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What type of acne do I have?

Acne can affect different types of skin disorders, each with a distinct appearance and symptoms.

Most minor acne disorders respond to over-the-counter drugs and at-home treatment. People with serious or long-term acne should talk to a physician or dermatologist though.

Acne affects about 80 percent of adolescents and young adults. At any given moment about 40–50 million Americans have acne.

The following are common types of blemish associated with acne:

  • whiteheads
  • blackheads
  • pustules, which are commonly called pimples
  • papules
  • cysts
  • nodules

Every type of acne lesion needs another treatment. Proper care will reduce the risk of long-term skin problems, such as dark spots and scarring, if received timely.

Acne blemishes fall into two categories, depending on whether or not they cause inflammation of the surrounding skin.

  • Acne Whiteheads
  • Acne blackheads
  • Papules
  • Cysts
  • Pustules (pimples)
  • Nodules

Noninflammatory acne types

Forms of noninflammatory acne lesion are whiteheads and blackheads. Those are the least extreme type of acne.

Usually , non-inflammatory blemishes do not cause swelling, and are not very painful.


Closed comedones are the medical term for Whiteheads. There are small spots or bumps that are whitish or flesh-coloured. We typically have a circular white center rounded by a red halo.

Sometimes a hair may emerge from the middle of a whitehead, or it may seem stuck within the blemish.

The skin around a whitehead can seem tight or wrinkled, especially when the whitehead is large or particularly uplifted.

Typically the whiteheads do not cause scarring.


Blackheads are classified as open comedones too. Are all small, black or dark-colored spots that may appear as bumps that are slightly raised.

Usually the skin around a blackhead appears normal, while the middle of the blackhead is darker than the area around.

The coloring is not caused by trapped dirt. Blackheads are essentially whiteheads starting up and spreading. When a whitehead ‘s contents are exposed to air they darken.

Treatment options

Many rinses, moisturizers, gels, toners, and creams that are over-the-counter can treat non-inflammatory acne blemishes. They also contain a mixture of active ingredients.

The following ingredients will help break down the whiteheads and blackheads in over-the-counter treatments:

  • benzoyl peroxide
  • salicylic acid
  • sulfur
  • resorcinol

However, some home remedies and improvements in lifestyle can help reduce most types of non-inflammatory acne from minor to mild. Trying can help:

  • washing the face with lukewarm water and soap twice daily
  • washing the whole body every 2 days
  • reducing stress
  • eating a healthful, balanced diet
  • staying hydrated
  • avoiding over-washing or irritating the skin
  • limiting exposure to the sun
  • always wearing sunscreen when outdoors

People should never pop acne blemishes. Doing so can lead to complications, such as:

  • nodules
  • cysts
  • scarring
  • dark spots
  • pitting

Inflammatory acne types

Inflammatory acne blemishes include:

  • papules
  • pustules
  • nodules
  • cysts

Inflammatory acne is more severe than non-inflammatory acne, and complications such as scarring or pitting are more likely to occur from this type.

Inflammatory acne may cause blemishes or lesions that are inflamed, or red, swollen and warm to the touch.

Minor-to-mild forms


Papules are bumps from under the surface of the skin. They are solid, tender, pink and raised, and the skin is usually slightly swollen and red around a papule.

In comparison to whiteheads, papules do not have a visible centre. Like blackheads, a papule’s pores don’t seem widened.

Papules form when the whiteheads or blackheads cause so much pain that some of the skin around them is harmed. The damage triggers inflammation.

Pustules (pimples)

The pustules are bigger, tender, circular based bumps. The center is filled with whitish or yellowish pus, and the base of the bump is pink or red. This pus is produced by the aggregation of immune cells and bacterial cells.

Usually, pustules resemble much larger and more inflamed whiteheads.

Treatment options

Many home remedies and over-the-counter medicines can treat papules and pustules that are minor to mild. The following tips might help:

  • washing the affected area with cool water and soap using clean hands or a clean, gentle facecloth twice a day
  • applying a warm compress or cloth – available to buy in pharmacies – to the affected area for 10–15 minutes to encourage trapped debris to rise to the surface
  • using products with benzoyl peroxide to combat bacteria
  • using products with salicylic acid to remove dead skin cells and other debris

Moderate-to-severe forms


Nodules are lumps that are hard, painful, inflamed, found deep inside the skin. They look like bigger, deeper papules, and have no noticeable head or middle.

This kind of acne lesion develops when clogged pores damage tissues and cells deep under the surface of the skin.

Nodules are a serious type of acne blemish, which can cause abnormalities of the skin such as dark spots or scars.


Cysts are deep in the skin, very large, soft, painful, red or white lumps. They are full of pus.

Cysts develop deeper than nodules within the skin, and they are the most severe type of acne blemish. Cysts may also cause injuries to the skin, for example scarring.

Treatment options

Those at home can’t deal with moderate to severe inflammatory blemishes. Such lesions require medical attention from a doctor or dermatologist.

The doctor will treat nodules and cysts using several products and procedures. Including:

  • antibiotics, such as tetracycline, doxycycline, and amoxicillin
  • topical corticosteroids
  • oral contraceptives for hormonal-related acne
  • systematic retinoids, such as isotretinoin
  • steroid injections
  • chemical peels that are available in pharmacies
  • photodynamic therapy to combat bacteria
  • drainage and extraction to remove large cysts

What causes acne?

A man with acne condition
When a pore becomes clogged, acne can develop.

Dead cells usually accumulate in the pores of the skin, then gradually rise to the opening surface and eventually fall away from the skin.

A natural body oil named sebum helps prevent the drying out of skin cells. The pores are fastened to the glands that contain this oil.

It can cause dead cells to stick together as excess sebum builds up , creating a mixture that gets stuck in the pores.

Acne happens when a pore is clogged with dead skin cells, natural body oils and a bacteria type.

These bacteria are called Propionibacterium acnes, and live on the skin. That causes acne blemishes to form if they enter and infect clogged pores.

When to see a doctor

In cases of minor to moderate acne, a person will generally be required to consistently use home and over-the-counter remedies for 4–8 weeks before they see results.

More severe types of inflammatory acne appear to take much longer to clear up.

If you have whiteheads, blackheads, papules, or pustules, talk to a doctor or dermatologist:

  • are severe
  • do not respond to over-the-counter medications
  • are very painful
  • are very large
  • bleed a lot
  • release a lot of pus
  • cover a significant portion of the face or body
  • cause emotional distress
  • develop very close to sensitive areas, such as the eyes or lips

Most active ingredients in over-the-counter drugs are used in the treatments of prescription strength.

Dermatologists too can remove very large or persistent lesions. They can also remove those who don’t respond to other treatment forms.

Always see a doctor or dermatologist on nodules and cysts, as these require medical attention.

Untreated nodules and cysts, as well as the ones picked or popped may cause scarring.

Obianuju Chukwu

She has a degree in pharmacy and has worked in the field as a pharmacist in a hospital. Teaching, blogging, and producing scientific articles are some of her interests. She enjoys writing on various topics relating to health and medicine, including health and beauty-related natural treatments, the nutritional worth of various foods, and mental wellness.