Acne is the wholesale term used to refer to the bumps on your skin that occur when your hair follicles plug up with dead skin cells and an oily substance called sebum. That isn’t quite the same as what we typically think of as “pus.” Pus is a white liquid mix of white blood cells that have died off after fighting an infection, while sebum is typically thicker and more yellow.

Blocked pores typically turn red first, because blood rushes to the site to fight infection. As white blood cells die off in that battle against bacteria, it dies off, forming pus. As excess sebum and dead skin cells build up and block the pore, other types of acne start to surface.

Acne is most prevalent in teenagers, whose hormones lead them to create more sebum but acne affects people of all ages. The bumps can cause scarring, especially if you pick at the skin.

There are several different variations of things that fall under the term “acne”.

  • Whiteheads
    • Pores that have clogged with sebum, dead skin cells, and other debris, then covered with a layer of skin that makes the clog appear white.
  • Blackheads
    • Clogged hair follicles where material has started pushing out through the skin.
  • Pimple
    • Small pustule or papule, also called zits.
      • Papules
        • Small, tender red bumps. Warts are also classified as papules. Clusters of them typically signify some sort of rash.
      • Pustules
        • Bulging patches of skin that have filled with pus. Typically appear when your body is fighting an infection, and a buildup of dead white blood cells and infected fluid fills a pore.
  • Nodules
    • A growth of abnormal tissue just below the skin can form hard lumps. They’re often developed as an autoimmune reaction to infection, or as a result in increased androgen hormones, which make the skin’s oil thicker, and therefore more likely to clog pores. These are typically painful and more serious than simple pimples, because they affect deeper layers of the skin. They can last for months and don’t always develop a whitehead. It should be treated by a dermatologist.
  • Cysts
    • A somewhat large sac of membranous tissue that swell up, full of fluid, air, pus and other fluid. This is the most severe form of acne, and can become painful. Cystic acne should be treated by a dermatologist.

Acne is often the result of hormonal changes, which is why it affects teenagers more drastically and commonly. Women, who are more hormonal than men, are also affected four times more by acne after puberty than their male counterparts. It turns out, the particular hormones causing your acne will give you problem areas in different places. The area where you’re impacted by acne can reveal what’s causing the bumps.

That’s especially true of the forehead. Along the T-Zone, oily skin is often the culprit, and your skin can become oilier with hormonal changes. If you have oily skin, you probably have acne forming along your forehead.

If the acne is closer to the hairline and temples, the products you’re using on your hair and any cosmetics you apply to your face could be to blame. Oily hair products can break down throughout the day and spread to the skin, which absorbs the oil, leading to blocked pores. As for makeup products, certain chemical ingredients can cause inflammation and acne in sensitive skin. Silicone, dimethicone, PVP, and petrolatum are some of the most common culprits.

People will often get hairstyles that cover their forehead to hide the acne, like bangs. The problem with that is twofold: the hair rubbing along your forehead can cause further irritation, and it also spreads oil from the hair to the forehead more effectively.

To avoid acne along your forehead, seek out cosmetics and hair products with simple, non-oily ingredients. You should also try to keep your hair out of your face.

Cheek acne, in contrast, has less to do with hormones, and more to do with genetics and everyday habits. Anything dirty that touches your face can lead to acne; and even if the item isn’t too dirty but is pressed against your skin for a long time, it can still lead to irritation and oil buildup. For most people, phones, dirty pillow cases and bedsheets, and hands can lead to acne along your cheeks.

The solution for that is to simply keep your hands off your face, wash your sheets regularly, and wipe down your phone regularly throughout the day.

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