Does it feel acne treatments are like a box of chocolates? You never know whether you’ll end up happy or disappointed.
You read a gushing story of how someone got over acne with a particular treatment. As you read more, you find other people who swear by the treatment. The excitement builds up, and you rush to order it. Only to have your hopes dashed – once again – because the treatment had no effect on your acne.
What if I told you the reason the treatment didn’t work is that you were treating the wrong problem?
What do you mean, you ask, we both have acne, right?
Yes and no. Yes, you both have a skin problem called acne. No, because there are different types of acne.
After reading a well over 1000 studies and talking with acne sufferers for over five years, I’ve come to realize we don’t all suffer from ‘the same acne.’ On the surface, they look more or less the same, but the internal causes that cause acne for one person can be wildly different from the internal causes for another.
So, in a very real way, acne for one person is an entirely different problem than it is for another. And yet, both are lumped into the same ‘acne’ group and treated the same way – is it any wonder that people struggle to get clear?
Different acne types
Here are the distinct acne types I’ve identified:
- Hormonal – linked to an imbalance between male and female sex hormones (androgens and estrogens). Androgens stimulate the skin cells to produce more oil, which leads to clogged pores, inflammation and acne. Usually aggravated by carbohydrates, dairy products and other foods that spike insulin levels. The most common acne type for adult women.
- Inflammatory – Excessive inflammation depletes antioxidant stores and leaves the skin vulnerable to inflammatory damage from UV radiation, air pollution, and other sources. Read more about the link between inflammation and acne. The trick in inflammatory-type acne is to nail down the cause of inflammation, which can be gut problems, histamine intolerance, food allergies, etc.
- Stress/emotional – People with emotional-type acne feel like acne has taken over their lives. They are anxious and stressed because of it and spend a lot of time and money researching and trying different things. Stress and anxiety often aggravate acne, which causes even more stress and anxiety. The priority in emotional-type acne is to stop the vicious stress-acne-stress cycle.
- Irritant – Sometimes acne is just a skin problem, like in irritant-type acne. Physical rubbing and harsh or comedogenic chemicals can irritate the skin and cause acne.
- Infectious – Not technically acne but frequently mistaken for it. Certain pathogens can cause skin infections that look like acne. One example is a yeast called Malassezia, which causes Malassezia folliculitis that looks very similar to acne. One characteristic of infectious-type acne is that it usually doesn’t respond to or gets worse with antibiotics used treat acne. The antibiotics kill off the skin bacteria that hold off the yeast.
- Acneiform – An acne-like drug reaction. Potential causes include halogens (chlorine, iodine, fluoride), immune system suppressors, some chemotherapy drugs, and corticosteroids. Vitamin B12 can also trigger acneiform.
This list is not necessarily comprehensive, and you should consider it as work in progress. As scientists learn more about acne, it’s likely they will also identify other causes.
You can have more than one acne type
Real life is messy and doesn’t fall into neatly separated boxes. And so it is also with acne. Your acne can be 100% one type, but more likely it’s a mixture of two or more types. In the private Clear for Life Facebook group, many women say their acne is a combination of hormonal and inflammatory types (usually linked to gut problems).
Take this quiz to identify your acne type
So how do you know what your acne type is? By taking this quiz I created. Just answer a series of questions about areas linked to acne, and you’ll get a personalized acne type report to your email that explains your acne type(s) and what you can do get over acne.
The quiz only takes a couple of minutes.
How to use acne types to get clear – for good
The main benefit of knowing your acne type is that it helps you to focus on treatments that are the most likely to work for you.
Before this, you might have clicked your way to an acne forum – only to find a contradicting mix of “this worked for me” and “no, that doesn’t work” opinions.
Let’s say your acne is at least partially hormonal. We know that hormonal-type acne is linked to insulin and treatments that reduce insulin levels often also reduce acne. There’s one group of people who knows a lot about insulin – diabetics. Check diabetic forums for diet information.
Or let’s say you have inflammatory-type acne that’s linked to gut problems. Ask people with irritable bowel syndrome what to eat.
I guarantee you’ll get better answers than asking other people with acne.
Don’t do everything that’s supposed to cure acne
Many with acne get overwhelmed with the sheer number of causes and treatments for acne. Maybe they feel like they can’t keep up with everything they are supposed to do.
You don’t have to do everything just because someone said it helped their acne. Focus on the treatments that are relevant to your acne type.
Let’s say you have stress/emotional-type acne and none of the diet changes you’ve tried have helped. You don’t have to keep doing them just because they are supposed to reduce acne. For someone with stress/emotional-type, a diet shouldn’t be a priority number one. You can’t fix emotional problems with a knife and fork.
Here are the three points you should take away from this:
- Use your understanding of acne types to understand the problems that cause your acne.
- Look for solutions to those problems – instead of acne.
- Tackle each problem one by one.
Do this, and you can expect your acne to go away or reduce significantly.