Acne 101

Acne is an extremely common chronic skin condition that affects teenagers and adults alike. In fact, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), acne affects up to 50 million people every year, making it the most prevalent skin condition in the United States. Even more, approximately 85 percent of people between the ages of 12 and 24 experience at least minor acne, and adult acne affects up to 15 percent of women.1 But don’t worry — there’s always a solution! Let's take a look at what can possibly cause acne, what the different types of acne are, and what FSA eligible products can help you improve the condition of your skin.

What causes acne

Several factors can contribute to the development of acne, and the root causes can vary from person to person. Genetics may play a role and hormonal fluctuations associated with puberty, pregnancy, women’s menstrual cycles, and perimenopause and menopause have shown to impact acne as well. In addition, acne can flare up in response to stress, pore-clogging skincare products and medications such as oral contraceptives.2 Environmental factors such as UV rays and pollution generate free radicals that promote a process called oxidation that can lead to the development of breakouts.3

Despite the myriad of possible triggers, the acne cycle generally involves a specific chain of events. A combination of excess oil (due to genetics and/or hormones) and build-up of dead surface cells cause pores to become clogged. C. acnes bacteria proliferates within clogged pores, in turn leading to the inflammation associated with acne.4

Types of acne

Your unique skin dictates the type of acne you may experience. While some may only develop blackheads and/or whiteheads, others may struggle with red, raised and potentially painful lesions. Acne falls into two distinct categories: Non-inflammatory and inflammatory.5

Non-inflammatory acne

This type of acne includes clogged pores (comedones) that lead to blackheads and/or whiteheads. Blackheads are open comedones, and their dark appearance is the result of oxidation that occurs when sebum and dead skin cells within the pore are exposed to the air and other environmental factors. Whiteheads are closed comedones that lead to a white or yellow bumps that are trapped beneath the uppermost layers of skin. Non-inflammatory acne generally does not cause redness or tenderness around the lesions. However, if you have a hard time getting these blemishes under control with an over-the-counter skincare regimen, a dermatologist can recommend products and ingredients that help improve non-inflammatory acne.

Inflammatory acne

When a blemish becomes red or tender, it’s considered inflammatory acne. These lesions may have a white center, or reside deeper in the skin. The specific types of inflammatory acne include: 5

  • Papules: Red or pink bumps under the skin’s surface
  • Pustules: Large, tender bumps with a defined pus-filled center
  • Nodules: Large, inflamed bumps beneath the skin that are tender to the touch
  • Cysts: Large, pus-filled lesions that resemble boils

Nodules and cysts are considered to be the most severe type of acne, and are more likely to lead to long-term scarring.5 If you experience these types of blemishes, it’s best to consult with a dermatologist who can recommend the ideal treatment approach—which often includes prescription-based antibiotics and other topical treatments.6

FSA eligible product suggestions for acne-prone skin

The key for successful acne treatment is addressing the contributing factors that lead to breakouts, which include excess oil, dead skin cells and C. acnes bacteria. A regimen that includes the proper cleanser, moisturizer and targeted treatments for acne-prone skin is essential for keeping skin in the clear. A few suggestions:


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3 Bhate K, Williams HC. Epidemiology of acne vulgaris. The British journal of dermatology 2013;168:474-85.




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