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Acne is a chronic skin condition characterized by the appearance of pimples or zits on the face and sometimes on the chest, shoulders, and back. It is actually the most common skin issue as 85% of people suffer from acne at least once in their life. Most people experience the first breakouts during puberty and I have to say it’s a real pain in the ass.

Not only does it have physical side effects like redness, dark spots, and inflammations it also causes psychological issues. A lot of people struggling with this skin condition deal with issues of self-esteem and are complex by their body image. If this is something you are dealing know that you are not alone.


When it comes to fighting acne a lot of things come into play. There are a lot of anti-acne products out there. You may have tried out a whole bunch already for your skincare while some worked others didn’t. It can be frustrating I know. But here’s the thing, the reason why you are not able to get rid of your breakouts is maybe that you are not applying the right solution. Maybe you don’t even know what the real problem is.
The majority of people with this condition try out home remedies before seeing an esthetician/dermatologist for proper treatment because of how pricey they are. I get that. That is why I wrote this guide to help you figure a thing or two out by yourself.
So, what's important to know about acne are the factors that cause it, the types of acne, and various treatments available based on this.

What Really Causes Acne?

Acne manifests when our pores get clogged or blocked by excess sebum (natural oil produced by the body), dead skin cells, or bacteria. But what does this really mean?
Pores are the opening of follicles. A follicle is made up of the sebaceous gland from which sebum and hair are produced. The role of the sebum is to lubricate the skin and keep it soft. For this to happen, oil leaves the sebaceous gland and travels up the hair out of the pore and onto the skin.
The interruption of this lubrication process is what leads to acne breakouts; either when too much oil is produced by the follicle, when dead skin cells accumulate in a pore, or when bacteria grow in your pores. Pimples then form because oil is trapped beneath the skin.
Note that the process described above is the manifestation of acne. The cause of this skin condition lies in a number of risk factors which include:

  • Hormonal changes especially during puberty or pregnancy

  • Diets high in sugar and carbohydrates

  • Some medications that affect hormone balance such as steroids, contraceptive pills, etc

  • Genetic predisposition​

Symptoms of Acne

Acne manifests through a variety of lesions on the skin. People always refer to these lesions as pimples but what you need to know is that there are a variety of acne breakouts based on severity. You have either mild, moderate, or severe acne.
Based on the type of acne you have, the treatment you will need will differ. It is therefore essential to figure out the type of lesions you have. Here’s a quick guide:

Types of Acne

Mild Acne or Non-inflammatory Acne


White and blackheads are the most common form of acne and are pretty easy to get rid of.

Whiteheads form when dead skin cells, oil, and bacteria get trapped under your pores. You know those little white pimples that appear on your nose and when pressed come out like butter. Gross, I know.


Whiteheads form when dead skin cells, oil, and bacteria get trapped under your pores. You know those little white pimples that appear on your nose and when pressed come out like butter. Gross, I know.

Moderate Acne

Pustules and papules are the two types of moderate acne and are principally inflammatory.


These are small inflamed red bumps that appear on the skin and contain pus. They start out with a white tip and are surrounded by red skin. They tend to grow in size and are painful when touched.

Pustules are mostly caused by hormonal imbalances, especially during puberty. Small bumps can easily be treated with over-the-counter anti-acne medications (antibiotics), creams, and soaps. Extreme cases may require surgery. If after the use of home remedies, your pustules do not go away see your doctor.


Papules are small, red, raised bumps caused by inflamed or infected hair follicles. The hair follicle or pore gets clogged by excess oil and gives room for bacteria to grow. When there is too much pressure from the development of bacteria within pores, they break out and leave the skin red, irritated, and inflamed. That red bump is called a papule or what we generally refer to as pimples/zits.

Severe Acne

The most severe forms of acne are nodular and cystic acne.


These are hard lumps that form just below the skin and can be very painful. Nodules develop for different reasons and can be caused by several underlying causes. They develop at a deeper level of the skin when hair follicle ruptures of bacteria-infected pores. This causes infected material to pour into the dermis In case you notice one under your skin make sure you contact your doctor.


Cysts are large lumps found beneath the skin. They are the most severe forms of acne as they contain pus and are very painful. Unlike regular pimples, cysts do not have a poppable head. They occur deep under the skin which causes a bump and painful bump on the surface of the skin. There exist various types of cysts and cystic acne requires medical attention. Therefore, if you suffer from cystic acne, I highly recommend you visit your derm to get the lumps out. Do not try to take care of this at home. OTC medications will do little to help treat cystic acne so your best bet is to see a specialist.

Acne Treatments

The good news is there is a lot of research and available treatments when it comes to acne. In this part, I will break down the possible treatment options for the various types of acne.

Mild Acne Treatments

There exists a great deal of over-the-counter (OTC) medications that can help deal with mild and moderate acne. These products contain ingredients that kill bacteria and regulate the production of sebum by the skin like:

  • Salicylic acid is usually found in acne washes and cleansers. It helps prevent pores from getting plugged. It exfoliates dead skin cells from the skin’s surface while dissolving debris and excess oil within the pore.

  • Sulfur is a natural acne-fighting ingredient that absorbs excess sebum on the skin and dries out dead skin cells to unclog pores. It is a very common and gentle anti-acne ingredient that can be found in facemasks, spot treatments, creams, lotions, and cleansers.

  • Benzoyl peroxide. This is a bacterial agent that helps kill acne-causing bacteria. It is used for preventing new breakouts and drying out only formed pimples.  It is generally found in acne creams and gels.

Inflammatory Acne Treatments

  • Niacinamide is one of my favorite anti-acne treatments. Niacinamide is a form of vitamin B3 which helps reduce inflammations on the skin. It acts to build and protect skin cells from external aggressions, prevents transepidermal water loss, and soothes irritations. Niacinamide is super helpful in treating papules or pustules.

  • Oral or topical antibiotics for short-term use could help you reduce inflammations and kill acne-forming bacteria. e.g. tetracycline and erythromycin.

  • Prescription topical creams like retinoic acid or prescription-strength benzoyl peroxide.

  • Isotretinoin or Accutane in case of severe nodular and cystic acne. Note that Accutane is a very strong vitamin-A-based medication that comes with a lot of side effects. Doctors usually resort to this treatment when all other options have failed. Do not use this drug unless your doctor tells you so.

How To Prevent Acne

The truth is if you have acne-prone skin you will always have flare-ups from time to time. Acne is a condition that cannot be cured it can only be treated. However, it is possible to slow down the frequency at which you break out after each treatment by practicing some of these home self-care tips.

  • Change your sheets and pillowcases weekly. This is to prevent dirt and dead skin cells that might have shed on these surfaces from clogging your pores.

  • Clean your face on a daily basis with some mild soap to get rid of excess oil. Use this guide to develop a basic skincare routine.

  • When doing protein masks or using shampoo for your hair make sure no residue falls on your face. This can clog your pores and trigger/worsen your skin’s condition. Make sure you rinse your face in case you get any residues on it.

  • When buying make-up go for water-based products they are non-comedogenic (don’t clog your pores).

  • Do not pop your pimples! You must have heard this a trillion times. I hope this time it sticks. Touching your face constantly gives room for more bacteria growth thus, more pimples. Picking on your pimples will cause severe scarring and irritate your skin further.

Here are my Top 5 Acne Cleansers

Cerave Acne Foaming Cleanser: This is an acne treatment face wash with 4% Benzoyl Peroxide, Hyaluronic Acid, and Niacinamide. It comes in a cream-to-foam formula and works to gently remove dirt, excess oil, and makeup from the skin's surface without leaving the skin feeling stripped of moisture. A great option to clear whiteheads, blackheads, and pimples.


Can Acne Be Caused By Stress?

In some cases, stress can trigger hormone imbalances that lead to excess sebum clogging the pores and forming acne. This is common during a woman's period. 

Are Acne Scars Permanent?

Depending on the depth of an acne scar for example cystic acne scars can leave a permanent scar. mild and moderate acne scars can be improved.

Can Acne Be Caused By Allergies?

Acne is caused by a bacterial infection and not allergies. However, pimples from an allergic reaction may sometimes look like acne.

Can Acne Itch?

Acne does not cause itching. If you have pimples that itch this could be a sign of perioral dermatitis or other skin conditions. Visit a doctor to be sure.

Can Acne Go Away on Its Own?

In teenagers experiencing puberty, acne may go away once they move towards adulthood. For others, it is more recurrent.

Can Acne Be Genetic?

Studies have shown that there is a chance of predisposition to acne. For example, people born with oily skin are most likely to have acne. People with a direct parent or both parents who have acne are more likely to be acne-prone. Individuals from families with predispositions to hormonal disorders such as PCOS may be more likely to have acne.

Are Acne and Pimples the Same?

Pimples are a symptom of acne which on the other hand is a skin condition.

Can Acne Be Contagious?

Acne is not a contagious skin disorder. It only forms when follicles present in the skin's pores get clogged by exam sebum creating a breeding ground for acne-causing bacteria.

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