Acne is a common skin disorder that plagues millions of people of all ages. It includes a number of different skin problems, including blackheads and whiteheads, plugged pores, pimples, and cysts that occur deep underneath the skin. Most teenagers are affected to some degree by acne, but for some people it does not go away after the teenage years are over. Acne poses little health risk, but can leave permanent scarring, cause low self esteem and anxiety over the appearance, and may take years of treatment to get rid of.
White and blackheads are the smallest and simplest of all acne lesions. These are follicles that become clogged with dead skin cells, tiny ingrown hairs, dirt and oil, and even bacteria. Blackheads look black due to the fact that the follicle is open and the plug of excess materials is visible. When the follicle closes up over the plug, it appears skin color or like a small bump. This is known as a whitehead. Neither of these should be popped or lanced, unless done by a dermatologist. There are blackhead-removing tools on the market that consumers can use safely, including pore cleaning strips that pull out blackheads and small devices that use suction.
A pustule is the medical term that describes the most common lesion that occurs in acne, the pimple. A pustule is a bump, often red or infected, that has a white head or dome covered by a thin layer of skin. The white dome is a result of dead skin cells, bacteria, and pus building up under a layer of skin. This is the beginning stage of an acne cyst. If the pimple heals before reaching the cystic stage, it usually does not scar. Dermatologists recommended not popping or lending pimples, as it introduces new bacteria into the lesion and can cause infections or scarring.
Cysts and nodules are the most severe forms of acne. Nodules are large bumps that appear red or inflamed, but without the white head of a pimple. These extend deep into the skin and are difficult to treat. Due to their extension into lower layers of the skin, they can cause permanent damage to skin and scarring, even if they heal properly. Cysts are like nodules, except they contain fluids and other substances such as dead blood cells. Both forms of acne are painful, and can be very tender to the touch. Cysts are considered rare in most forms of acne, but nodules can occur in people with occasional breakouts.
Over the counter medication, usually containing salicylic acid, generally work on occasional and minor acne. But if you have constant pimples, or are experiencing nodules or cysts, you may need to see a dermatologist. The quicker acne is treated, the less likely it is to scar. Also, heavy acne with many nodules may only respond to treatments involving isotretinoin. A licensed dermatologist can only administrator isotretinoin. If you've had acne for a long time and have scarring, most dermatologists can administer treatments such as chemical resurfacing that can remove old scars and prevent new damage.