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7 burning acne questions, answered

You’ve got questions, Dr. Murad has answers.

There’s no sugar-coating it — acne is a complicated (and annoying) skin issue. There are a number of factors at play, all kinds of different types of acne, and a whole bunch of ways to treat it. So to help simplify the situation, at least somewhat, we asked Dr. Howard Murad, dermatologist and creator of eponymous skincare line, to answer some of the most common acne-related questions. Because when it comes to scoring a clear complexion, knowledge is definitely power.

Do you even have acne?

Spoiler alert — not all types of acne look the same. And, spoiler alert part two, there are other common skin conditions that get mistaken for acne.

Q: What types of acne are there?

Dr. Murad: There are four general types. Two of these are non-inflammatory, clogged pores that show up as whiteheads and blackheads. The other two are inflammatory. There’s what we call traditional acne — inflamed, red bumps — and cystic acne. Cystic acne is the most severe type, and is characterized by very inflamed red bumps deep under the skin’s surface that are typically very painful and difficult to treat.

Q: What skin problems get mistaken for acne?

Dr. Murad: Acne excoriée is a big one. It’s not actual acne, just redness and bumps that are caused by a person continuously touching and picking at their skin. Rosacea and eczema are also sometimes mistaken for acne, as is folliculitis, which is inflammation around the hair follicles on the skin.

What’s causing your acne?

There’s no one culprit; there are multiple players involved, all of which play a role.

Q: What causes acne?

Dr. Murad: Genetics are a major factor, as are certain hormonal conditions. But ultimately, what causes acne is a combination of excess oil and bacteria that clog the hair follicles on the skin and the subsequent inflammation that occurs. You only get acne in places where there are hair follicles, which is why you can get it on areas like the face, chest, and back, but not on your hands.

Q: Does diet affect acne?

Dr. Murad: Diet absolutely matters when it comes to having clear skin. Clear skin is healthy skin, and the health of your skin is dependent on the health of your body overall. Eating chocolate or French fries won’t cause an acne breakout, but eating lots of fast food and processed foods doesn’t do your body or your skin any favors. On the flip side, a diet full of antioxidant-rich fruits and veggies goes a long way toward keeping your skin healthy.

The best treatment plan

Remember those different types of acne we talked about? Figuring out which one you have — and addressing it specifically — is the secret to clear-skin success.

Q: What’s the best way to treat acne?

Dr. Murad: Specialized treatment — and knowing when to see a dermatologist — are key, but one universally good move is to properly exfoliate. This sloughs away dead skin cells that can cause clogged pores, the root of all types of acne breakouts. Plus, when your skin is properly exfoliated, it helps acne-fighting ingredients penetrate deeper and work more effectively.

Q: So, what are the best acne-fighting ingredients to try?

Dr. Murad: The key ingredient to look out for is salicylic acid. It can dissolve oil and exfoliates to keep the hair follicle clear. It also works beneath the skin’s surface, and can prevent inflamed blemishes from surfacing by clearing the pore before acne-causing bacteria sets in. Another popular ingredient is benzoyl peroxide, which targets that acne-causing bacteria and is anti-inflammatory, but it can be potentially drying and irritating.

Q: How long does it take to treat acne?

Dr. Murad: Getting rid of acne isn’t as simple as just changing your cleanser. Because it can be caused or exacerbated by a number of factors, your path to clear skin may involve several steps and will require some time and patience.