One of the most important factors to any effective acne treatment is the knowledge and understanding of what kind of acne you have, and what is causing it. Only after you know those things can you effectively choose the best treatment option for your particular skin.
Despite what many people believe, not all acne lesions are the same. There are papules, pustules, cysts, open comedones (blackheads), closed comedones (whiteheads) and some other less common varieties.
In this article we’ll take a look at acne papules, starting with defining what they are, talking about what causes them, and finally what you can do to prevent and treat them.
A papule, in the broadest sense, is any circular, raised portion of skin with no visible fluid (as opposed to pustules, which have visible pus) that is smaller than 5mm in size. Papules may be inflammatory (red) or non-inflammatory.
In more common language, a papule is the small bump we all think of when we hear the word pimple.
Not all papules are a form of acne. For instance, chickenpox is a skin condition which causes red, itchy papules for form on the skin, but those lesions are not any form of acne.
If left alone, acne papules often fill with pus and become acne pustules.
Your outer layer of skin naturally sloughs off as new layers for underneath it. Occasionally, these dead skin cells become trapped in pores. When this happens, your skin’s natural oil, called sebum, can’t escape the pore like it normally does. If the buildup of sebum in the pore becomes to great, and walls of the pore will burst and an acne papule is formed.
The redness and inflammation found in and around papules comes from a bacteria naturally found in sebum called Propionibacterium acnes or simply P. acnes. When this bacteria becomes trapped in the skin, it multiplies out of control and causes the skin to become inflamed.
Since there are several contributing factors to the formation of papules, there are also several possible treatment options.
One option for the prevention of acne papules is to exfoliate the skin and prevent the pores and hair follicles from being clogged with dead skin cells.
Salicylic acid, one of the most popular over-the-counter acne treatment products, does exactly that. It helps your top layer of skin slough off more efficiently, so the dead skin cells don’t have a chance to clog pores.
Other types of exfoliation include various facial scrubs and even strong chemical peels.
The other option for preventing acne papules is to kill the P. acnes bacteria which is responsible for filling the pore and causing the pore wall to burst.
The best, and most widely available, way to kill the P. acnes bacteria is topically applied benzoyl peroxide. Daily application of 2.5% benzoyl peroxide should greatly diminish the amount of P. acnes bacteria present on your skin.
Obviously preventing papules from forming is the best way to treat them, but what if you have some acne papules that have already formed?
You won’t like the answer, but you should do absolutely nothing with acne papules.
While there are some acne lesions that can be effectively popped or squeezed to get rid of them faster, papules are not one of them. Since by definition papules have to visible pus, there’s nothing to squeeze out!
All you can really do is wait for the papule to become a pustule, and then you can carefully squeeze out the pus. Always be extremely careful when popping of squeezing any acne lesion, or you could damage your skin permanently and cause scarring.