One of the most common lies teens are told is that at least they won’t have acne when they grow up. As many adults can profess, acne may lessen with time, but unless you’re blessed with perfectly balanced skin and hormones, those annoying pimples can affect people at any stage of life. And just to make things extra complicated, there are several different types of acne, like subclinical acne and comedonal acne, but the most common type of them all is acne vulgaris.
Now, in terms of names, acne vulgaris sounds terrifying. However, it’s not scary at all. In fact, “vulgaris” is Latin for “common.” So if a doctor tells you that you have acne vulgaris, then they’re simply saying you have a regular breakout fueled by a combination of hormones, bacteria, and oil. As reported by the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), around 50 million people deal with some form of common acne in the United States each year.
That number includes adolescents as young as eight and adults whose teen years are in their rearview mirror. The truth is acne doesn’t discriminate based on age. While it’s less likely for an adult to have a full-blown breakout, pimples are incredibly common, especially on the face, shoulders, back, and buttocks (yes, that butt pimple you’re obsessing over is totally normal).
But while acne vulgaris is the most prevalent breakout culprit, there are other more serious types of acne you should be aware of, as well. If you get the occasional pimple around your period, then that’s likely no big deal. However, if you’re dealing with persistent breakouts, cysts, blackheads, milia, or pimples in odd places like your hands, feet, stomach, or even your pubic area, then you could be dealing with another type of acne or a different skin disorder altogether.
Don’t panic; in most cases, you can figure out if you have acne vulgaris yourself, and then treat it with over-the-counter creams. If you suspect you’re dealing with a more stubborn form of acne or another skin condition, then it is best to make an appointment with a dermatologist.
What is the difference between acne and acne vulgaris?
Acne is a bit of a catch-all term for pimples, blackheads, whiteheads, and other blemishes, but don’t let that confuse you. Acne vulgaris is just the most common form of acne. Still, there are different levels of severity when it comes to acne: according to VeryWell Health, a case can be mild (less than 20 pimples), moderate (more than 20 pimples, blackheads, and whiteheads), or severe (widespread pimples with nodules and cysts also present).
Although acne isn’t dangerous, no matter the level of severity, moderate and severe forms can lead to scarring. Additionally, acne can take a toll on your mental health. As a result, it’s always a good idea to seek out treatment, especially if persistent breakouts are making you or your child feel self-conscious.
What does acne vulgaris look like?
Identifying acne vulgaris is fairly simple. It presents as papules (swollen, red bumps), whiteheads (blemishes that appear white with a swollen center), or blackheads (like whiteheads, but with a black center). These spots most commonly appear on the face, neck, chest, or buttocks. If pimples appear elsewhere, you may be dealing with a different skin condition that you’ll need to discuss with a dermatologist.
How do you treat acne vulgaris?
Everyone has their own unique acne experience, so there may be a bit of trial and error involved when it comes to treating common acne. In terms of what causes breakouts in the first place, the culprit is usually a combination of hormonal fluctuations, bacteria, and oil. When everything is working smoothly, sebaceous glands produce an oily substance called sebum.
In turn, sebum is expelled through the pores of the skin, along with dead skin cells. When cells become clogged with excess sebum, bacteria, and dead skin cells then acne forms. Generally, as we age, the hormones which trigger an increase in sebum production begin to decrease, which leads to fewer breakouts. But due to the hormonal fluctuations associated with a woman’s monthly cycle, many women continue to deal with minor breakouts past puberty (but it should be noted men can get pimples later in life, too).
When it comes to treatment, it often depends on the severity of the acne vulgaris, but a combination of the following methods is effective in most cases:
- Salicylic acid: Found in most over-the-counter acne creams, salicylic acid helps unclog pores and eases inflammation in the skin.
- Benzoyl peroxide: Like salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide is found in OTC treatments, and it helps rid the skin of the bacteria that causes acne.
- Retinoids: Another ingredient in OTC treatments, retinoids target blackheads and whiteheads.
- Topical antibiotics: In moderate and severe cases, a dermatologist may prescribe a topical antibiotic cream for acne.
- Oral antibiotics: Oral antibiotics are only prescribed in moderate and severe cases, usually alongside some sort of topical cream, and only for a short time.
Acne is an annoying, but common part of life, and while treating it can be a pain, at least you can rest easy knowing you are most definitely not alone when it comes to battling breakouts.
How can acne vulgaris be prevented?
Acne vulgaris can be a frustrating blemish, but there are a few ways to prevent it and reduce flare-ups.
- Wash your hair and keep it out of your face.
- Avoid picking or popping your pimples.
- Wash your face twice a day.
- Remove your makeup before going to bed.
- Cut back on foods that are super sugary or filled with carbohydrates.
- Wear sunscreen when outside. It protects your skin from sun damage and from producing too much oil.
- Use oil-free products. Oil clogs your pores and can cause breakouts.
- Avoid over-exfoliation, whether it be physical or chemical exfoliation. It can cause dry skin and irritation. Also, removing too much of your natural oils causes your face to overproduce oil, which can cause pimples.