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What Causes Pimples

While teenagers are usually the most common age group to fall victim to pimples (the American Academy of Dermatology determined that 85 percent of teens suffer from pimples), this skin condition, also called acne, is a universal problem—at one point or another, whether in their youth or adulthood, almost every single person has dealt with acne. The good news is that, since this skin issue is so common, we know a lot about different types of pimples, what causes them and how to treat and prevent them.


Whether it’s blackheads, whiteheads, red bumps or cysts, all pimples start in a pore (an opening in the skin around a hair follicle). All pores have sweat glands on the bottom that normally produce oil (called sebum) and sometimes, for unknown reasons, these glands produce too much oil. When there is excessive dead skin, oil, bacteria, dirt or makeup on the skin’s surface, the pore clogs and develops a blackhead or whitehead. Skin can become inflamed with painful pimples when bacteria, called P. acnes, flourish in the excess oil. It should be noted that stripping the skin of too much oil can actually cause more breakouts, since our face will begin to overproduce oil. The important thing is that you figure out how the right oil balance for your complexion.

There are also different factors that can contribute to, or even exacerbate, pimples and acne. These include:

  • Oil-based cosmetic use
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Humidity or exposure to dirt
  • Premenstrual or hormonal changes
  • Physical irritation caused from clothing, headbands, hats and helmets
  • Certain types of medications and steroids

Types of Pimples

There are several different types of pimples. Once you’re able to identify the type of pimples you have, it will be easier to know the best way to prevent and treat them.


Whiteheads, also called closed comedones, are caused when follicles get plugged with an excess of sebum (oil) and dead skin cells under layers of skin, which creates small blemishes with whitish “heads.”


Blackheads are similar to whiteheads, only this type of acne is an open comedone. Contrary to popular belief, blackheads are not caused by dirt. Rather, blackheads are either caused by too much oil production that plugs the follicles or dead skin that accumulates in pores. The blockage pushes towards the surface, causing it to oxidize and turn yellow or black.

Blackheads are just an unfortunate byproduct of oil production, but other factors, like especially oily skin, oil-based cosmetics and moisturizers, pollution and humidity, can contribute to them. The best way to treat this type of acne is to find face care products that are gentle, but still effective.


Papules are an inflamed type of whitehead that are small, pinkish cone-shaped bumps and are tender and sensitive. However, unlike common whiteheads, this type of acne does not contain pus, so you should not pick or pop them. It will only cause more irritation to the skin and can even cause permanent scarring.


Pustules are typically small lesions that are red with a yellow or white center. This is a type of acne that does contain pus, however these don’t usually contain bacteria. This inflammation is due to chemical reactions from chemical reactions to substances in the blood and skin. Avoid popping these pustules or you will risk leaving acne scars.

Nodules or Cysts

Nodules and cysts are two different types of acne, but they are very similar and can occur at the same time as nodularcystic acne. Nodules are lesions found deep under the skin, are severely inflamed and hard and sore to the touch. Cysts also lodge deep in the skin, but are smaller, softer and filled with pus. Both form when comedones get too irritated and the immune system begins to produce pus as a reaction. These types of acne are often tied to genetic predisposition.

Pimple Prevention and Treatment

Acne can be painful and cause permanent scarring, so there are definite positives to doing everything in your power to prevent and reduce breakouts. For prevention, it’s important to establish a daily skin-care routine that includes both an oil-free cleanser and moisturizer, at least twice a day and after sweating. When you wash your face, avoid scrubbing your skin—this can strip your skin of the natural oils that its needs and actually cause more severe acne.

There are so many different types of self-treatment for acne, and many are very effective. Remember that mild acne is easily managed through a daily skin-care routine and simply by avoiding factors that may worsen your flare-ups. Here are a few other products that can help you to tame your skin.

Vitamins A and C

Using vitamins is a more natural and new approach to preventing and treating acne that is proving to be extremely effective. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that can help control chemicals that can cause inflammation. Most important, Vitamin C prevents harmful free radicals from reaching other antioxidants like Vitamin E, which helps to prevent sebum oxidation (like blackheads). Regular application of a face serum with Vitamin C and E can also revitalize your skin and reduce acne scars.

Benzoyl peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide is widely considered one of the most widely used nonprescription acne medications. It helps remove excess oils and dead skin cells and kills bacteria that cause acne inflammation. Always use benzoyl peroxide with care, since it may cause dry skin, burning and tingling, and can damage clothing and towels.

Salicylic acid

Salicylic acid is commonly found in facial washes and cleansers designed specifically to treat and prevent acne. It decreasing the shedding of cells inside the hair follicles, which in turn prevents clogged pores.  The type of treatments might also cause burning, stinging and skin redness.


Treating acne through sulfur is usually found as a combination of sulfacetamide and resorcinol. It’s thought that sulfur treatments prevent bacteria growth and may also help remove dead skin cells and excess oil. As a note, sulfur products are often limited because of its noticeable odor and it’s important that you use these products as directed.

Other Treatments

There are other types of treatments that can help improve and clear acne prone skin. Microdermabrasion uses very small exfoliating crystals to “sand” away old skin. The procedure can improve acne scars and clear away dead skin cells. If you’re looking for more natural beauty products that don’t contain harsh chemicals, there are a variety of options. Clay masks are a great weekly treatment because they absorb sebum, bacteria, water and toxins and irritants on and beneath the skin’s surface. Additionally, clay can exfoliate dead skin cells and blackheads without harmful friction. Raw apple cider vinegar also serves as a great face toner to reduce inflammation caused by breakouts.

Acne is a common problem for many people, and there’s no reason that anyone has to suffer through it. By putting together a skin care routine that removes dead skin cells and can help control your oil level, you can enjoy a clearer complexion with fewer breakouts. Look for all-in-one facial treatments that brighten your complexion and prevent acne and signs of aging. Enjoy clearer and healthier skin and the confidence that you deserve.