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How to Identify Your Breakout

Breakouts: They happen to the best of us. Whether you’re 14 or 40, breakouts are just one those things that most of us have to deal with. They’re also completely natural — there’s nothing to be ashamed of and the only one who can make you self-conscious about them is yourself. The sooner you break that self-recrimination cycle, the more comfortable and confident you’ll feel.

However, being comfortable with your breakouts doesn’t mean just shrugging your shoulders and ignoring them until they go away. There are things you can do to help diminish existing ones and prevent new ones from forming. But first, you have to figure out what’s actually happening on your skin. Because not all breakouts are created equal, you have to first identify what you’re working with — blackhead, whitehead, a mini Mount Vesuvius — in order to determine the best course of action for dealing with it. Got a blackhead or two? A chemical exfoliant may be your best bet. A cyst? Hands off. 

If you’re not quite sure how to recognize the type of breakout (or what to do about it once you do) this guide can help you figure out the next steps so you can get back to clear, smooth skin faster.


What it is: Blackheads are the easiest zits to spot, since they literally feature a black head. These occur when a plug (made of a combo of dead skin cells, surface debris, and oil) forms in a pore. “When the dead skin cells in the open pore react with oxygen in the air, they oxidize and form what we see as a blackhead,” says Kautilya Shaurya, MD, a dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City.

How to treat it: The trick to clearing out blackheads is straightforward: Remove the dead skin cells contributing to the clog in question. Dr. Shaurya recommends a chemical exfoliant, such as alpha-hydroxy acid, to “dissolve” and dislodge the plug. The blend of alpha hydroxy and beta hydroxy acids in our exclusive 10% Clarity Acid Complex, found in the Strawberry Smooth BHA + AHA Salicylic Serum do just that; it also features hyaluronic acid and bisabolol to soothe and balance skin. The BHA is particularly is oil-soluble, so it can actually penetrate pores and break up clogs, clearing them from within. For overnight action, our refreshing Watermelon Glow Sleeping Mask features AHAs to unclog pores and smooth rough texture.  For those intense blackheads that don’t respond to surface exfoliation, “your dermatologist can prescribe a prescription retinoid or perform extractions,” he says.


What it is: Blame these small white bumps on excess oil. “Whiteheads form when your pores produce more oil during various stages of your life and can develop at any time,” says Dr. Shaurya. Like blackheads, they form when dead skin cells and oil get trapped in your pores. But these clogs are enclosed and therefore don’t get oxidized by the air — which is why they appear white or flesh-colored.

How to treat it: As with blackheads, regular (and gentle) exfoliation is a safe bet for whiteheads, too. Another advantage? The chemical exfoliants in our Strawberry Smooth BHA + AHA Salicylic Serum can break through the enclosure, allowing the ingredients within to get to work clearing out the clog in question.


What it is: These small, hard bumps are usually red and may be tender to the touch. “Papules can occur when excess oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria are located deeper in the skin and have surrounding inflammation,” Dr. Shaurya explains. These won’t usually come to a head, but rather stay below the skin and slowly diminish as your body handles the infection on its own.

How to treat it: Yet again, exfoliation is your best bet, since it speeds skin cell turnover and can keep dead skin cells from clogging the pores. If you‘re dealing with many papules and thus a lot of inflammation, your dermatologist may prescribe an antibiotic, such as doxycycline, says Dr. Shauyra.


What it is: The classic example of a pimple, a pustule is a raised pimple that has come to a head. It’s almost like a papule, with the major difference being that pustules are filled with, well, pus. Pustules are often confused with whiteheads, but they aren’t identical. The difference is that a whitehead is simply a plugged follicle (without pus) and typically less inflamed. Basically: If it has pus, it’s a pustule.

How to treat it: The acne mainstays of benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid typically work well for pustules; you can find salicylic acid in Strawberry Smooth BHA + AHA Salicylic Serum. Not only is strawberry a natural source of salicylic acid, but we’ve also included an encapsulated version that both delivers a time-released effect in skin and does so without disturbing the all-important skin barrier. You may be tempted to pop it — we get it — but doing so can increase your risk of scarring. Resist and instead apply a hot compress, which may help draw out the infection.


What it is: The tip-off for cysts is their size and placement: They often appear as large red or white bumps, may be painful to the touch, and can be found deep within the skin (which is where they start). “Unlike whiteheads and blackheads, cysts lead to inflammation and infection,” says Dr. Shaurya. 

How to treat it: Since cystic acne can lead to infection and scarring, it’s best left in the hands of a medical professional. (So, definitely don’t attempt to pop it.) “Cystic acne usually requires an oral medication, such as doxycycline,” Dr. Shaurya says.

Once your breakout has cleared, your skin is going to feel tender and be in need of some serious soothing. We recommend the calming, anti-inflammatory powers of our Banana Soufflé Moisture Cream. It’s made with healing and moisturizing Magnesium and Potassium, plus Turmeric and Cica to soothe and calm. And, it’s non-comedogenic, meaning it won’t clog pores — which kind of defeats the purpose after you just spent all that time clearing them, no?


Glow Recipe

Watermelon Glow Sleeping Mask


Glow Recipe

Banana Soufflé Moisture Cream


Glow Recipe

Strawberry Smooth BHA+AHA Salicylic Serum


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