` All the kinds of spots you can get and how to treat them
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Skin Notes
Different kinds of spots and how to treat them
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Whether your skin’s going through a rough patch or you’ve suffered with spots for as far back as you can remember, we can all agree on one thing: Spots. Ruin. Everything. But here’s an idea. If you find out which type of spot you’re being plagued with, you might just find the key to the correct treatment and eventual extermination of them. (Bit dramatic perhaps, but we really hate spots.)

To help you spot, ahem, your spots and treat them accordingly, we decided to create a handy guide. We enlisted the help of Dermatologist Dr Ross Perry, who certainly knows a thing or two about acne. Now, grab a mirror, have a look and remember – don’t pick.

 

Whiteheads

What are they?

As their name suggests, these little (or sometimes, big) guys pop up with a white pus-filled top. “These occur when the pore follicles become blocked with excess oil - they can be quite numerous.” says Dr Perry. They often pop up overnight (and even more so if you’ve had a boozy night and a naughty snack before bedtime).

How to treat them:

“When whiteheads appear, the best tactic is to prevent them from becoming inflamed,” says Dr Perry. “It is important to clean the skin thoroughly both morning and evening. However, harsh cleansing can be counter-productive and leave the skin sensitive and raw," he says. Opt for a non-foaming cleanser. Foaming ones may leave your skin feeling squeaky clean, but these can actually strip your skin's protective barrier and make you even more susceptible to spots.

"Choose specialist but gentle products and don’t be afraid to experiment with different brands or combinations if skin needs a change," he explains. Regular exfoliation can also help break down oil and dead skin cells that can lead to whiteheads. Looks for products containing AHAs (Alpha Hydroxy Acids, like glycolic acid) and BHAs (Beta Hydroxy Acids, such as salicylic acid) to shift any loitering buildups that are preparing to erupt.

Pow_er Tip: Popping a spot should be a last resort, but if needs must, this is the only kind of spot you should try to pop. Place a tissue over you fingers and gently push the spot outwards until it pops - as soon as all the yellow gunk has gone - stop! If you start digging around for more you'll scar your skin.

 

Blackheads

What are they?

Blackheads are similar to whiteheads, but the blocked pore is open and exposed to the air, rather than a whitehead, which is encased within. This exposure is what causes the blockage to oxidize and turn black et voila, you have a blackhead.

How to treat them:

“Blackheads can last a long time as it takes a while for the contents to drain and to improve due to the pigmentation of the blackhead.” Dr Perry explains. “Blackheads occur due to trapped sebum and bacteria, but in the case of a blackhead, the sebum contains melanin which oxidises and turns a brown/black colour.”  If you’re struggling with defiant blackheads, book in to see a specialist dermatologist who can remove these correctly. Digging at your skin to try and pop them out yourself can lead to scarring and inflammation, meaning you could end up with a much bigger problem that the one you started with.

Pore strips might be a quick fix but without proper maintenance, its likely blackheads will reappear. Instead clear and prevent them from coming back by using an AHA/BHA treatment regularly, along with a decongesting mask once or twice a week (look for ingredients like clay and zinc to help send blackheads on their way).

 

Papules

What are they?

These feel quite hard and distinct – much harder than a whitehead, but without the pus-filled top. “Papules occur when there is a break in the pore wall, causing bigger spots. The pore becomes inflamed when white blood cells rush in, which looks like a reddening bump beneath the skin," explains Dr Perry. “A few days later, when white blood cells make their way to the surface, a pustule occurs with a characteristic yellow head.

How to treat them:

“Avoid the temptation to pick or squeeze them," advises Perry. If you try to squeeze papules, you'll likely push the sebum (a lovely combination of oil, dead skin and bacteria) further into the skin, spreading bacteria and oil to other pores - causing more spots. It's best to wait this one out and continue with your routine. Cleanse, tone and moisturise - even if you're oily. Skipping hydration won't make oil clogs disappear, but will just dry out the surface of the spot and make it look worse and harder to cover with concealer.

If you're still finding that you're getting these persistently, see your GP or a dermatologist.  "Topical treatments or cleansers can be effective, however, medicated ingredients may be more appropriate. A GP might prescribe oral medication in severe or persistent cases," explains Perry. Professional treatments, such as exfoliating peels, micro-dermabrasion or laser can also help stubborn papules. So what about if your papules finally come to a head? Then you have…

 

Pustules

What are they?

If your papule finally comes to a white head, then congrats, you have a pustule. “Pustules are like papules, but filled with pus," explains Perry. “A few days later, when white blood cells make their way to the surface, a pustule occurs with a characteristic yellow head. This is the classic ‘zit’ or ‘pimple’, which is very tempting to squeeze, but best left untouched. Severe inflammation can lead to more serious lesions – cysts or nodules,” he says.

How to treat them:

The same advice for papules applies for pustules. Cleanse, then tone with an AHA or BHA acid toner, and follow up with a moisturiser and spot treatment (look for ones with benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid to clear the gunk and blitz the bacteria). It might be tempting to squeeze, but again you run the risk of introducing more bacteria and making the spot worse. You’ve been warned.

 

Nodules

What are they?

“These are large bumps, which go deep into the skin. They can be inflamed and feel quite tender,” explains Perry. “The inflammation gives the skin an angry red or even purplish tone. If untreated, the outbreaks can leave permanent scarring, which is why it is very important to find an effective treatment.”

How to treat them:

Nodules have a very stubborn agenda and these are best left alone. Picking and prodding will only cause the inflammation to worsen and you’ll be left with an evern angrier lump. Yet again, stick with your normal routine of cleansing, toning with your trusty acids and moisturizing skin. “It can take up to eight weeks to see a significant improvement while the skin heals,” explains Perry, so be patient with results and your nodules will disappear eventually if you don’t pick.

“In severe cases, a doctor or dermatologist may inject or prescribe corticosteroids directly into nodules,” says Perry. “This is intended to reduce the size of the painful inflammation. A GP may also prescribe oral medication. Other professional treatments to consider are exfoliating peels, micro-dermabrasion or lasers.”

 

Cysts

What are they?

“Cysts are like nodules, but filled with pus so they feel softer,” explains Dr Perry. These often appear as an angry inflamed lump underneath the skin, and no matter how much you prod it, you’ll never be able to pop it. Annoyingly, these are the kind that tend to stick around the longest, much like an unwanted party guest on your chin.

How to treat them:

Do not mess with these ones. No matter how much you pick, these will never ‘pop’ and give the satisfaction you so desperately desire (*sob*). They’re usually linked to diet or hormones, so it’s worth evaluating your lifestyle and making changes accordingly. “There are simple changes that can improve acne. Drinking plenty of water helps to keep the skin hydrated and supple. A healthy diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables is beneficial,” says Perry. “Sugary and spicy foods do the opposite. Identifying other issues that could be the trigger, like hormonal imbalances or increased stress, can also be helpful in working out how to manage it.”

 

And there you have it, now we know how to spot the difference. Need some advice on what products to use for spots? Try our cleanser guide below – it’ll match you with the perfect cleanser to banish spots for good.

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