Identifying and Understanding Breakouts

Breakouts can negatively affect one’s confidence, which may cause personal and social interactions to suffer. Often, there is a tendency to shrug off breakouts and not address the possible causes, but the best way to prevent and manage breakouts effectively is by knowing exactly what you are dealing with.

What are the common causes of breakouts?

Your skin’s pores have oil glands that produce a type of oil called sebum. Sebum hydrates and smoothens your skin, while acting as a layer of protection for it.

One of the factors that cause acne is when your oil glands overproduce sebum. The excess oil mixes with dead skin cells to block the pore. This then causes a type of bacteria, called P. acnes to grow inside your skin’s hair follicles.

This can cause the following type of lesions:

1) Comedones

A comedo is a hair follicle that has been clogged with oil and dead skin. Comedones can develop into two types of pimples; blackheads and whiteheads.

Whiteheads (closed comedones)

If the buildup of oil and bacteria does not have an opening to the surface of the skin, it becomes a small, hard, white bump called a whitehead.

Whiteheads can occur anywhere on your skin, but appear most commonly on the forehead, cheeks and under-eye area.

Blackheads (open comedones)

Blackheads are known as open comedones due to the opening of the pores at the surface of the skin. The colour is attributed to oxidization of sebum when it comes in contact with air.

Similar to whiteheads, squeezing or picking at blackheads is not advisable.

Treatment for comedones

To treat comedones is to start and maintain a simple skincare regimen. Ensure that you choose gentle products that do not further irritate your skin.

2) Papules and Pustules

These types of lesions are inflammed, so redness and swelling around the pus-filled follicle can be clearly seen. If they are more severe they are referred to as Pustules.

  • Benzoyl peroxide – This kills the bacteria P. acnes within the pimple, preventing it from multiplying; it also has exfoliating properties, which removes dead skin cells, to reduce clogging of the pores and decrease available food for bacteria growth.
  • Salicylic acid – Salicylic acid helps to unclog pores by removing dead skin cells. This reduces clogging of the pores and decreases the available food for bacteria growth.

Papules and pustules should be treated by General Practitioners if over the counter products are not working

3) Nodules & Cysts

The most difficult type of acne to treat are nodules and cysts. These are the largest and most painful kind of lesions.

Nodules are lesions develop deep within the skin that feel hard to the touch. Cysts on the other hand, feel soft and large, are pus-filled and look similar to boils.

Treatment for Nodules & Cysts

For both nodules and cysts, it is very important to consult a dermatologist; as there are no over-the-counter remedies for them.

See J-A. Acne vulgaris [Internet]. ACD. [cited 2017Apr17]. Available from:

Different kinds of pimples [Internet]. Different kinds of pimples | American Academy of Dermatology. [cited 2017Apr17]. Available from: