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How to Tell if You Have Congestion, Acne, or Blackheads

By Celia Shatzman, she/her

When it comes to your face, seeing spots isn’t fun. The fact that there are so many possibilities that could be causing that congestion, acne, or blackheads can make it harder to get to the bottom of it. So, how to tell what’s what?

Congestion is the entire face category; it can be acne, blackheads, sebaceous filaments, and whiteheads,” explains Krystin Phillips, Director of Customer Experience at Youth To The People. “It’s the buildup of dead skin, dirt, sweat, oil, and impurities within the pore. It can be caused by your day-to-day activity, diet, life, stress, and the choices you make for skin through makeup or skincare.”

To keep your skin clear, it starts with being able to identify exactly what type of blemish you’re experiencing so that you’ll know how to treat it.

“You can help treat each one with a consistent skincare regimen including specific types of products for targeted benefits,” Phillips says. “Look for products and ingredients that work best for your skin and drink plenty of water.”

If you’re dealing with acne, you’re not alone. More than three million people in the US struggle with acne every year.

“Acne is a skin condition that can occur in all skin types, even dry. Those with acne may experience raised, red or white pustules and it can be painful or itchy,” Phillips says. Triggers include hormonal imbalances, diet, and lifestyle choices. “Acne can be treated with BHAs, PHAs and AHAs, but you need a correct routine to help balance the skin to keep it from tipping the scale and preventing further breakouts.”

BHAs are beta hydroxy acids, which help exfoliate skin—one of the most popular options is salicylic acid, which is found in the Superclay Purify + Clear Power Mask. Another type of exfoliator is AHAs, or alpha hydroxy acids, and those include glycolic acid, lactic acid, malic acid and mandelic acid. YTTP’s Kombucha + 11% AHA Exfoliation Power Toner, also found in the  ZZZ-Ya, Dullness Youth Stack, contains lactic acid and glycolic acid. Since AHAs can dry out skin, Phillips recommends using them in conjunction with hyaluronic acid for hydration.

PHAs, which are polyhydroxy acids, are similar to AHAs and also work to remove dead skin cells. Examples include lactobionic acid and gluconolactone. 

Blackheads are easier to identify, since their self-explanatory name sums it up: they typically appear dark or black on the skin and are a type of mild acne. 

“Within the pore, a blackhead is a black flat or sometimes raised dot that is composed of dirt or makeup residue and can also be from silicone or dimethicone,” Phillips says. To treat blackheads, Phillips suggests regular exfoliation with AHAs and BHAs. Physical exfoliation is another option, so you can reach for your favorite micro-exfoliant, like the Yerba Mate Resurfacing Energy Facial, when you see blackheads cropping up. For a routine that features both chemical and physical exfoliants, the Exfoliation Station Youth Stack is a twofer—just be sure to use them on alternate days to avoid over-exfoliation.

As for congestion, if you hear that term popping up again and again, know that it refers to clogged pores. 

“Congested skin is any skin, including skin with acne and blackheads, where the pores can be seen visibly,” explains Phillips. That means there’s a good chance with congestion that you’ll want to reach for your favorite exfoliants to help clear things up. 

Written by Celia Shatzman for Youth To The People