The Best Ways to Treat Every Type of Pimple, According to a Dermatologist

So you've got a pimple, now what?

Chances are you'll encounter a pimple or two or 20 throughout your life, but even though they're all a pain in the butt, they aren't all created equal. There are six major categories when it comes to our pesky little friends, and it's important to correctly identify the type of pimple you're dealing with in order to properly treat it.

We tapped Dr. Jennifer Herrmann, a board certified dermatologist in Beverly Hills, California—who boasts degrees from both Princeton and Harvard—for the scoop on how to identify your pimple and how to treat it accordingly.

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Whiteheads, which you're probably most familiar with, are also called closed comedones, and occur when hair follicles on the skin are being blocked with skin debris called keratin. These are easy to identify: They're white and typically hang out around the chin and nose. To reduce the amount of congestion, Dr. Herrmann suggests, "Using salicylic acid cleansers and retinoids such as over-the-counter Differin can help lift plugs and prevent new lesions from forming. Using water-based and oil-free products on the face are also important to help prevent further blocked pores."

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Another incredibly common category? Blackheads, which are also known as open comedones, and are similarly due to blocked follicles. "The dark color is due to air oxidizing the blocked pores rather than dirt, so it's important not too over-cleanse or scrub the skin, which can strip too much oil leading to paradoxically increased oil production," Dr. Herrmann explains. "Like closed comedones, acid cleansers can help lift plugs, and retinoids can help prevent future blockages."

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Papules are the small pink or red, dome-shaped bumps seen with inflammatory acne, caused when bacteria and oil gets trapped under the skin, leading to increased pressure and redness. Papules are hard to the touch, which is the easiest way to identify them.
"Papules are best treated with combination topicals containing retinoids, which help lift blockage and antibacterial agents that kill the implicated p. acnes bacteria," says Dr. Herrmann. "It's important not to squeeze these lesions as squeezing can cause the bacteria and skin debris to burst deeper under the skin, leading to potential scarring." So keep your hands off and let chemical topicals do the trick.  


Pustules are also seen in inflammatory acne and similarly result from a combination of blocked pores, the p. acnes bacteria and excess oil. Although similar to papule, pustules are not hard, have yellowish pus inside and tend to have a white center.  The pus is composed of dead white blood cells that were sent by the body to fight infection. To treat these, Dr. Herrmann suggests using "combinations of retinoids that help exfoliate, and antibacterial agents that kill bacteria."

Cysts and Nodules

If you're experiencing acne that's painful, it's most likely a cyst or a nodule, which come from blocked pores and excess oil, skin debris, and bacteria being trapped much deeper under the skin, which often causes pain.
"Ice can be helpful for immediate relief, and in addition to medications that help exfoliate and kill bacteria, a stronger medication called isotretinoin that stops oil production can be most helpful for resolving these lesions," notes the doctor. "Occasionally, injecting individual lesions with cortisone can also be helpful to help prevent scarring."

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Acne Confined to the Chin, Neck and Jawline

If you're someone who has acne that hangs out on the chin, neck and jawline, there's a reason for this as well.
"Acne that is predominantly confined to these areas is often hormonally-driven, and medications that help decrease hormonal oil-gland stimulation like birth control pills or spironolactone can be most helpful," Dr. Herrmann says. "In addition, stress reduction and minimizing dairy and refined sugars can be helpful for some as well."


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