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what is the difference between pimples and acne?

what is the difference between pimples and acne?

We’ve been using ‘pimples’ and ‘acne’ interchangeably, but are they the same thing? long story short – nope!

what are pimples?


Pimples are clogged pores caused by the build-up of dead skin cells and excess sebum (oil) that are infected with bacteria that ends up plugging the follicles. Before we move on, I've got news for you - there are several types of pimples. Brace yourself.

the anatomy of a pimple


Though they are more commonly known by their specific names, both blackheads and whiteheads are types of pimples. Bet you didn’t know! Blackheads and whiteheads are non-inflammatory pimples that are clogged by a mixture of dead skin cells, sebum, and bacteria.

Blackheads turn black due to oxidation inside the follicle mix as a result of an open follicle that is allowing oxygen in. Whiteheads on the other hand are the non-oxidised version of blackheads. Milia, another type of non-inflammatory pimple, happens when dead skin cells and/or sebum become trapped by skin that grows over them.

When pores are infected with bacteria and begin to inflame – causing a reddish bump on our skin – a little pink bump called a papule is formed. As more bacteria form within the papule, it swells up and we may even see a yellow-white top right under a thin layer of skin. This white hat-wearing sibling of the papule is known as a pustule. These are the two most common inflammatory pimples most people experience.

In severe cases, the infection of the pustule spreads to neighboring areas causing more papule and pustule to develop. This, as I call it, is the mother of all pimples, a nodule. A nodule is a cluster of papules and pustules that creates the large angry-looking bumps on the skin.

Left untreated, the infection and inflammation goes deep under the skin and forms a cyst covered by a membrane that does not allow anything to get in or out of the cyst. The good thing, bacteria can’t come out. The bad thing, no topical acne products will be able to penetrate it to treat the cyst either. Cyst gives the appearance of a large bump, often singular on the skin with no visible pus, and is painful to the touch.

At Clear Start, we refer to pimples as breakouts. Pimples can sound misleading. As you are now more well-informed, pimples are more than just red bumps. That is why we use ‘breakouts’!

Are you still with me?

what about acne?


Acne is a condition where we experience recurring and persistent pimples. And just like pimples, there are several different types of acne.

Non-inflammatory acne - comprised mainly of blackheads and whiteheads that are non-inflammatory.

Inflammatory acne - a condition that involves infected and inflamed pimples like papules, pustules, nodules, and cysts.

Though acne is generally categorised as non-inflammatory and inflammatory acne, conditions, where a certain type of pimple are more prevalent or are located in certain areas, can be called a specific type of acne (cystic acne and back acne/bacne, for example).

It all may sound complicated. But essentially, acne is a condition, while pimples are types of acne lesions.

what causes pimples and acne?


In general, the direct cause of acne is infected clogged pores. However, the indirect cause of acne can be multi-pronged.

When we think clogged pores, many of us think of bad skin hygiene (NEVER SLEEP WITH YOUR MAKE-UP ON OMG). Though it is one of many common factors, stress, hormonal fluctuation, polluted environment, lifestyle habits, diet, and genetic predisposition are also common causes of acne.

Stress inevitably triggers an increase in stress-related hormones which sends the production of sebum into overdrive and slows down the skin cell turnover. And thus, creating the perfect condition for acne breakouts. For ladies, raise your hand if you don’t experience the dreadful monthly PMS – you lucky girl!

Polluted environments can mean any external factors from seasonal changes to sleeping with your make-up on. This is especially true for people who workout and play sports on a regular basis. Aside from sweating, UV rays from working out outdoors can stimulate cell production, sebum, and blood flow, and exacerbate breakouts causing an acne situation.

That said, don’t let working out stop you from leading a healthy lifestyle! Instead, make sure to protect yourself from harmful UV rays outdoor. Clearing Defense SPF 30 is a good bet! It also provides a long-lasting matte finish without clogging pores. Post-workout, keep your pores clean with Breakout Clearing Foaming Wash that gently cleanses the gunk away without stripping the skin.

While we’ve busted the myth on whether chocolate causes breakout for you in 6 B.S. Acne Myths To Stop Believing Today (check it out if you haven’t), sugar and foods with high glycemic index does cause rapid spikes in blood sugar that makes us feel lethargic – fact, people! That in turn may demotivate us from doing what is good for us like working out. See the relation? While snacking is a great stress-relieving activity, it’s a good idea to limit the intake of crowd favs like Nutella and Takis in moderation.

People with genetic predisposition to acneic skin can shed dead skin cells up to four times more than the average person. This exposes them to a higher likelihood of clogged pores, but it does not mean it is the end of the world. What this means is it is more important for people with genetic predisposition to pay extra attention to exfoliating the skin. Daily Microfoliant is a gem for this with its super easy and quick application. Exfoliant that gently sloughs away pore-clogging dead skin cells for a healthy-looking glow.

acne begone!

Now that we’re clear on the difference between pimple and acne, and what causes them, let’s look at tips on how to clear acne and pimples and send them far far away.

Acne is caused by a mixture of breakouts that we experience like blackheads, whiteheads, and the other types of inflammatory pimples. Since the cause of acne starts with clogged pores, it is only natural that the solution to acne will be to achieve clean, unclogged pores, though direct treatment varies for different types of acne. Keeping pores clean is essential to acne prevention.

Blackheads, whiteheads and milia are the three breakouts that do not have any inflammation. They form due to clogged pores but are not (yet) infected by bacteria. In situations like this, decongesting the pores is the way to go. Blackhead Clearing Fizz Mask transforms into an active fizzing formula that helps clear pores and target blackheads. And I promise you the fizzing sensation is one that is pretty satisfying.

Since pimples are already inflamed, indicating that bacteria infection is present, it is imperative to first make sure that the skin is clean. Breakout Clearing Foaming Wash deep cleans and purifies the skin by washing away dead skin cells, dirt, and excess sebum. It contains Salicylic Acid, a BHA (Beta Hydroxy Acid), and also an active ingredient that is highly efficient at unclogging pores and exfoliating acne-prone skin. If you are experiencing acne on other areas of the body (your back, for example), Breakout Clearing Foaming Wash can be used on the area as well!

Post-cleaning, use a spot treatment on the pimples to reduce inflammation. Breakout Clearing Booster kills breakout-causing bacteria in only 15 minutes upon application. If you’re ever in need of a super spot treatment, you know who to look for.

Even though pimples and acne are highly associated with the production of excess sebum, it does not mean sebum (oil) is bad for you and that you should rid your skin off any of it. Dry skin can trigger excessive production of sebum just the same as a response to compensate for moisture loss on the skin. Which makes moisturising just as important if you have pimple or acne-prone skin. The secret is in selecting a lightweight and non-comedogenic moisturiser like Skin Soothing Hydrating Lotion which is formulated with gentle botanicals to soothe irritated skin.

Regardless of if you have a pimple or two, or if your face is a friend of acne, it’s important we learn to love the skin we’re in at all stages.

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