Pimples are never a fun thing to have to deal with. Nobody likes having unsightly, sometimes painful blocked pores to deal with, especially when they catch you by surprise or linger way longer than they should. And to make matters worse, not all pimples are created equal, and as such some require different treatment than others, and some are more severe than others. So how do you tell the difference, and how do you know which ones you can take care of at home and which ones you need a dermatologist’s help with? Keep reading and you’ll find out.
What’s a Pimple?
You might not think we’d need to define what exactly a pimple is, but it’s important to clarify before we move on; it’s always a good habit to review a concept before examining it in further detail. The term “pimple” is a broad umbrella term that encompasses a variety of localized infections that all share the common trait of occurring within pores that have been blocked by some form of debris (anything from oil to makeup you forgot to take off can do it) and as such, ceased to function properly—pores need to be open to “respire” and do their job properly.
Blackheads and Whiteheads
The most common and, thankfully, least serious, and easiest to deal with pimples are blackheads and whiteheads. Both tend to be rather tiny. Blackheads are clogged pores that remain open, so the blockage is easily visible and has a blackish appearance. Whiteheads are similar but have closed up around the blockage and appear more whitish. Both can be treated with products that contain salicylic acid, and may benefit from light to moderate exfoliation. Give it a few weeks, resist the urge to pop (seriously, you don’t want the acne scars; don’t do it), and they’ll more than likely go away. If they don’t, though, feel free to talk to a dermatologist about other methods of treatment. It’s unlikely you’ll have to, though, as blackheads and whiteheads should respond to daily salicylic acid treatment (look for face washes, scrubs, and even moisturizers with this ingredient) and once to twice-weekly exfoliation.
Papules and Pustules
These are the “middle of the road” pimples, meaning it’s a coin flip whether you’ll be able to take care of them on your own or need to see the doctor. Pustules and papules are pimples that have grown so large the pore walls have broken. Papules are hard bumps in the skin, while pustules are a bit softer and visibly filled with pus. Again, resist the urge to pop. Try salicylic acid and exfoliation as described above, but seek immediate treatment by a dermatologist if this isn’t working after three or so weeks.
Nodules and Cysts
The worst, but fortunately, least common types of pimples are nodules and cysts. These are blocked pores which have gotten irritated and expanded outward and inward (they go deeper into your skin and are visibly much larger than any other pimple type). Nodules are hard, while cysts are softer to the touch and may be visibly reddened and irritated. If you have any nodules and/or cysts, don’t waste time with home treatment. Make an appointment with a dermatologist today.