Acne-Prone Skin—Causes and Treatment

Jeff Hautala
By Jeff Hautala, Co-Founder of Exposed Skincare

Acne is caused by some pretty basic factors that all of us encounter from day to day, but those of us with acne-prone skin seem to be more affected by them than others whose skin is a bit more resilient.

Everybody gets acne at least occasionally, but some of us seem to be more prone to acne than others.
Everybody gets acne at least occasionally, but some of us seem to be more prone to acne than others.

First, Let’s Define Acne

Acne is an inflammatory skin condition that is influenced by oil production and a specific form of bacteria called P. acnes 🦠. Depending on how these three factors interact, four basic types can form:

  • blackheads and whiteheads
  • papules
  • pustules
  • cysts and nodules.

Blackheads and Whiteheads

Blackheads and whiteheads form when the skin becomes inflamed skin becomes inflamed, and excess oil gets trapped in the pores. The skin can become inflamed for any number of reasons, from illness to allergens to minor abrasions. Inflammation causes the pores to constrict, trapping oil or dead skin cells in the pore.

If the inflammation 🔥 is more severe, the pore closes entirely, and a whitehead forms. If the pore remains open, the air oxidizes the oil, turning it dark.

The best treatment for blackheads and whiteheads is gentle exfoliation and improved skin barrier functioning.

Papules

Papules are a form of acne created by a combination of inflammation and P. acnes bacteria 🦠. When the skin becomes slightly inflamed, P. acnes bacteria will sometimes get trapped in a pore, where they quickly multiply. Their increasing numbers generate a minor infection, which triggers more inflammation, and this results in papule formation.

Papules typically look like slightly raised bumps, larger than a blackhead or a whitehead, but smaller than a full-blown pimple, and they don’t have a clearly defined “head.” They may be yellow or white in color. The best treatment for papules is inflammation 🔥 reduction and taking antibacterial measures.

Pustules

“Pustules” is another name for pimples, and they form exactly the same way as papules. In fact, papules almost always lead to pustules as the immune system fights off the infection. Dead cell matter forms characteristic yellow-white pus. Once a visible head forms, it is categorized as a pimple. Pimples typically benefit from the same treatment as papules since they’re so similar.

Cysts and Nodules

Cysts and nodules develop when the P. acnes 🦠 infection spreads deeper under the skin. Dermatologists aren’t sure why some people get cysts and nodules while others get pimples and papules, but excess oil production and excessive inflammation seem to play more of a role. Over-the-counter products rarely work in treating nodular-cystic acne, and dermatological 👩‍⚕️ intervention is typically needed.

What Exactly Are Acne Breakouts?

Essentially, acne breakouts happen when several pimples, blackheads, or other kinds of acne appear simultaneously, typically in the same area. However, not everyone with acne really gets acne breakouts. Some people consistently have pimples that steadily appear and fade away. Other people only get occasional breakouts, and yet others have a combination of the two.

While diet and mechanical factors such as touching your face might have an impact on your acne, they are not solely responsible for breakouts. Most are caused by a combination of factors, of which the most common is hormonal shifts. These could be related to menstruation 🩸, stress, or hormonal conditions like polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Fluctuating hormones cause the skin to produce excess oil, which leads to breakouts.

Understanding the Intricacies of Your Skin

As nice as it would be to know the exact trigger for every type of acne, the truth is that we just don’t understand acne well enough yet.

Sometimes, acne is hereditary, meaning sometimes we just get acne because our skin is naturally acne prone.

If the pimples appear simultaneously in small clusters, and each whitehead or pimple looks very similar, you might be dealing with fungal acne that’s caused by a type of yeast.

The jawline, temples, and tip of the chin are all typically much drier than the rest of the face, so harsh acne products could irritate the skin in these areas, and actually worsen acne. Pimples here probably mean you need a better moisturizer or you need to use gentler acne products 🍃.

What Is the Best Acne Treatment for Your Skin Type?

Sometimes medicine is the best acne treatment to start with for any skin type, so consider visiting your dermatologist 👩‍⚕️ for prescription medicine. Combined oral contraceptivesspironolactone, and other anti-androgen medications can help reduce oil production related to hormones. A non-prescription method, red light therapy, can help reduce activity in the oil production glands. Regularly applying a topical antibiotic cream might be a solution, or discuss oral antibiotics with your doctor.

Remember, Quick Fixes Don’t Stick

What helps acne right away may not be the best option. Many products may show quick results, but they cause irritation, which, as we’ve discussed, causes the problematic combination of inflammation 🔥 and increased oil production. Slow and gentle remains the best treatment plan.

When looking for the right products for your acne, make sure you can consistently do the routine every single day.

Any Acne Product Is Only as Good as Its Ingredients

Here we list the ingredients to look for and also those to avoid.

Top Ingredients To Avoid in All Skin Types

These ingredients will only serve to make your acne worse and there are almost no situations in which you should buy any product containing these ingredients 📝.

Cocoa Butter and Coconut Oil

As lovely as these are, they’re terrible for acne prone skin. Both rank as a 4 out of 5 on the comedogenicity scale, which is a ranking system that determines how likely various substances are to clog pores. You’re looking for ingredients with zero comedogenic scores.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

This is a popular ingredient in many skin care products, but it’s harsh and will almost certainly cause irritation. Beware of other, similar ingredients like sodium laureth sulfate or sodium myreth sulfate.

Alcohol

Alcohol as an ingredient isn’t the end of the world, but it definitely should not be among the first five on a product’s ingredient list. Alcohol dries out the skin and causes irritation ❌.

The Best 3 Ingredients To Clear Up Acne in Dry Skin

The trick for clearing up acne in this skin type is to moisturize it without clogging the pores, or drying it out. We love the following ingredients 👍.

Glycerin 

Glycerin draws moisture into the top layer of the skin. It isn’t oily, doesn’t clog pores, and isn’t irritating, so it’s the perfect ingredient for dry skin🌵.

Urea

Urea occurs naturally in the skin, and it can play a vital role in maintaining its epidermal barrier. A good addition to beauty products.

Lactic Acid

Lactic acid can help moisturize and exfoliate the skin without causing irritation.

The Best 3 Ingredients for Treating Acne in Oily Skin

Most products are designed for acne-prone skin that’s oily, so it’s easier to find treatment. However, no matter how oily your skin is, you don’t want to strip it of oil completely.

Salicylic Acid 

This is a classic exfoliant that is available in a wide variety of concentrations. At the lower end, around 0.5%, it can be used for very minorly oily skin (maybe even dry skin, if you use it every other day), but it is also available in concentrations like 1%, 2%, or 5%. We recommend starting with the lower concentrations.

Sulfur

Sulfur is a great ingredient for oily skin because it absorbs the oil gently. Again, concentration is important, but anything from 3% to 10% should be safe for most people.

Retinoids 

Retinoids are basically concentrated derivatives of vitamin A, and they help reduce acne vulgaris by regulating the life cycle of skin cells. They help avoid clogged pores by reducing oil buildup. Most retinoids are only available as prescription medicines 🩺.

The Worst Ingredients for Acne Treatment in Sensitive Skin

Sensitive skin is characterized by heightened reactions to various substances, so that minor things that don’t bother most people can cause serious irritation for sensitive skin.

Fragrance

Most skin products contain fragrances made in a laboratory 🧪, especially products that contain ingredients with unpleasant odors, like sulfur, but these fragrances can easily irritate sensitive skin.

Dyes

Like fragrances, dyes are lab-made chemicals 🥼 that aren’t a problem for most people, but might be a problem for sensitive skin. Choose products with as few unnecessary ingredients as possible.

Exposed Skin Care Products Can Provide Some Acne Help

At Exposed Skin Care, we’ve designed our products to work more slowly and more gently not only to treat acne, but also to prevent acne formation. They also contain only the best ingredients, and they’re suitable for all skin types 🏆.

Exposed Kit products
The Exposed Expanded Kit contains everything you need to apply that little bit extra to fight a last-minute breakout.

All our products contain active natural and scientific ingredients. For instance, they contain low, safe concentrations of salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and tea tree oil. These combine to kill as many P. acnes bacteria 🦠 as possible, while green tea, passionflower extract, and aloe vera soothe and heal, and prevent inflamed skin.

How To Cover Up Acne

Those with acne prone skin know that the occasional breakout is inevitable, so it’s nice to know how to cover it up effectively.

We recommend pressing a green tea ice cube 🧊 to your acne for 3-5 minutes to reduce the inflammation as quickly and as much as possible before applying makeup. Make your own ice cubes and keep them in your freezer for last-second pimple emergencies.

Apply makeup and/or concealer that contain acne-fighting ingredients 💪.

Our Top 4 Tips for Acne Prone Skin

Add this to your arsenal of treatment tips for acne prone skin.

Honey 🍯 is a gentle antibacterial and anti-inflammatory agent, and it promotes wound healing. Apply a thin layer of honey to your face for 20 minutes every couple of days.

Sunscreen is an integral part of good acne care. Harmful rays from the sun ☀️ can cause minor, pro-inflammatory damage. Plus, many acne treatment products make the skin more sensitive to the sun.

Chronic stress can lead to heightened levels of inflammation 🔥 throughout the body, which causes chronic acne and other health problems.

Oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria from your face shed onto your pillowcase and sheets at night 🌙, which creates a build-up that can transfer back to your skin and exacerbate acne. Change your bedding regularly.