Spots. Pimples. Zits. Breakouts. Acne. Whatever you call them, we all get them from time to time. We dread the sight of them rearing their ugly heads just when we least need it and can’t wait for them to go away!
Having had acne as a teen learning about skincare was important for me. I’ve noticed lots of people are a little confused about which type of bump is which and the huge amount of beauty jargon really doesn’t help them so I decided to do a bit of jargon busting. Knowing what you’re dealing with in the first place is where to start when putting together a battle plan to deal with problem skin.
Back in the 90’s there wasn’t much available on the high street that could help, lots of harsh products that ultimately just made things a lot worse. I’m looking at you Clearasil!
Thankfully my GP was able to help and get me through the worst but I still get odd break outs with my hormonal cycle. Because of my EDS I have to be super careful to look after my skin as it can take such a long time to heal and can scar so easily. Going through all this has left me with quite an intricate knowledge of acne skincare. As there wasn’t as much in the way of an online beauty community back then I had to learn slowly and often the hard way. So unlike many beauty professionals out there I’ve experienced it from both sides. I really do know what it’s like! Anyway, enough of my waffling, lets get to the jargon:
Types of Spot
- Open Comedones
Most commonly known as blackheads! The most basic of the acne lesions, a comedo is a hair follicle, commonly referred to as a pore, that has become clogged with sebum (oil) and dead skin cells. In an open comedo this mass has reached the surface and visible through the follicle/pore opening.
It’s not dirt that causes the comedo to turn black. The black appearance is a result of oxidisation of the sebum as well as from the altered light reflection off these areas. Many people mistake large pores but slightly greyish looking (light reflection again) with a perfectly normal sebaceous filament for blackheads and become frustrated when they can’t extract them. See my post about black masks for photos showing the difference.
- Closed Comedones
Closed comedones are often mistaken by laymen for milia which I’ll discuss later on. Closed comedones are formed in the same way as the more familiar blackhead type of comedo however the top of the pore is closed over the mass of sebum. This results in a raised bump which can appear whitish.
These are referred to as white heads by dermatologists or referenced more nebulously as “congestion” by some skincare brands.
Papules are where a developing comedo becomes inflamed for some reason. The resulting protective histamine reaction forms red or pink bump in the skin which may have some swelling. This type of spot may be sensitive or even painful to the touch and very tempting to pick at!
What everyone thinks of when they think of a spot! The bump is typically filled with white or yellowish pus. Tiny white looking pustules are often known as white heads in common conversation.
- Nodules & Cysts
Nodules are large, inflamed bumps that feel firm to the touch. They develop deep within the skin and are often painful. Cysts are large, pus-filled lesions that look similar to boils. People who develop nodules and cysts are usually considered to have a more severe form of acne and should seek treatment from a medical professional.
And Those Milia Thingies
And finally, Milia. Milia are not an acne lesion although you will find people who confusingly refer to them as, you guessed it, white heads!
Milia are most common at the extremes of life – in babies and as we age. A milium is a tiny pearl of keratin that forms underneath the top layer of the skin. They’re typically found on the face; eyelids, and under the eyes are common sites in adults while around the nose area is frequently seen in newborns.
A milium is not made of sebum like spots and cannot be squeezed out or “popped” as it doesn’t sit in a pore so has no route to the surface. Qualified beauty therapists (etheticians in the States) or dermatologists can extract milia using a sterile needle if they don’t go away on their own.
I couldn’t resist sliding in this cute picture of a baby nose covered in milia or “milk spots” at the end. Cute!
I hope this post has helped bust some of the jargon around spots and acne for you all. Let me know if there are any other areas of skincare or make-up you’d like me to bust some jargon around and I’ll get to it!