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Skincare · September 22, 2017

Ask An Expert: How to Treat The Three Main Types of Acne According To a Dermatologist

Comedonal Acne (aka Blackheads & Whiteheads)

Not all zits look red and angry. More often than not, you've probably experienced comedonal acne, which is not swollen or inflamed. Instead, "it's related to a process by which skin cells that are differentiating near the follicle (a pore) get trapped in there," says Dr. Belkin.

This type of acne takes on one of two appearances. The first can be an open comedone (aka a blackhead), in which all the gunk in the pore is exposed to the air so it oxidizes and turns black. Then there's a closed comedone (aka a whitehead), which simply forms a layer of skin on top of the clogged pore, so it looks like a flesh-colored bump. While not always as noticeable as big red breakouts, these little guys can still be annoying and turn into inflamed blemishes down the road. So, it's best to nip them in the bud before that happens and prevent them from forming altogether with the products below.

Paulas Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant
How it Works: In case you didn't already know, BHA and salicylic acid are one and the same. As this liquid exfoliant's main powerhouse ingredient, the targeted concentration breaks down clogged pores and promotes greater cell turnover for fewer blackheads, whiteheads, and fine lines (good for adults with acne), which means more even-toned and clearer skin.
What Dr. Belkin Says: "BHA is probably the best for comedonal acne because it's lipophilic, which means it can get into the sebumso deep down into your clogged poresand break up the comedones," he says. "It can also stay there, which is useful for treating them."

Cane + Austin 2%/5% Acne Retexture Pads
How it Works: These pads contain 5% pharmaceutical-grade glycolic acid and 2% salicylic acid to pack a powerful exfoliating punch. They slough off layers of dead skin cells to reveal more even texture and fewer blemishes.
What Dr. Belkin Says: "Glycolic acid is comedolytic, which means it breaks down the whiteheads and blackheads. It also has other great benefits. It's more rejuvenating and gives you a nicer glow."

ORIGINS Clear Improvement Active Charcoal Mask to Clear Pores
How it Works: This purifying mask uses a clean-up crew consisting of activated carbon, white China clay, lecithin, and natural bamboo charcoal to get rid of the gunk in your pores that can cause blackheads.
What Dr. Belkin Says: "Activated charcoal attracts dirt and oil. So with an open comedone like a blackhead, it would cling to that dirt and draw it out." Pro tip: "Use a salicylic acid or glycolic acid wash first to dislodge the comedones and open up the pores so the mask can reach them better," he says.

Murad Time Release Acne Cleanser
How it Works: We know by now that salicylic acid is great for clearing stubborn comedonal acne, but this cleanser is formulated with more than just that. It also contains retinol which promotes greater cell turnover, making it an ideal maintenance product to keep blemishes at bay.
What Dr. Belkin Says: "Retinol is good for preventing comedones. Once you have them salicylic acid will break them down, but retinol will help prevent them from occurring because it keeps dead skin cells from getting caught in your pores."

Avne Cleanance Expert
How it Works: Of course we'd all love our acne to magically disappear overnight, but overwhelming it with super drying products to get faster results will just give you yet another issue: dry flakes. Hydrate as you treat with this lightweight moisturizer that also mattifies. It can even be used as a non-drying spot treatment.
What Dr. Belkin Says: "This formula has papain in it, which is an exfoliant and an enzyme from papayas that breaks down proteins. It can break up pores in addition to being a good moisturizer and preventing water loss from the epidermis (your skin). It also has isohexadecane which has a powder-like finish so it's good for oily skin."

Inflammatory Acne (aka Red & White Bumps)

Similar to comedonal acne, inflammatory acne starts with dead skin cells clogging your pores, but once they mix with oil and naturally-occurring bacteria it creates an infection. "Your body's inflammatory response kicks in when there's an infection and attracts immune cells," says Dr. Belkin. Its what actually causes the redness, swelling, and inflammation that's visible to everyone else (sigh). There are also two types of inflammatory acne. Papules are red bumps that never form a head. It's one level above a whitehead and one level below a pustule, which is similarly red and inflamed but contains a sack of white pus (your more traditional-looking zit), which most of us pop when we know we shouldn't. Put those fingers down and use these products to zap 'em instead.

Balance Me Congested Skin Serum
How it Works: Who says getting rid of breakouts has to be harsh? A good approach when it comes to treating inflamed, red zits is calming them down. This serum uses a blend of oils to purify and balance sebum production. Plus, it provides antimicrobial properties to clear congested skin without further irritating it.
What Dr. Belkin Says: "The soothing ingredients in this product are antibacterial and anti-inflammatory, which is good for more inflamed acne. The rice and citrus oils in the formula also have phytoestrogens in them, and those are typically antiandrogen, which is the hormone that can trigger acne."

Odacite Bl+C (Black Cumin + Cajeput) Pimples Serum Concentrate
How it Works: Contrary to popular belief, oil can fight oilexcess oil that is. This serum uses the purifying and anti-inflammatory properties of both cajeput and black cumin to control the spread of acne-causing bacteria and oil, preventing new blemishes from forming.
What Dr. Belkin Says: "Cajeput is actually related to tea tree oilthey're in the same family. It has proven antifungal and antibacterial properties, so it acts like a natural antiseptic, and with inflammatory acne you want to get rid of bacteria. Black cumin is anti-inflammatory as well and calms much of the redness in a pimple."

Nodulocystic Acne (aka Under-the-Skin Cysts)

Painful large bumps that never turn red or form a head actually take the infection we talked about earlier one step further and even deeper into your pores, so they should be left to the professionals. But, on the off chance just one appears out of nowhere and you don't have time to make it to the derm for a cortisone shot, a spot treatment could help. "Nothing can penetrate a cyst fully, since a head never forms" says Dr. Belkin, "but you can try to use anti-inflammatory products."

(MALIN+GOETZ) acne treatment nighttime
How it Works: Formulated with a strong 10% concentration of sulfur plus zinc and salicylic acid, this spot treatment helps reduce blemish size and eliminate oil while soothing the pimple.
What Dr. Belkin Says: "Sulfur and zinc are great anti-inflammatory ingredients that are also antibacterial," says Dr. Belkin. "For cysts, you want a product that's got both."


Alexis Bridenbaugh