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Common Acne Causes + How to Treat Them

We’re no strangers to unwanted pimples and breakouts of all kinds. Luckily, we’re sharing our fool-proof skincare solutions for three super common types of acne.

Updated September 10, 2019 by Amanda Dixon

Common Acne Causes + How to Treat Them

Blemishes, blackheads, breakouts, and acne—oh my! We’re no strangers to unwanted pimples and breakouts of all kinds. Luckily, we’re sharing our fool-proof skincare solutions for three super common types of acne. So whether it’s that time of the month, or you happen to wake up with an unanticipated blemish—you have the tools to tackle even the most stubborn breakouts.



Type: Hormonal Acne

What it looks like: Sudden breakouts that occur around the same time each month, usually along the lower third of your face—chin, mouth and jawline. They may get worse about a week before your period, so track your cycle and use the heavy-hitting products (such as salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide) about a few days prior.

Cause: Hormonal acne is exactly what it sounds like: the dirty work of fluctuating hormones. When testosterone levels increase and estrogen levels decrease, our skin goes into overdrive, producing excess oil.

How to treat it: When it comes to hormonal acne, prevention is better than a cure. Proactively treating skin around your time of month can greatly reduce the severity of hormonal breakouts. Be diligent about cleansing with a gentle, non-drying cleanser, and be sure to use an oil-free moisturizer.

Consider adding a toner to your daily routine—particularly one with astringent, antimicrobial properties—which can prevent hormonal acne from happening in the first place. If pimples do pop up, spot treat as needed with acne-fighting ingredients like tea tree, juniper berry, and clary sage essential oils.


Type: Cystic Acne

What it looks like: Large, tender, inflamed pimples. Oftentimes, cystic acne appears as small, smooth boils deep under the skin’s surface, and will never come to a head.

Cause: Cystic acne is largely a genetic condition. The cause may be either overactive oil glands, hormonal imbalance, or a surplus of the bacteria that creates acne.

How to treat it: While cystic acne is notoriously tough to treat, don’t despair—there are a variety of things you can do to fight it. In addition to two gentle (keyword: non-drying) cleanses per day,  exfoliate every other day to buff away bacteria and keep pores clear.

Try a skin-balancing, oil-free moisturizer with acne fighting salicylic acid and bamboo charcoal to treat and prevent future breakouts. And maximize your beauty sleep with an ultra-breathable, soft silk pillowcase. Unlike harsh cotton fabrics, silk is gentle on skin and hair, so you wake up to skin that’s refreshed.


Type: Comedonal

What it looks like: Bumpy skin, blackheads, and the occasional whitehead

Cause: In short, a "comedone" is just a fancy word for a clogged pore or follicle. Open comedones are blackheads, while closed comedones are whiteheads. However, they’re both caused by the same thing—blocked, congested pores. Comedonal acne is especially common in people whose skin doesn’t turn over quickly.

How to treat it: You can pretty much blame comedonal acne on your clogged pores, so look for products with ingredients to stave off acne causing bacteria. Try an exfoliating mask with salicylic acid, glycolic acid, and anti-bacterial colloidal silver. With the perfect balance of exfoliating, healing, and anti-bacterial elements, this treatment works instantly to unclog pores and soothe skin.

Another great option for boosting cell turn-over? Retinol! Read all about this amazing ingrent—that comes with many cavats (can't be used during pregnancy, for one) in our retinol guide.

A more physical, but gentle, option for getting rid of pore-clogging surface debris is steaming your skin at home. Soothing steam opens pores making it easy to wash and cleanse away impurities. Lastly, we love multi-tasking skincare that can be used as a cleanser, mask, or exfoliating scrub.

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