It’s estimated that up to 90% of the world’s population is affected by blemishes at some point. But in spite of how common this chronic skin condition is, the causes of blemishes — and exactly how to treat them — are not always so clear. Here, we break down everything you need to know about breakouts — and how to beat them.
What are blemishes?
All of our pores contain a hair follicle and a sebaceous gland, which produces sebum, our skin’s natural oil. The body is constantly regenerating and shedding dead cells, but when those dead skin cells get trapped within the sebum of our skin, they combine to create non-inflammatory blemishes. If bacteria is present on the skin, it can thrive within the clogged pore and cause an infection, otherwise known as inflammatory blemishes.
What are non-inflammatory blemishes?
This type of blemish, also called comedones, are simply clogged pores. You probably know them as blackheads and whiteheads.
A blackhead is an open comedo, meaning that the clogged pore is open to the surface of the skin, and the air has oxidised the gunk inside, turning it black.
A whitehead is a closed comedo, meaning the dead skin and sebum are unexposed but trapped within the skin.
How do you treat non-inflammatory blemishes?
If you have blackheads and whiteheads, the key is to unclog your pores and prevent bacteria from infiltrating them. A cleanser like SLMD Skincare Salicylic Acid Cleanser is great for this, as it contains gentle, exfoliating ingredients that will reach deep into your pores morning and night — soothing active blemishes and preventing future breakouts.
Non-inflammatory blemishes also typically respond well to topical retinoids. Retinol is an effective, less potent form of tretinoin that can be found in over the counter formulas like SLMD Skincare Retinol Serum. Use retinol products at night, because it is deactivated by the sun and makes skin more sensitive to the sun’s UVA and UVB rays.
What are inflammatory blemishes?
Propionibacterium Acnes, or P. Acnes for short, is a bacteria that loves to feed on the sebum within our skin. When P. Acnes bacteria get into clogged pores, it reproduces rapidly, causing inflammation. Your body then rushes blood to the scene to try to fix it, causing even more redness and inflammation. This response leads to a variety of inflammatory skin reactions:
- Papules: One of the most common types of blemishes consisting of red, hard bumps
- Pustules: The other very common form of blemish, describing a white head surrounded by red, irritated skin
- Cystic blemishes: The most severe type of blemish, which includes nodules and cysts. Cystic blemishes form deep under the skin, and are large, red, and painful. This is the type of blemish best treated by dermatologists, as it has the highest chances of causing permanent scarring. It’s also the main type of hormonal blemish, which is caused by an imbalance of hormones due to your genetics.
How do you treat inflammatory blemishes?
To treat papules and pustules, choose products formulated with sulfur, an effective ingredient that kills blemish-causing bacteria. SLMD Skincare Sulfur Lotion contains this natural mineral and is suitable for everyday use. Combining sulfur with salicylic acid and retinol is an ideal regimen for treating inflammatory blemishes. These potent ingredients are featured in the SLMD Skincare Blemish-Prone Skin System.
For severe cystic blemishes, your dermatologist may recommend treatments beyond what’s available over the counter, like:
- Oral medications
- Cortisone injections
- Chemical peels
These treatments can be very effective in treating severe or cystic blemishes — consult with your physician to best decide what is the safest and best approach for you.
What causes blemishes?
There are a multitude of factors that can either cause blemishes or make us more susceptible to them. The most common culprits are:
- Genetics: Those with a family history of blemishes are more prone to breakouts.
- Hormones: High levels of hormones called androgens can lead to blemishes. Blemishes are common in teenagers and pregnant women because of the fluctuating hormones present in their bodies.
- Environment: Polluted air can weaken skin’s natural barrier, leaving it more susceptible to breakouts.
- Lifestyle: Dietary choices, comedogenic cosmetic products, certain medications, and sitting in tight, sweat-soaked clothing can also lead to blemishes. Consistent contact with dirty hands, sheets or towels can also lead to pimples.
Identifying your specific type of blemish is a great first step in building a skincare regimen to treat it. Now go give your skin some TLC and take action!