What Is Acne? Everything you Need to Know About Acne

If you are like most people, you probably experience some variation of acne. Be it the occasional zit or frequent breakouts, your skin probably has some sort of struggle. Almost everyone has acne at one point or another and it is certainly nothing to be ashamed of.

Despite it being normal, it can still be quite uncomfortable and frustrating.

Fortunately, with a bit of research and some effort and patience, most acne can be cleared up. There are tons of tips and tricks out there to help you along your healthy skin journey and though not all of them will work for your body, there is certainly something that will do the trick and finally rid your face of inflammation and irritation once and for all!

What Is Acne?

The Types of Acne

The first step to fighting back against your acne is understanding it. There are many different types of acne, all caused by different triggers that should be treated in different ways.

Acne Vulgaris

For example, acne vulgaris is the name for common acne. This is the type of breakout that most people have come to loathe in their lifetime.

Whiteheads, blackheads, and other general bumps and zits make up this type of breakout and it typically is located on the face, neck, chest, and back. It is usually fairly easy to treat through over the counter medications or dermatologist prescribed topicals and oral antibiotics.

Acne Mechanica

Other types of acne exist aside from common acne. Acne Mechanica, for example, is acne caused by heat or friction. This is usually a result of wearing hats or helmets for sports and causing irritation to the skin due to the extra contact.

Over the counter treatments are usually enough to clear up this type of break out when used alongside good hygiene after working out or sweating.

Hormonal Acne

Hormonal acne is, as the name suggests, acne caused by an abundance of certain hormones.

If your body is experiencing some sort of imbalance, you are more prone to breakouts and inflammation. Hormonal acne is often classified as a subset of common acne since the two frequently go hand in hand in both source and treatment. You could also try an hormonal acne diet.

Acne Symptoms


Whiteheads are one of the more frequently experienced types of acne. Named due to their appearance, which includes a red base with a white “head” or top. These are a type of closed comedone, or clogged pore, that remains sealed when it reaches the surface of the skin.


Alternatively, blackheads are open comedones that are filled with dead skin and bacteria. Over the counter medications for blackheads are easy to find and can be used to treat whiteheads, as they are very similar in formation.

To avoid breaking out with whiteheads and blackheads, check the labels of makeup, skincare, and sunscreen before applying them. If they say “non-comedogenic”, they do not contain any pore clogging ingredients and are perfect for easily clogged skin types.


Comedones that become inflamed are called papules. Papules appear as small pink or red bumps that may look as if they are under your skin. They can be quite tender and hurt when touched. Squeezing papules can cause significant scarring and make inflammation in the affected areas worse, so keep your hands off and treat them with medication, not popping or picking.


A cousin of the whitehead and papule, pustules are whiteheaded bumps that are surrounded by a very red and sore ring. They are typically filled with yellow or white pus and over time the head may turn yellow or tan. Scarring and dark spots are a common result of popping this type of bump, so avoid touching them and let them heal on their own.

Popping them does not make them go away any faster and can actually cause them to spread and become even more irritated.


The final types of bumps in common acne breakouts are nodules and cysts. Similar, these two can be the most difficult to treat and can take quite some time to heal. Nodules are large, inflamed bumps that do not reach the surface of your skin.

Instead, they are actually located quite deep and feel firm to the touch. Never squeeze or pick at a nodule, as they can easily become infected and inflamed. This type of bump almost always needs dermatologist extraction as most over the counter creams are not strong enough to clear them up.


Like nodules, cysts are large, painful, and require dermatologist help to clear up. The difference is that a cyst is closer to the surface and typically contains a large volume of pus that needs to be professionally drained or treated through injection. You could also try a cystic acne diet.

What Causes Acne

As mentioned before, hormonal imbalances can cause acne breakouts. Though this is a common trigger, there are tons of other things that can cause your skin to freak out. For one, overly dry or oily skin can cause clogged pores which lead to acne.

Your skin needs to be fairly moist but not overly so, a sort of tightrope has to be walked in order to keep your skin healthy and blemish free. Dry skin means that your protective oil barrier is not present and therefore is not protecting your skin from bacterial invaders and environmental factors.

This means you are more prone to breakouts than you typically would be. Oily skin, on the other hand, can cause clogged pores and allow bacteria to move more freely and spread infections. Avoid using harsh products that strip your skin or greasy balms to keep your protective lipid layer balanced and functional.

Stress can also be a common acne cause. There is a correlation between breakouts and immune function and when you are stressed, your immune system treats your body the same way it does when you are sick.

Since it is focused on finding the source of your stress, other areas like your skin can go under protected, allowing bacteria to grow and spread. This means you are more prone to breakouts and other types of skin damage.

On top of this, when you are stressed you are more apt to not take care of yourself. Eating poor quality foods and not washing your face or staying hydrated can really do a number on your skin. Be sure to take care of yourself mentally if you wish to be healthy physically!

Speaking of food, did you know your diet can have a massive impact on your skin’s health? Seriously, some of the most common acne triggers in the world are actually foods! Dairy, for example, is a part of most people’s everyday lives. It’s in everything from yogurt to cheese to donut glaze.

Dairy causes a reaction within your body that increases insulin levels; when insulin is present in high concentrations in the body, cortisol is released to help regulate your hormonal production levels. Cortisol, in turn, causes an inflammatory response that can lead to breakouts.

Similarly, gluten can also cause skin reactivity issues. Even if you are not allergic or sensitive to gluten, it can still be difficult for your body to process. When your body struggles to process something, it can identify the object as a non-food item and work harder to get it out of your system.

This places stress on your immune system which, in turn, causes an inflammatory response and acne. Other foods can trigger breakouts, especially if you are allergic or sensitive to them, so if you suspect something is causing your skin issues talk to your dermatologist about an elimination test or other allergy identification test.

On top of food and hormonal triggers, there are also numerous hidden acne triggers in your everyday life. Using products that are too harsh or comedogenic can lead to clogged pores or excessive dryness. Not changing your pillow frequently enough can trap bacteria in the cloth, leading to it transferring to your face.

Sharing makeup brushes and products can transfer bacteria from one person to another. Medications can cause inflammatory responses, leading to breakouts. Basically anything can cause you to break out and identifying the source of your skin’s meltdown is key in clearing it up and preventing future acne attacks.

Acne Treatment Options

Once you identify the source of your acne, you can begin looking for viable treatment methods. There is an endless array of over the counter acne medications on the market, many with powerful ingredients like salicylic acne and benzoyl peroxide that have been proven to clear up troublesome skin spots.

Dermatologists can perform extractions or peels to help clear up skin or prescribe medications like oral antibiotics and topical creams to help stop bumps from your own home.

If all else fails, powerful drugs like Accutane exist and are often given to patients as a last resort. With an incredible success rate, these drugs are only held until the final option due to their health risks. They are not to be taken lightly and require regular blood work and other procedures for the duration of their treatment time.

To learn more about Accutane, you can click here and view our full write-up on the drug’s pros and cons.

At Home Acne Treatments

In the age of Pinterest, there is a do-it-yourself tutorial for almost anything. This, of course, includes acne treatments. There are hundreds of different masks, scrubs, lotions, and potions that all claim to be the single best cure in the world.

While many of these are little more than overly complicated snake oil recipes, some are amazingly helpful and can save you quite a bit of money.

As an added bonus, you know exactly what is going onto your skin when you make a product yourself, making it easier to avoid known carcinogens and comedogenic chemicals that lurk in many marketed skin care products that you can get in stores.

Honey is something that you can find in pretty much any spot on the globe. Natural, sweet, and delightfully sticky, it makes the perfect addition to a bowl of granola or cup of tea. Amazingly, it also just might be the answer to your acne struggle!

Have you ever noticed that most bottles of honey do not contain any sort of preservatives? That’s because they are naturally antibacterial, antifungal, and antimicrobial!

When used as a mask, either by itself or mixed with other ingredients, honey can help kill the bacteria that lurks on acne prone areas. Manuka honey, especially, is excellent for purifying and cleansing the skin.

Even expensive skin care brands like Farmacy are picking up on the incredible power of honey. While you are looking for some of the sweet stuff, take a second to look into saving the bee population if you can.

Without the fuzzy little workers we would not have many of the chemicals and bits we rely on for countless aspects of our everyday lives, including skin care.

Coconut oil is another delightfully wonderful skin care weapon that you can possibly steal from your kitchen (though it is not recommended to use the same tub for your brownies and your face to prevent bacterial contamination).

Coconut oil is a very trendy beauty product these days but has actually been used for centuries in both skin care and medicinal formats. Coconut oil is packed with fatty acids that are antibacterial wonder workers.

On top of this, it is deeply moisturizing, helping balance out the skin’s protective lipid layer.

The only downside to coconut oil is that you run the risk of clogging your pores if you are particularly sensitive to heavier oils. If not, this can be a seriously amazing acne treatment that deserves a shot!

If you use a toner, consider switching it out for witch hazel or even some diluted apple cider vinegar. Antibacterial, cleansing, and possibly even pore shrinking, apple cider vinegar offers a triple whammy of skincare goodness.

Try picking up one that is unprocessed, raw, and that contains the bacterial strand known as the “mother” to get the absolute most benefit from your product.

Along the same thought process, essential oils can be amazing to tone and cleanse the skin. You can find out more about utilizing these natural powerhouses here and read up on the benefits of individual oils and carriers.

There are tons of other acne treatments you can try than the ones listed here.

Everyone’s skin and biochemistry are different, meaning that if one treatment doesn’t work for you, there is still another one out there that will be the perfect match.

Acne repair can be a bit of a trial and error but is a journey worth taking.

If all else fails, having a dermatologist in your corner is definitely a good idea for every step of the way to help ensure the safety of your skin and success of your treatment. Good luck!