Let’s say you have a friend that loves wine. Next time you’re shopping for a good bottle of vino, you wouldn’t just head to the store and assume every bottle on the shelf is good. You’d call your friend up and ask her a few questions first: Red or white? What’s your favorite brand? Does a certain region make particularly great wine?


Acne is kind of the same. Whenever you see an ad for an incredible new blemish-fighter, you scramble to buy it. “This could change my life,” you think. But hang on a minute: How do you even know this will be effective on your acne type? And what type of acne do you have, anyway?


Here, we’ll cover how to identify every acne type and exactly what you need to treat each kind. It’ll make getting rid of your acne go down way easier—kind of like a fine wine. ;) Also, for every kind of acne out there, there’s one piece of advice approved by basically every dermatologist: Do. Not. Pick! Not only does it usually push oil and bacteria deeper into the skin, but it can also cause long-term hyperpigmentation and scarring.


Woman with flowers on face

WHITEHEADS

WHAT’S UP?

These are just your average, everyday pimples with a white dot of pus in the center. Usually they’re caused by dead skin cells getting stuck together and trapping oil and dirt underneath, which comes to a head—hence the name “whitehead.”


WHAT TO DO:

Salicylic acid is your best friend! This beta hydroxy acid exfoliates away dead skin cells and eliminates excess oil, tampering two main causes of whiteheads. You can find plain ol’ sal acid in the acne section at the drugstore, or try our H2Glow Hydrating Serum. It’s loaded with willow bark extract—a natural cousin of salicylic acid—plus hydrating hyaluronic acid and soothing niacinamide. This is pretty awesome, considering so many acne-fighting products tend to be extremely drying to the skin.


BLACKHEADS

WHAT’S UP?

Ugh, how annoying are those tiny black spots in your T-zone, especially your nose? Just like whiteheads, blackheads are caused by plugged up pores. But when the oil that causes them hits the skin’s surface and mingles with oxygen, the oil turns that not-so-cute black color.


WHAT TO DO:

Regular exfoliation is key to keeping pores clear, especially since the pores most susceptible to blackheads can actually become enlarged over time. (And then they’re more likely to become clogged, and they become even more enlarged… vicious cycle!) Exfoliate two to three times weekly with a treatment toner that boasts sloughing superstars like lactic or glycolic acid. Liquid Light Exfoliating Hydrogel Essence utilizes lactic acid—its molecule size is slightly larger, so it’s less likely to give even sensitive skin a temper tantrum. If you’re not seeing as much improvement as you’d like, add in a salicylic acid treatment, too, to nix excess oil.


PAPULES

WHAT’S UP?

These guys are patches of itty bitty, red zits that don’t come to a head. So frustrating! This kind of acne is of the inflammatory variety, and it’s caused by bacteria—specifically the p. acnes bacteria.


WHAT TO DO:

While you may have a little luck with salicylic acid or other exfoliators, you’re treating the symptoms of your acne, not the cause. Instead, incorporate a product with benzoyl peroxide, which is the gold standard for killing acne-causing bacteria. This stuff can seriously dry out your skin, though, so make sure to slather on the moisturizer after it dries.


Another awesome solution for inflammation-caused acne: a treatment with natural ingredients that target inflammation and redness, like The Everything Oil. Black cumin seed oil has been used for centuries to quell inflammation and fight acne-causing bacteria, and rosehip seed oil, argan oil, and squalane will keep skin soft and nourished.


PUSTULES

WHAT’S UP?

Like papules, pustules are in the inflammatory acne category. However, they’re way more angry-looking: likely red and full of white or yellow pus. Cute, right?


WHAT TO DO:

Pustules often look a lot like whiteheads, but if they’re very red, tender, and inflamed, then they’re probably the former. And since they’re also brought on by inflammation-causing bacteria, you’ll want to go the benzoyl peroxide or black cumin seed oil route here, too, to really kick that bacteria’s ass. Again, don’t forget to moisturize after you apply!

Woman popping pimple

HORMONAL ACNE

WHAT’S UP?

Your period’s just about to come and, like clockwork, a pesky group of pimples crops up on your chin and jawline. #same. Blame your hormones, which tend to make oil production go from 0 to 100 real quick. Then that oil gets nice and comfy in your pores, causing a breakout.


WHAT TO DO:

Keep a journal. For real! The goal here is to figure out exactly when in your cycle you start to break out each month. Then every month, about a week before you know your skin’s gonna go haywire, you can stop the process in its tracks. Use a face wash or serum with salicylic acid—like H2Glow—to gently exfoliate, then top it with a benzoyl peroxide treatment to kill any acne-causing bacteria.


FYI, if you try this protocol for a few months and aren’t noticing a difference, you might want to hit up your derm or gyno to discuss birth control options that’ll help regulate your hormones.


CYSTIC ACNE

WHAT’S UP?

If you struggle with cystic acne, we salute you, because these pimples seriously suck. They’re big, red, tender, caused by a hormone-related overproduction of oil, and sit underneath the skin, so you can’t even attempt to pop them. Check with mom and dad if they struggled with cystic acne, because this type tends to be genetic.


WHAT TO DO:

We’ll give it to you straight: the typical salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide routine rarely works for cystic acne, though you should definitely give it a try first. Not effective? Don’t waste any time before hitting up the dermatologist—cystic acne can cause intense, long-lasting scarring. Your derm may suggest cortisone injections, a topical prescription, or an oral medication such as antibiotics. If the situation is dire enough, or doesn’t respond to other treatment options, he or she may also suggest oral isotretinoin, previously known as Accutane.


*One more quick note: We know we’re geniuses, but don’t forget that anything you read on the internet should never be considered a substitute for advice from a doctor, in this case a dermatologist. If you’re struggling with acne, especially if it’s causing scarring or serious self-esteem or mental health issues, head straight to the doctor!

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