps, and they can be caused by food and diet, stress, and hormones. These also tend to be quite painful. If you’re dealing with a lot of cystic acne, you may want to see a skin specialist, dermatologist, or doctor to look for a more serious treatment– sometimes, over-the-counter stuff just isn’t strong enough.
Whitehead: If one of your blocked pores becomes inflamed or infected, you’ve got yourself a classic pimple! These are raised red spots, usually with a white centre. Whiteheads are typically raised and closed. They’re also super common, and can pop up anywhere from your face to your back. You can treat whiteheads by drying them out with ordinary over-the-counter drugstore remedies such as salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, or, if you’re looking for a more natural approach, with tea tree oil.
Why Do I Get Period Acne?
It always comes back to hormones–and not just androgens. Hormonal changes around your period can be responsible for everything from those pesky mood swings to sore breasts to period poops and, of course, hormonal acne.
But how do hormones cause acne, and what’s the difference between period acne and just a regular outbreak? Essentially, if you’re not pregnant, the estrogen and progesterone levels in your body drop about a week before your period starts. This triggers those oil glands we talked about, and they make even more sebum, which leads to clogged pores and hormonal acne.
A tell-tale sign of period acne is that hormonal acne tends to appear around your chin and jawline. Hormonal acne doesn’t just come around during puberty– many teens and adults tend to deal with it around their periods for a large part of their lives.
How Do I Help My Skin?
Benzoyl Peroxide and Salicylic Acid: These are two of the most common hormonal acne treatments. You can find Salicylic Acid just about anywhere— in body washes, face washes and moisturizers. These help to get rid of dead skin cells that can lead to whiteheads and blackheads. Benzoyl Peroxide is a little stronger, and is great to use as a spot treatment. It can make your skin feel quite dry, so using these products one or two times a day is usually the max. Make sure to moisturize too– you don’t want your skin to start flaking from product overuse!
Sunscreen: You might be hesitant to add even more stuff to your face if you’re breaking out, but sunscreen is an absolute must in keeping your skin healthy. Wearing a gentle facial sunscreen daily can help protect your skin barrier from harmful UV rays (which actually cause and worsen acne), help with uneven skin and redness, and even prevent future breakouts.
Wash your face: Gently washing your face with warm water and a gentle, non-abrasive cleanser is a super important skincare step in your routine. Twice a day is the magic number, any more and you can risk drying out your skin. Afterwards, pat gently with a clean towel.
Stay hydrated: Grab that water bottle and get chugging. Immediately. A 2015 study found that drinking lots of water helps to not only keep your skin hydrated, but also slows down the build of dead skin cells.
Try not to pick: For some of us, this might sound nearly impossible.Try out pimple patches if you’re a pimple popper. They’ll help absorb your pimple gunk and keep it covered so you’re less likely to really go at it in the mirror. If you do pop your pimples (we all do it!), you can apply something topical like Polysporin to help with scarring.
Antibiotics: For acne that doesn’t quit or might require a bit more attention, a dermatologist can set you up with a round of antibiotics to help you out.
Almost every celebrity or influencer you see seems to have beautiful, sparkling, smooth and naturally glowing skin. This makes it really easy to hold that as the ideal— and any blemishes are something unattractive or something wrong with us. It’s really, really easy to get caught up and feel self-conscious about breakouts, especially because they often happen on a part of your body that’s difficult to hide.
Some stigmas around having acne are that you’re unhygienic or don’t eat “properly.” This isn’t true at all. It’s important to remember that pimples are wrapped up in the experience of being human; of growing, of changing, and going through life. They happen to everyone! The more we keep this in mind, the more we all collectively work towards normalizing a very, well, normal thing happening to our bodies.
Remember: Most of the images you see online are heavily edited to make the person in them look nearly perfect– but that’s not the only kind of beauty out there.
There are so many amazing creators online sharing more authentic pictures of themselves, working to normalize acne and the fact that many, many people experience it, people like Sofia Grahn, Izzie Rodgers, and Shiny who are doing an incredible job reminding all of us that, well, it’s just acne, and we (and you) are so, so much more than it.
Here is a reminder to be a bit gentler on yourself and your pimples. Whether or not you’re happier covering up with makeup or going au naturel into the world, the choice is yours. You can experiment heavily with skincare or just let things take their course. Either way, do whatever makes you feel most comfortable in your skin. We guarantee whatever you choose will be absolutely beautiful.