Everything You Need to Know About Acne

Different types of acne, why you’re getting spots, and how to get clear skin.

Many of us associate acne with adolescence, because that’s when people often experience breakouts, spots, and pimples for the first time. During our teenage years, our hormone levels shift and higher levels of hormones called “androgens” (like testosterone, present in different levels in both men and women’s bodies) can cause the skin’s sebaceous glands to grow and start producing excess sebum (oil). Having too much oil on our skin can lead to blocked pores, which in turn can lead to trapped bacteria and the development of spots.

 

The NHS reports that acne affects 95% of people aged between 11 and 30 years old, while The American Academy of Dermatology refers to acne as the most common skin condition in the USA, affecting up to 50 million Americans every year. They also report that approximately 85% of people between the ages of 12 and 24 years old struggle with symptoms.

 

However, adult acne is reportedly on the rise, and currently affects an estimated 15% of adult women. So, if you’re experiencing breakouts of spots and pimples in your 20s, 30s, 40s (and even beyond), you’re far from alone.

 

There are several different types of acne, and a variety of factors that can cause it. Understanding what type of acne you’re suffering from and what might be causing it can help you to find the most effective treatment.

Here at Mr Brains and Brawn we’re dedicated to helping you feel confident in your skin. It’s our mission to take the overwhelm out of your grooming routine by recommending tried-and-tested products that contain ingredients that have been scientifically proven to alleviate the symptoms of skin issues like acne.

 

We believe that knowledge is power: so, let’s explore what acne is, what causes it, and how we can treat it, so you can feel empowered to take action.

 

Please note: If you develop large lumps, blister-like pustules that start to leak fluid, or a new rash anywhere unusual on your body, you may require medical treatment and should contact a doctor as soon as possible. Spots and lumps, while often symptoms of common acne, can also be symptoms of other medical issues that need investigating.


What are the types of acne?

To understand why we get spots — whether that’s just the occasional pimple, regular breakouts, or severe chronic acne — it’s helpful to look at some of the ways our pores can become blocked and inflamed, and the different factors that contribute towards spots and pimples of all kinds.

Acne vulgaris

“Acne vulgaris” is the medical term for the most common form of acne: whether you have mild, moderate, or severe acne depends on the quantity and type of spots or pimples you are suffering from.

 

In simple terms, the spots and pimples that are the symptoms of common acne are the body’s reaction to a bacterial infection on (or just below) the skin’s surface. When our pores become blocked with excess oil, makeup, or dead skin cells, these blockages can attract a build up of bacteria and become infected and then inflamed as our body sends white blood cells rushing to the affected area to fight off the bacteria.

 

The different types of acne fall into one of two categories: non-inflammatory acne and inflammatory acne.

 

+ Non-inflammatory or comedonal acne

 

Non-inflammatory or comedonal acne is the mildest form of acne, and people with this skin issue usually have blackheads and whiteheads on their skin, which only occasionally result in a few small, swollen red and/or pus-filled spots.

 

Non-inflammatory acne can generally be tackled with skin products that use ingredients like salicylic acid that can help break down the dead skin cells and excess sebum oil that clog pores and lead to blackheads and whiteheads.

 

+ Inflammatory acne, like nodular and cystic acne

 

Inflammatory acne, like nodular and cystic acne, tends to be moderate-severe acne that involves pimples or spots that are red, swollen, and/or pus-filled. These papules, pustules, nodules, and cysts develop when a pore that’s clogged with oil and dead skin cells also becomes clogged with bacteria, and has become infected and inflamed, sometimes quite deep under the skin’s surface in the case of nodules and cysts.

 

Inflammatory acne is usually treated with products that contain benzoyl-peroxide, and ingredient which has been proven to reduce the red swelling of these spots by getting rid of acne-causing bacteria on the skin, as well as helping to control excess sebum. Topical retinoids can also help reduce the inflammation of milder papules and pustules.

 

If you have severe inflammatory acne, your doctor may also prescribe a cream and/or pill antibiotic to help your skin fight the bacterial infection.

 

Other types of acne

As well as acne vulgaris, nodular acne, and cystic acne, there are several other types of acne that might affect you, including:

 

Acne mechanica: Also called “sports acne”, acne mechanica is common on the body and face of people wearing tight clothing and sports equipment that traps heat and rubs the skin’s surface.

 

Acne cosmetica: This is a type of comedonal acne that occurs when you’re using a skin, hair, or makeup product that’s creating blocked pores or comedones (blackheads and whiteheads). There’s also a type of acne called pomade acne relating specifically to the spots that people can get along their temples and near their hairline when they use certain pomade products.

 

Excoriated acne: When you find it impossible to resist the urge to regularly pick at or squeeze any spots, tiny lumps, or blocked pores on your skin, you could be suffering from excoriated acne. Sufferers of excoriated acne often end up doing more damage than good to their skin through their efforts to clear their skin with DIY excavations. Click here to read more about excoriated acne.

 

Acne rosacea: This adult acne only affects the skin on the face, and tends to be most common among adults over the age of 30 years old. Acne rosacea can involve bumpy or uneven skin, pimples, and general redness and broken blood vessels on your nose and cheeks. Inflammation can worsen with age, and symptoms can be triggered by sun exposure, heat, stress, and certain food and drinks. If you’re suffering from this type of acne, seek the advice of a doctor or dermatologist to see if you can alter your lifestyle, diet, and skincare routine to prevent further inflammation.

What are the stages of acne?

The spots and pimples associated with acne vulgaris can take a few weeks to develop, and they aren’t always visible in the most early stages.

 

All common acne starts with a blocked pore, or “comedone”. Comedones are small bumps that you may notice particularly on your forehead, chin, and nose when you suffer from oily or acne-prone skin. They can be either open or closed, and are formed when a hair follicle becomes blocked by a little plug of oil, dead skin, or makeup. If you wear makeup, choosing a non-comedogenic product can help reduce the amount of comedones that develop on your skin.

 

Sometimes, comedones are so small that you can’t see them, and other times they develop into visible blockages like blackheads or whiteheads (that can, in turn, develop into more painful forms of acne like papules, pustules, cysts, and nodules).

 

Comodones are the root cause of various different types of acne, and they usually form when there’s excess oil from overproductive sebaceous glands in your skin. This can lead to the inflammation associated with spots and pimples.

 

There are 6 main types of spots and pimples that can all be symptoms of acne, listed here in order of progression from mild to severe:

1. Blackheads (open comedones)

Blackheads are blocked pores that are open to the air and have taken on the appearance of a small black dot. Blackheads are little plugs of oil or dead skin that have collected inside an enlarged pore cavity, and you’ll often see these on your nose, but they’re also common on the forehead, chin, chest, and back. As blackheads are on the skin’s surface and haven’t become inflamed yet, they tend to be classified as a form of mild acne.

2. Whiteheads (closed comedones)

Whiteheads are small white bumps under the surface of your skin—these are simply blocked pores like blackheads, except that there’s a thin layer of skin over them and they appear white instead of black. As whiteheads are close to the skin’s surface and won’t necessarily become inflamed unless the area around them becomes aggravated (which can happen, for example, if you try to squeeze the whitehead), they tend to be classified as a form of mild acne.

3. Papules

Papules are small red bumps under the skin that can often feel sore to the touch. These are early stage pimples that haven’t yet formed a center of pus. Papules develop when a clogged pore (a comedone) becomes irritated and starts dispersing the bacteria that has been building up in that pore into the surrounding skin. The skin responds by causing inflammation in the affected area to target and fight the bacteria. After a few days, a papule will usually develop into a pustule. Papules generally develop close to the skin’s surface, and are generally smaller spots, so tend to be classed as a sign of moderate acne.

4. Pustules

Pustules are inflamed spots that contain fluid or pus. When a papule becomes irritated/infected, the walls of the pore can break down, causing the bacteria to spread and the surrounding area to swell into a lump containing pus (a pustule). These are often visible on the skin as a white raised lump on a red spot, and these tend to be the most tempting spots to squeeze. Papules generally develop close to the skin’s surface, and are smaller spots, so tend to be classed as a sign of moderate acne.

5. Nodules

Nodules are swollen hard lumps beneath the surface of the skin that form when a clogged pore becomes inflamed deeper in the skin than normal. This type of spot is often painful, and can cause scarring and hyperpigmentation if not treated properly—it’s very important not to squeeze this type of spot, as doing so can cause lasting damage to the skin. Nodules are often referred to as “blind pimples” (pimples that are deep enough under the skin that they’re easier to feel than they are to see), and are classed as a symptom of severe acne because they can be a sign of bigger bacterial infection. Women often develop some nodular acne spots during their monthly cycle as their hormones shift, but anyone of any gender or age can get them.

6. Cysts

Cysts are pustules that have become severely infected and painful. This type of spot is soft to the touch (compared to hard nodules) because they are filled with pus, but they tend to develop deeper in the skin even than nodules, with red welts on the surface of the skin above the affected area. Cysts are the most severe form of acne spot, and can also cause scarring and post inflammatory hyperpigmentation, especially if you attempt to squeeze or pop them. Dermatologists strongly discourage squeezing this type of spot, as doing so can not only aggravate them and prolong the healing process, but it can also cause permanent damage to your skin.

Not all comedones (blackheads and whiteheads) will turn in to spots, but this is how all spots start: with a blocked pore.

What’s causing my acne?

As we’ve explored, acne is generally caused by overactive sebaceous glands, i.e. too much oil on the skin, which can lead to bacterial infection in the case of moderate to severe acne. Our skin needs a certain amount of sebum to stop our hair follicles and skin from drying out, but when there’s an excess it can become problematic.

 

For teenagers, excess sebum is usually due to an increase of testosterone (essential for the development of male sex organs and also for muscle and bone strength in girls), and many adult women also experience mild breakouts around the end of their monthly cycle due to hormonal shifts.

Other possible causes of acne include:

• Acne may run in your family
• If you’re also experiencing irregular periods, your acne may be connected with a hormonal imbalance or be a symptom of PCOS
• Smoking can contribute to adult acne
• Some studies suggest that low-level food intolerances to ingredients like dairy could be involved for some people
• Oral contraceptives and other hormone-based drugs has been linked to acne, sometimes alleviating symptoms and in some cases triggering them
• Cosmetics and hair products may be aggravating your skin and blocking pores
• Sports equipment or tight clothing (including face masks) may be trapping heat and sweat inside pores, and/or putting pressure on the skin which contributes to breakouts.

How long does it take for acne to go away?

Unfortunately, there’s no clear answer on how long it will take for a case of acne to clear up, as each individual’s skin is so different. Spots can take a few weeks to form, and several weeks to clear up, with the right treatment—longer, if you aggravate the skin or try to squeeze your spots, which can cause a bigger infection and long term damage and discoloration to the skin even after the infection has passed.

 

It often takes teenagers who are experiencing acne for the first time a number of years to outgrow their acne; it often won’t clear up entirely until the hormonal changes have settled and stabilised.

 

However long you’ve been struggling with acne, the good news is that clinical trials have shown that certain ingredients in over-the-counter skin products like the ones we provide here at Mr Brains and Brawn can clear up breakups and keep skin clear with ongoing use. Our daily skincare regimen sets can help you see significant improvements in your skin in 4-6 weeks, and even as little as 1 week.

 

What causes spots on the face in adults?

According to The American Academy of Dermatology, adult acne is on the rise. If you spent much of your teen years being told that your acne would clear up in adulthood only to find yourself still struggling with the same skin issues in your twenties and thirties, it’s easy to become dispirited about your skin. There’s hope, though; there’s no reason the same highly-effective ingredients that have been proven to clear up acne-prone skin for many others shouldn’t help you, at any age.

 

But why are so many people (and especially women) still getting acne long after they’ve left the hormonal developments of their adolescence behind? One reason that adult acne is a more common issue among women than men could be because a woman’s hormones continue to fluctuate throughout most of her adult life; during her monthly cycle, as well as during and after any pregnancies, and at menopause.

 

Read more about adult acne.

How do you treat and prevent acne?

Depending on its severity, acne can be treated either with:

 

  • Over-the-counter topical products like face washes, creams, and gels that can be applied straight to the affected skin
  • Prescription topical products (creams and gels) that fight bacteria, usually prescribed by a doctor alongside oral medication
  • Oral medication (also referred to as “systemic therapy”), usually antibiotics (for example, Minocycline, Doxycycline, or Erythromycin) that treat the bacterial infection from within the body, usually in conjunction with an antibiotic topical cream. Doctors may also prescribe oral contraceptives to some women, hormone balancing medication, and in very severe causes of cystic acne, Isotretinoin (which is a high-dose Vitamin A treatment).

 

Most acne isn’t severe enough to require intense medical treatment, but it is nonetheless incredibly frustrating and embarrassing. If you’d like to clear up and prevent pimples and breakouts without taking medication, there are various really effective products you can use to do this. While our skin is affected by all kinds of different and complex health and lifestyle factors, clinical trials have revealed various key ingredients that are highly successful at getting rid of acne and promoting clear skin.

 

We make sure that the skincare products we sell here at Mr Brains and Brawn include these powerful acne-fighting ingredients, and we’d encourage you to check the label of any anti-acne product you’re considering buying elsewhere to make sure it contains these ingredients before you make any investment.

 

The benefits of Niacinamide (Vitamin B3)

Niacinamide is clinically proven to regulate sebum production, decongest pores, reduce pore size control breakout, reduce inflammation associated with acne and strengthen skin dermal barrier.

 

Read more about the benefits of Niacinamide here.

 

 

BEGINNER

— Niacinamide and Zinc
Sold out

EXTRA CLARITY

— Niacinamide, Zinc PCA, Crystalide Peptides, Hyaluronic Acid
Sold out

The benefits of Multi Acids (Alpha Hydroxy Acid and Beta Hydroxy Acid)

Alpha Hydroxy Acid (Glycolic Acid, Lactic Acid, Mandelic Acid, etc.) and Beta Hydroxy Acid (Salicylic Acid) are both clinically proven to be effective for all types of acne.

Both ingredients are not only useful in treating or preventing acne but in combination, they also help increase skin cell turnover, dislodge dead skin cells, reduce redness and swelling and reduce the appearance of acne scars over time.

DECONGESTING PEEL

— Glycoilc Acid 10%, Salicylic Acid 2%
Sold out

DAILY TREATMENT

— A mix of 5 Acids
Sold out

The benefits of Beta Hydroxy Acid

Beta Hydroxy Acid (Salicylic Acid) is anti-inflammatory, Keratolytic (helps exfoliate dead skin cells), anti-fungal and anti-bacterial. It penetrates pores to loosen clogged follicles by breaking apart dead skin cells, softening them, and helping them slough off the skin.

Salicylic Acid treats active acne and prevents new outbreaks.

SPOT TREATEMENT

— Salicylic Acid 2%, Dioic Acid, Niacinamide
Sold out

SPOT TREATMENT

— Salicylic Acid 2%, Patented Thyme and Pine-Inspired Complex, Horse Chestnut and Oat Extract
Sold out

The benefits of Vitamin A (Retinol, Retinoid, Retinal)

Topical retinol products can help to clear acne, as they help to regulate skin cell turnover. It works on the acne inside out. Retinol is known for its skin clearing and smoothing benefit as it optimises skin cell regeneration and improves discolouration.

If you are new to retinol, please be aware that it is a powerful ingredient and can be quite harsh for some skin types. We recommend starting with a lower strength product every second day and slowly increase to daily application.  

 

Retinol may also cause dry or dehydrated skin. We recommend using an oil-free moisturiser such as Mesoestetic - Regenerance Active alongside your retinol product to keep your skin from becoming too dry.

 

BEGINNER

— Crystal Retinal 0.03 %
Sold out

SENSITIVE SKIN

— Retinol, Retinoid and Time-Released Retinol
Sold out

Please note: All of the ingredients we’ve mentioned, from AHA, BHA, Salicylic Acid, and Retinol work by stripping away the top few layers of skin to even out tone and get rid of the blocked pores and excess oil that causes acne. It is important to wear a suncream with a minimum SPF of 30, especially when you’re using a Retinol treatment, and we also recommend using Retinol products at night to minimise your skin’s exposure to the sun while the ingredient is active.

Should you pop pimples when they are white?

We know it’s really tempting to pop a pimple, especially a pustule that has developed a white head of pus that seems to just be crying out for a squeeze, but the old advice to leave well enough alone is a cliché for a reason.

 

When you apply pressure to a spot to try and squeeze out the blockage or pus inside, you can actually end up aggravating the affected area further, and this can lead to prolonged or spreading infection, and in some cases scarring of the skin long after the spot has become inactive.

 

It’s especially important not to squeeze spots like nodules and cysts that are deeper in the skin; in these cases, the pus won’t have anywhere to go, and you’ll simply break down the walls of the pores in the affected area and spread the pus around under the skin’s surface, which will enlarge the spot, delay healing, and potentially cause permanent damage.

 

Do you find yourself obsessively squeezing tiny bumps, blackheads, and pimples? You may suffer from excoriated acne—read more about this condition, here.

 

If you’d like to explore our range of powerful acne-fighting products, head this way.

 

Not sure what type of product would work best for your skin? Speak with us via our virtual chat function on the website