Fans of dermatologist Sandra Lee (AKA Dr. Pimple Popper) and her hit TLC show are familiar with her impossible-to-look-away-from cases, but even veteran popaholics can have a hard time keeping all the different types of pimples straight. Need a breakdown? Here’s a guide to seven types of pimples (some you’ve probably never even heard of!) Dr. Pimple Popper treats.
1. Epidermoid Cysts
Not to be confused with cystic acne, epidermoid cysts are benign growths found in the skin that usually pop up on the face, neck, back, or around the genitals. “They occur on any hair-bearing area of the skin, so almost anywhere on the body,” says Dr. Lee. Although they’re slow-growing and typically harmless, infection and inflammation is usually the reason why her patients turn up looking for relief.
“Epidermoid cysts can get inflamed if they are traumatized, and the sac breaks under the skin, even if there is no evidence of a break on the surface of the skin,” Dr. Lee says. “When this happens, skin cells that have been trapped within this sac are now under your skin and this alerts your immune system, which recognizes these skin cells as invaders, to mount an immune response and attack the enemies.” The result? An inflamed, red, painful, swollen situation.
2. Pilar Cysts
These round bumps found just beneath the skin’s surface look just like epidermoid cysts, (and the similarities don’t stop there). Both are white or yellow in color, are derived from hair follicles, and are filled with “macerated keratin” (AKA wet skin cells). So how can you tell the difference between the two? It all comes down to location.
“Ninety percent of cysts that occur on the scalp are pilar cysts, and they have a thicker wall to them,” says Dr. Lee. “The protein responsible for keeping our skin and hair strong, keratin, usually moves to the surface of our skin. However, if and when these keratin cells move deeper into the skin, they can potentially multiply forming a pilar cyst.” They can run in families and are most common in women and middle-aged individuals. “It’s not uncommon for a person to have more than one of these growing on their scalp,” she adds.
These cysts form in the sebaceous glands and are lined with oil glands. While anyone can get a steatocystoma (pronounced stee-at-oh-cycst-oma), they usually first pop up on an individual in their 20s. “The most effective treatment of steatocystomas is the surgical removal of them,” says Dr. Lee. “These are not life threatening, so they don’t have to be removed, but many people who have them don’t like the appearance of them and sometimes they can get inflamed, which can lead to scarring.”
Both blackheads and whiteheads are comedones found within our pores. “A blackhead is an open comedone, meaning that the clogged pore is open to the surface of the skin, and the air has oxidized the dirt, debris, and oil clogging it, turning it black,” Dr. Lee says.
A salicylic acid spot treatment, (like this targeted option from Dr. Lee’s SLMD Skincare line), can work wonders. “Use it on areas of congestion, like blackheads and whiteheads, or even to help lighten areas of hyperpigmentation.”
Although you’ve all been told time and time again never to pop a pimple at home, when we do start squeezing, it’s usually to tackle a whitehead. “A whitehead is a closed comedone, meaning the dead skin and sebum are unexposed to air and trapped within the skin.”
At first glance, it can be easy to mistake milia (small, superficial cysts), for whiteheads (clogged pores), because they both look like small white bumps, but it’s the location that can help you determine if you do, in fact, have milia, (which is also commonly known as baby acne).
“Milia usually appear around the eyes or on the top portion of your cheek, whereas whiteheads are more common on the chin and forehead where more oil is produced,” Dr. Lee says. “There is also a difference in how they look. Whiteheads have a white center and are usually a little red and inflamed on the edges. The area around milia is not red or inflamed.”
If you do suffer from milia, be diligent about your skincare routine. “Avoid occlusive, comedogenic (pore-clogging) products on the skin,” Dr. Lee says. She also recommends using a retinol serum, like the one in her SLMD Skincare line which she recommends to her clients. “Topical retinol used in the area can help keep pores clear and speeds up the process of removing milia from deep under the skin.”
Also classified as a benign tumor, a lipoma is a cluster of fatty tissue that grows underneath the skin. While they aren’t likely to get infected (nor are they dangerous), a person may elect to have them removed because of how they look as they evolve. “They tend to grow slowly, but they do grow over time,” Dr. Lee says. “If they get to a large size they can distort your skin and be a source of embarrassment.”
Can’t get enough? Dr. Pimple Popper returns to TLC with season three on July 11.