How To FINALLY Decode Your Acne & Find The Best Treatment For You


what type of acne do I have? Source: Shutterstock

When it comes to acne: knowledge is power. The best way to calm and soothe acne-prone skin is by knowing the right ingredients and product formulas to keep breakouts at bay. However, another crucial element you need to know – that a lot of people don’t consider – is the type of acne your skin is prone to, as the varying forms need different treatment. If you’re wondering, ‘What type of acne do I have?’ Don’t worry, we have ALL the deets from two world-renowned celeb dermatologists; Dr. Dennis Gross and Dr. Doris Day. Here’s everything you need to know:

‘Regular’ Acne

what type of acne do I have?

Okay, first things first: acne. The most common type of acne occurs when the opening of a hair follicle is blocked with a combination of dead skin cells and sebum (the natural oil your skin produces). This then causes whiteheads, blackheads, and pimples to form. This can develop into cystic acne (more deets on that below). When people refer to ‘hormonal acne’ this is in fact, a variant of regular acne. It’s not a term used by medical professionals, it’s simply named hormonal acne as the increase in oil production that blocks the hair follicle is a result of hormonal changes, which is why you experience an influx of pimples when there are certain types of hormones circulating your body.

If your skin falls in this category, you should try to follow a skincare routine that helps lower oil production and removes dead skin cell build-up to prevent future breakouts, while reducing any existing inflammation in the skin. It’s important to remember that although you want to detox your pores, you don’t want to dry out your skin. If you dry out your skin, your skin will produce more sebum in an effort to lubricate your skin, thereby increasing the risk of blocked pores. We recommend avoiding abrasive scrubs, and gently exfoliating with chemical exfoliators (AHAs and BHAs) no more than three times a week. Use lightweight but hydrating products – think hyaluronic acid and soothing cica serums – and gel moisturizers.

Here are some of our fave acne-fighting products:

Mario Badescu Drying Lotion, $17: This drying solution is amazing at taking down pimples overnight. The potent formula helps to dry out blemishes and reduce redness and inflammation. Check out how to use it here.

Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Daily Face Peel, $88: This two-step treatment is amazing for acne-prone skin! The first step contains exfoliating acids, and step two regulates the AHA activity while delivering anti-aging active ingredients to rebalance the skin and lower oil production. We recommend using this every other day as part of your evening routine and following with hydrating products.

Sunday Riley UFO Ultra-Clarifying Face Oil, $80: This face oil contains 1.5% salicylic acid, as well as soothing tea tree oil and evening black cumin seed oil to encourage happy and healthy skin.

Read more about how to treat acne-prone skin here.

Cystic Acne


According to NY-based dermatologist Dr. Day, “Cystic acne is an infection that goes deep into your skin. It occurs when a pore becomes blocked; either with dead skin cells or other trapped bacteria. The pore then becomes inflamed, red, and is often pretty painful. The bump is normally full of pus and can burst; if this does happen it can spread the infection, leading to more breakouts.” She explains that “What differentiates a pimple from a cyst is that a cyst has a true lining. We can shrink cysts but they’re still there and can regrow.”

Again, if you have cystic acne, your regimen needs to focus on removing dead skin that’s blocking your pores and causing pimples to form, as well as to target any redness or swelling in the skin. Look for exfoliators formulated with AHAs (like glycolic, lactic or citric acid) and BHAs (like salicylic acid) as BHAs are anti-inflammatory and help break down the glue that binds dead skin cells together. They’re also antibacterial, so they’ll help fight acne bacteria in the skin. Here are some of our fave products for fighting cystic acne.

The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution, $12: This is one of our fave products for cystic acne. The formula packs a serious punch featuring four types of AHAs, as well as salicylic acid and hyaluronic acid to hydrate and replenish the skin. Although you should only use it once a week or every other week as it’s super potent.

The COSRX One Step Original Clear Pad, $20: These pads are so quick and easy to use, we’re obsessed! Each pad is infused with willow bark extract and tea tree leaf oil to fight acne bacteria and reduce inflammation and swelling. For more deets on how to treat cystic acne, read our cystic acne guide.

Fungal Acne

acne rosacea Source: Shutterstock

Fungal acne is much less well known, and it’s not really acne at all, although it very much looks like it. Dr. Dennis explains that “Fungal acne’ is actually called Malassezia folliculitis (or pityrosporum folliculitis). It’s an infection caused by excess yeast that aggravates your hair follicles. Yeast can feed on the oil found in your skin, making oilier skin and oilier skin areas more prone to developing an infection.”

Dr. Dennis told us “Another common cause of fungal acne is by using oil-based products as they can throw your skin off balance and therefore increase your risk of developing fungal acne. There are also environmental factors like heat and humidity that’ll amp up the likelihood of an infection, as well as if you’re someone who sweats more.”

According to Dr. Dennis Gross “Treatments can vary from incorporating sulfur into your skincare routine (it’s both anti-fungal and anti-bacterial) to needing an anti-fungal oral medication prescribed by your doctor. It simply depends on the severity of your infection and the frequency of it. Salicylic acid is another helpful ingredient.” If you have fungal acne, these products could help:

EradiKate Daily Foaming Cleanser, $38: This foaming formula contains 3% Sulfur to help reduce and prevent blemishes, unclog pores, balance oily skin, and minimize the appearance of pores. We recommend using it as part of your evening routine.

The Inkey List BHA Serum, $11: This serum is packed with BHA powerhouse; salicylic acid, which will help exfoliate pores and fight fungal breakouts. Plus, as it contains mega-hydrator hyaluronic acid, you don’t have to worry about it drying out your skin.

Neutrogena Body Clear Body Wash, $8: If you’re prone to fungal acne on your chest or back, this product should be at the top of your list. The formula contains 2% salicylic acid; a potent BHA that’ll exfoliate the skin and dissolve the glue that binds dead skin cells that block your pores.

Acne Rosacea

what type of acne do I have?

Before we get into the deets of acne rosacea, let’s begin by explaining rosacea. Rosacea is a skin condition that appears as redness and inflammation in the skin. It can be triggered by stress, heat or alcohol exposure. You may also have your own personal triggers, like spicy foods. Not many people know about acne rosacea, which is why it’s often mistreated.

Dr. Day explains how acne rosacea differs: “Acne rosacea or a rosacea breakout are red bumps and pustules that appear in the center of the face, the forehead, and the mouth. It can look like acne but without blackheads and whiteheads.” According to Dr. Day, the cause of acne rosacea is unknown.

Although she does explain; “We know what we see: we know things that can exacerbate it, and we know things that can make it better. But, there are some theories: one is the mite theory, which is that there’s an overgrowth of a mite called Demodex in the skin of those with rosacea. The mites may also carry bacteria that could be part of the problem and could be causing inflammation in the skin. The bacteria that is believed to be an underlying issue in acne, called p. acnes bacteria, is NOT an issue in rosacea.”

This is why identifying acne rosacea is so vital, as the method of treatment is completely different. If you treat acne rosacea with potent ingredients and formulas that are targeted for acne or even fungal acne, you could exacerbate the rosacea breakout. For example, lactic acid, which is recommended for acne-prone skin, shouldn’t be used if you have rosacea as it’ll dry out the skin and damage the skin’s defensive barrier further.

The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%, $13: Dr. Day says “Over-the-counter products that contain sulfur or azelaic acid” can help soothe acne rosacea making this serum a great affordable option.

Dr. Jart+ Cicapair Tiger Grass Color Correcting Treatment SPF 30, $52: When you’re in a rush in and don’t have time for a multi-step rosacea skincare routine, grab this all-in-one treatment. The award-winning formula applies green to cancel out redness but dries to match your skin tone (phew). It also has SPF 30 to protect from UV light and contains sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium to help improve the skin’s moisture levels.

Metronidazole: Dr. Day also recommends metronidazole, which is an over-the-counter treatment; “The American Academy of Dermatology says that ‘Research studies have shown that it can effectively reduce both the redness and acne-like rosacea breakouts.'”

Buttne And Body Acne

what type of acne do I have?

Buttne, aka spots on your bum, is another ‘type of pimple’ that is often confused with acne. It’s a condition called folliculitis, which is caused by wearing fabrics that do not allow your skin to breathe, like spandex and tight clothing. The tightness of the clothing generates occlusion of the follicles, which leads to a buildup of the skin cells that line them. The friction from the tightness of clothing and sweat buildup creates an irritant reaction that leads to redness, bumps, and eventually marks left behind; especially if you scratch or pick at them. The good news? If you use these buttne fighting products, you’ll begin to see a dramatic reduction.

Murad Clarifying Body Spray, $40: This potent formula contains salicylic acid to penetrate deep into pores and target breakouts, as well as niacinamide to soothe and calm redness while balancing oil production to prevent future breakouts. Plus, it’s super easy to use and you can reach all of those awkward angles.

Nip + Fab Glycolic Exfoliating Pads, $17: Each pad is soaked in glycolic acid to rebalance and retexturize the skin, hyaluronic acid for a surge of hydration, as well as blue daises to soothe irritation.

Shea Moisture African Black Soap Body Wash, $10: This body wash contains anti-bacterial lauric acid, which helps eliminate acne-inducing bacteria, plus oats, which extract excess oil and dirt from your pores, as well as hydrating and soothing aloe vera and Vitamin E.

If you’re still confused about your skin or your current skincare products aren’t making a difference, we recommend visiting your doctor or talking to a dermatologist who will be able to help figure out a routine and potentially prescribe treatments specifically for you. For more acne-fighting products, check out 10 products we use to soothe and calm acne-prone skin.