CERM SKIN Acne unmasked: A guide to acne types and action Image: Pexels.com/Polina Kovaleva

Acne unmasked: A guide to acne types and action

Ugh, acne! The struggle is real, and it’s a club most of us would rather not join. Lucky for us, we don’t have to – up to 80% of acne can be treated by easy skincare and lifestyle tweaks.

Your best allies in this fight are time, knowledge and action: Don’t wait! The quicker you get acne under control the better ⏰🚫. You need to know what type of acne you're dealing with, then take the right actions. 

Let’s get you started on your journey to clear, healthy and happy skin.

What is acne and what causes it? 

Acne can affect us at any age – from teens, well into adulthood, for different reasons.

But why? Maybe you’re born with it, or maybe it’s something else, like your hormones, stress, diet and skin hygiene. What's best for you depends on your lifestyle, fam, and history. 

It’s in your genes: 

If your parents or sibs have acne, chances are you might get it, too.

Acne trigger foods: 

  • Watch out for foods that are high-GI (quick-release sugar), like sweets, chocolate, and processed stuff. If it comes in a packet, probs best avoided 🍬 You need to swap the junk for a healthy, balanced diet 🥕🥒🥗 
    • Milk alert! The dairy-acne link debate has bounced around for some time, but studies have shown that skim milk’s got hormones that mess with your skin by boosting oil production 🥛
    • We’re constantly finding out the gut health-skin connection. An unbalanced gut biome (your gut crew) might bring on inflammation and not-so-great nutrition for your skin, and this may trigger acne. And we all know how stress affects our gut. 

    Keep your gut squad happy and healthy by munching on probiotic champs like kombucha, kefir, live yoghurt, kimchi and sauerkraut

    Speaking of… Stress and acne? 

    It’s complicated! When you're stressed, your body thinks you are under threat and releases ’fight-or-flight’ hormones, especially cortisol. Too much cortisol can up your skin's oil production, so managing stress is crucial for maintaining skin health and minimizing the likelihood of acne breakouts.  

    Feeling stressed? Meditate or do some mindful practises, such as yoga or t’ai chi or mindful breathing. Chill vibes = happy skin! 🌈✌️

    Illustration showing close-ups of acne types ranging from blackheads, whiteheads, pimples, to severe nodular and cystic acne

    Stages and types of acne

    Acne is a progressive skin condition that starts with excessively oily skin, and then uninvited guests crash the party. If left untreated, it can become severe and inflamed, and you could end up with bad scarring. So treat it early (it’s sooo much easier then!), and remember, it may take a little time to get things under control.

    Excessively oily skin (mild acne)

    Oily skin is a skin type, and not everyone who is born with oily skin will get acne (but you are more likely to). It’s the perfect breeding ground for acne. And the trouble starts with when the oil starts clogging your pores, which leads to the development of various blemishes. 

    Blackheads and whiteheads (mild acne)

    If you don’t clear your pores of oil regularly, it becomes solid and you develop whiteheads, and if these come into contact with air, they oxidize and become blackheads. FYI, they’re also known medically as comedones.

    Home care for mild acne and oily skin

    Treat your skin gently. The big mistake with acne is going at your skin with harsh products.

    Shop carefully: Two words you need to look out for: non-comedogenic – fancy for ‘won’t block pores’, and oil-free. Make sure you look for this on skincare labels.

    Cleanse: Choose a gentle salicylic acid cleanser, which cleans skin without stripping it. Salicylic acid clears pores of oil and stops bacteria breeding.

    Treat: You need niacinamide (vitamin B3), This powerhouse ingredient helps regulate oil production and reduces inflammation.

    Moisturize: Yep, you read correctly. You need moisture and skin barrier protection. Just keep it oil-free.

    Protect from the sun: Choose an oil-free sunscreen for acne-prone skin and wear it every day, as you could end up with dark spots where you have pimples.

    This is your basic routine to treat oily and problem skin. And depending on the severity, you add on from here.

     Young woman with mild acne pimples Image: Pexels.com/Ike louie Natividad

    Mild acne pimples
    Image: Pexels.com/Ike louie Natividad

    Papule, pustule or pimple? (mild to moderate acne)

    Things get more serious when the pore is closed up by skin cells inside a hair follicle. You’ll get a pimple (the catch-all name for papules and pustules) form. The basic diffs between these is pus.

    • Papules are solid, raised, inflamed bumps without pus – the perfect breeding ground for acne bacteria.
    • Pustules form when bacteria enters the picture and it becomes red and irritated and gets a visible pus-filled center.

    You can still stop it in its tracks with a good home skincare journey, and you can go for professional skincare treatments.

    Home care for acne-prone skin

    Pro skincare

    If you’re getting a lot of pimples, think about adding monthly facials with a good skincare professional. Depending on your needs, they might use microdermabrasion or mild acid peels for more intensive exfoliation, as well as red and blue light therapy or photodynamic therapy to kill acne bacteria.


    Severe acne

    Severe acne and scarring

    Images: Pexels.com /Anna Tarazevich

    Medical territory

    Sometimes, despite our best efforts, our acne becomes severe due to our hormones or genes or other causes. Severe acne can affect both teens and adults. This is the time to see a dermatologist as severe acne can leave both physical and emotional scars on the sufferer. Get thee to a doctor. You need to tackle these STAT!

    And resist the urge to touch or squeeze these bumps—it won't help and might spread bacteria, worsening the situation. 

    Nodular acne (Severe acne)

    Nodular acne is a heavyweight, bringing on blackheads, whiteheads, papules, pustules, and cysts on the face, back, and chest — areas loaded with oil glands. The cause? A mix of genetics, hormonal fluctuations, excess oil, and acne bacteria. 

    They form larger, deeper inflamed nodules or lumps beneath the skin surface that are tender and painful. Their size and depth increase the likelihood of scarring. Nodular acne is stubborn and can often resist regular treatments, so pro help is a must. 

    Call on the medical pros

    Team up with a dermatologist for a solid plan. It might mean bringing out the big guns: oral antibiotics, isotretinoin, or corticosteroid injections. 

    Cystic acne (Very severe acne)

    Cystic acne is the most severe type, showing up as multiple painful, deep-seated nodules that can be filled with pus, blood, or other fluids. It often leads to inflammation, scarring, and persistent skin issues. The causes can vary significantly, making it important to address it with the right treatments early on.

    Cystic acne shares similarities with deep bumps seen in hormonal acne, but, hormonal acne has a tell – affecting the lower third of the face, while cystic acne often affects more of the face.

    Call on the medical pros

    The derm will help figure out what is causing your acne (looking at hormones, diet, etc.,) and help you figure out a treatment journey to get you to clear skin. This might involve a combo of  salicylic acid and chemical peels, prescription meds like Differin (topical vitamin A), oral antibiotics or retinoids (like isotretinoin e.g., Accutane) for more severe cases, as well as specific laser and light therapies. 📝💊✨


    Treatment recommendations for acne from oily skin to blackheads, whiteheads, pimples, nodular acne and cystic acne. Including what and when to use home care, professional and medical care

    Starting the journey to clear skin

    Remember, clear skin is a journey, not a destination. 

    Understanding how acne works and getting a treatment plan in place is half the battle. Oh, and did we mention treat it ASAP? And if it sticks around or worsens, despite your best efforts, get professional advice from a dermatologist. 

    Good luck on your path to a healthy, happy acne-free skin!