Are you wondering: “Do I have cystic acne?” Acne is the most common skin condition in the United States*, but there is an abundance of misinformation out there. Keep reading to learn if you truly have cystic acne and how to identify and treat different types of acne.
What is Acne?
Let’s start with the basics. By definition, acne is a chronic disease of the sebaceous glands (the part of your skin that produces oil) that occurs as inflammatory eruptions affecting the face, upper back, and chest. Acne consists of blackheads, whiteheads, papules, pustules, and cysts. They can occur in puberty and adolescence, but aren’t confined to those ages, despite popular belief. Acne can be successfully treated and controlled by sticking to a strict regimen, but not 100% cured. It can re-occur at any time.
What is cystic acne?
Many people are quick to label their pimples as cystic acne, but “cysts are large, flesh-toned bumps that are infected under the skin – they are usually quite painful,” – Teresa Stenzel, Bioelements Director of Education. True cystic acne occurs deep under the skin and are categorized as a severe form of acne.
The acne scale grade
To understand how cystic acne compares to different types of acne, view the acne grade scale below. This grading scale is used by physicians to rate the physiological severity of acne, so that the treatment will be appropriate to the condition.
Non-inflamed acne grades
Grade 1 is characterized by micro-comedones (small skin colored bumps), and excessive open comedones (blackheads) and closed comedones (whiteheads).
Grade 2 is characterized by excessive open and closed comedones. In addition, papules (inflamed solid pimple) and pustules (larger pimple containing pus) are present.
In general, non-inflamed acne is significantly easier to treat with at home skin care and the help of an esthetician.
Inflamed acne grades
Grade 3 is characterized by papules and pustules, and fewer comedones. Occasional nodules (a small rounded lump) or cysts (large, very deep pimples) can appear. It is recommended that you seek a licensed medical physician in addition to an esthetician.
Grade 4 is characterized by nodules and cysts, with fewer papules, pustules and comedones. This severe form is caused by severe inflammation and can result in follicular structure damage (acne scarring). Grade 4 acne conditions must be treated by a licensed medical dermatologist.
At the end of the day, if you have cystic acne consistently, you need to see a licensed medical professional to treat it.
What causes acne? The 4 acne trigger factors
To stop the vicious cycle of acne from repeating itself over and over, you need to control its four trigger factors:
1) Excess Sebum
Sebum (oil) is produced in sebaceous glands that are found all over the body except for the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet. In humans, the major stimulus to sebum development and secretion is the male hormone called androgen.
Scientific evidence supports that the average rates of sebum secretions are higher in persons with acne than persons without acne.
2) Pore-Clogging Dead Skin Cells
The epidermis, or outermost layer of the skin, extends down into the follicle, forming a lining. Dead skin cells shed inside the follicle, forming large clumps – in people with acne, these dead cells are retained in the follicle, where they mix with sebum and form a plug called a micro-comedone.
As cells continue to build up, the impaction grows as cells mix with sebum, which then flows to the skin surface. In some cases, this flow causes pores to dilate, and create an open comedone (blackhead). In other cases, it becomes a closed comedone (whitehead).
3) Acne Bacteria
Propionibacteria (P. acnes) is a natural resident of the skin that cannot ‘live’ in an oxygen-rich environment. Since P. acnes “hate” the air, they have found their niche living in the sebaceous follicle, which becomes a sealed microhabitat when clogged with sebum and dead cells.
The sebaceous follicle is a microhabitat with an opening that is effectively sealed by its contents, which include the hair growing from the root at the base of the follicle, epidermal cells, and sebum. This oxygen-free environment is ideal for the growth of bacteria.
Chemicals that P. acnes produces as a by-product of ingested sebum contribute to the final trigger factor – inflammation.
Acne inflammation stems from both irritant and immunological processes. Free fatty acids released from the P. acnes after ingesting sebum is the primary irritant.
As P. acnes proliferate in the oxygen-free environment of the follicle, the irritation and inflammation increase. The secondary cause of inflammation is the body’s response to injury and infection.
Some white blood cells ingest the bacteria and cellular debris, while others produce antibodies that kill the bacteria and help repair damaged tissue. Some of these substances cause tissue to become inflamed as they work.
The hormonal connection and acne
As the body matures and its hormonal chemistry changes, skin chemistry shifts as well. In some cases, glandular activity may slow, while in others, overactive hormones might stimulate increased sebum production.
Hormonal acne is most often influenced by male hormones called androgens. Androgens are present in both males and females. The principle androgens are testosterone and androstenedione, a steroid hormone naturally produced in the adrenal glands and the gonads.
When the sebaceous glands are over-stimulated by androgens (such as during menstruation), women, both young and middle aged, tend to experience acne breakouts.
Hormonal changes related to pregnancy and the use of oral contraceptives can also affect sebum production.
How to heal acne: Ingredients
There are three FDA approved ingredients that fight acne: salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and sulfur. These are the active acne fighters.
"These ingredients all help increase cell turnover to keep pores clean and remove dead skin build up that leads to acne breakouts. The sulfur also attacks acne bacteria, fights inflammation and reduces redness." –Teresa Stenzel
Without these ingredients, your acne products aren't actively tackling acne.
However, to have a truly effective acne fighting system, you can't just dry out blemishes with strong active ingredients. You need soothing, calming, and strengthening ingredients to help the acne healing process.
What makes Bioelements Acne Clearing System so unique is the fact that we use additional ingredients to provide antiseptic, soothing and hydrating benefits: allantoin, panthenol (vitamin B5), honey, lavender/lavendin, lemon, lime, orange and grapefruit. These all work together to provide additional antiseptic and calming benefits. Phospholipids are also used to bind water and needed moisture to the skin, instead of over drying your skin. Lastly, the antioxidant green tea is used as a powerful strengthening agent.
Acne products that work
We use the highest level, FDA-approved OTC acne medicines – formulated to clear skin without drying or irritating.
Formulated with the highest effective levels of FDA-approved ingredients plus plant extracts, 100% pure essential oils and antioxidants, the Acne Clearing System delivers clear, professional results. Clinically tested to be non-irritating, and packaged in glass to ensure its medicated ingredients stay effective – without any added fragrance, artificial dyes or parabens. It's a complete system of four products that raises the bar:
1) Spotless Cleanser
It's important to remove surface bacteria with a maximum strength, 2% salicylic acid cleanser. An OTC medicinal cleanser will cleanse deep to clear skin of acne pimples, blackheads and whiteheads, and allow it to heal.
Bioelements Spotless Cleanser will remove surface bacteria without over-drying or stripping skin, and is dermatologist and clinically tested to be non-irritating.
2) Acne Toner
A salicylic acid acne toner will eliminate excess oil and rebalance your skin – plus, it will help keep your skin free of new acne pimples.
Bioelements Acne Toner is formulated with 0.5% Salicylic Acid and is dermatologist and clinically tested to be non-irritating.
3) Amino Mask
Treat skin that suffers from acne and pimples with a targeted mask to deliver a concentrated dose of ingredients designed to clear skin. Amino Mask will penetrate and clear pores with 5% sulfur; Kerafole will purge skin – a great way to stay ahead of breakouts; and Restorative Clay will draw out debris like a vacuum.
4) Breakout Control
If you're looking for acne treatments that work fast, this spot treatment is it. Breakout Control contains 5% pharmaceutical grade benzoyl peroxide to banish pimples quickly. This light, hydrating formula also works invisibly so you can wear it easily under makeup.
Professional facials for acne
The Bioelements Acne Clearing Facial is an absolute must for skin that's breakout-prone, or has clogged pores or blackheads. This acne-fighting facial begins with a personal Bioelements SkinReading. It's followed by a deep pore cleansing, exfoliation, a targeted Power Treatment based on the skin's specific acne needs, and a medicated Amino Mask that contains enzymes, antioxidants, antiseptic and anti-inflammatory ingredients. It's an effective treatment that will help fight acne, heal and prevent blemishes and soothe the skin.