Pimple types: 6 types of acne (2022)

Acne is a common condition that causes several types of skin blemishes, each with a distinct appearance and symptoms.

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Acne vulgaris affects around 50 million Americans annually, with close to 85% of all adolescents experiencing some degree of symptoms.

Acne can present in a number of different forms, from small blemishes to noticeable cysts.

The following are common types of blemishes associated with acne and their commonly-used terms:

  • closed comedones, or whiteheads
  • open comedones, or blackheads
  • pustules, or pimples
  • papules
  • cysts
  • nodules

Each type of acne lesion requires a different treatment. Receiving prompt, correct treatment can reduce the risk of long-term skin complications, such as pitting and scarring.

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

Most minor acne blemishes respond to at-home care and over-the-counter medications. However, people with severe or long-term acne should speak with a doctor or dermatologist.

Whiteheads and blackheads are types of noninflammatory acne lesions. They are typically the least severe forms of acne and do not cause swelling or discomfort.

Whiteheads

The medical term for whiteheads is closed comedones. These are small or flesh-colored spots or bumps. On lighter skin, they usually have a white, circular center surrounded by a red halo. On darker skin, the surrounding area may appear dark or purple-hued. Whiteheads typically do not cause scarring.

The skin around a whitehead may appear tight or wrinkled, especially when the whitehead is large or especially raised.

Blackheads

Blackheads, or open comedones, are small, dark-colored spots that may appear as slightly raised bumps. The skin around a blackhead usually appears normal, while the center of the blackhead is darker than the surrounding area.

This coloration is not a result of trapped dirt. Blackheads are simply whiteheads that have opened and widened. When the contents of a whitehead are exposed to air, they darken.

Treatment options

Many over-the-counter (OTC) rinses, moisturizers, gels, toners, and creams can treat noninflammatory acne blemishes. They often contain a mix of active ingredients.

(Video) Acne: Understanding the Types of Acne and Treatment Options

The following ingredients in OTC treatments can help break down whiteheads and blackheads:

  • benzoyl peroxide
  • salicylic acid
  • azelaic acid
  • adapalene

Several home remedies and lifestyle changes also can help reduce most minor-to-mild forms of noninflammatory acne. These include:

  • washing with lukewarm water and soap twice daily
  • applying non-abrasive cleansers
  • staying hydrated
  • avoiding over-washing or irritating the skin
  • limiting exposure to the sun
  • always wearing sunscreen when outdoors

Learn more about the best sunscreen for sensitive and acne-prone skin.

A person with acne should not irritate or pop their blemishes. Doing so can lead to complications such as scarring and the formation of cysts and nodules.

A person with a more severe case of acne may experience inflamed blemishes across their face, chest, and back. Inflammatory acne is more severe than its noninflammatory counterpart and can lead to complications such as scarring and pitting.

Inflammatory acne can vary from small bumps that respond to topical treatments to large cysts that may require surgical attention.

Mild forms

Papules

Papules are bumps under the skin’s surface that are less than 1 centimeter (cm) in diameter. Papules themselves will appear solid, tender, and raised. Typically the skin around a papule is also inflamed.

Unlike whiteheads, papules have no visible center, and unlike blackheads, the pores of a papule are not widened.

Pustules (pimples)

Pustules are larger, tender bumps with a defined circular center filled with whitish or yellowish pus. The area around a pustule appears red or pink on light skin and a deep brown or black on darker skin.

The pus in the pustule is typically a combination of immune cells and bacterial cells collected in the blocked pore.

Pustules typically look like much larger and more inflamed whiteheads.

Treatment options

Several home remedies and OTC medications can treat papules and pustules. These include:

  • washing the affected area with cool water and soap twice a day
  • using products with benzoyl peroxide to combat bacteria
  • using products with salicylic acid to remove dead skin cells and other debris

A doctor can prescribe other treatments including topical dapsone and antibiotics.

Studies show that superficial chemical face peels may also be an effective method of managing inflammatory acne lesions.

(Video) How to treat EVERY type of acne (With Pictures )

Severe forms

Nodules

Nodules are hard, inflamed lumps located deep within the skin. Like papules, nodules have no visible head.

Nodules are a severe form of acne blemish and can cause skin complications such as dark spots or scarring.

This type of acne lesion develops when clogged pores become infected, and swell beneath the skin’s surface. As a result, nodular acne may be more severe than its physical presentation suggests.

Cysts

Cysts are very large, painful, red or white lumps situated deep in the skin. Unlike nodules, these cysts fill with pus and are typically soft to the touch.

Cysts are the most severe type of acne blemish. In severe cases, a person may require surgical intervention to treat them. If not treated properly cysts can lead to visible scarring.

Treatment options

People cannot usually treat severe inflammatory blemishes at home. These lesions require care from a doctor or dermatologist.

A doctor may recommend a combination of medications and procedures to treat nodules and cysts. These may include:

  • antibiotics, such as doxycycline, and amoxicillin
  • oral contraceptives for hormonal-related acne
  • systematic retinoids, such as isotretinoin
  • steroid injections
  • photodynamic therapy to combat bacteria
  • surgical drainage and extraction to remove large cysts

There are three stages of acne: mild, moderate, and severe.

The types of spots a person can develop during the different acne stages may include:

  • Mild acne: A person will mostly developblackheads and whiteheads in mild acne. They may have some papules and pustules. The total number of lesions is typically under 30.
  • Moderate acne: More papules and pustules will form in moderate acne, and a person can also have a higher number of blackheads and whiteheads. The total number of lesions is typically between 30–125.
  • Severe acne: In severe acne, a person will develop a high number of large and painful papules, pustules, nodules, or cysts. A person may also have acne scarring. The total number of lesions is typically over 125.

A person’s acne stage may change over time with their hormones, stress levels, and other lifestyle factors all playing a part in the severity of their acne.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD), health conditions that can cause or look similar to acne include:

(Video) The 6 Types Of Pimples You Need To Know!

  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): A condition that affects the ovaries. A person with PCOS may experience many hormonal symptoms, including acne. Find out more about polycystic ovary syndrome.
  • Rosacea: A skin condition that results in redness or rashes on the face. It may also cause acne. Find out more about rosacea here.
  • Keratosis pilaris: A condition of the skin that causes small, rough bumps. This usually occurs on dry skin on the arms and thighs. Find out more about keratosis pilaris here.
  • Hidradenitis suppurativa: A condition that causes painful spots and scarring. These usually occur near hair follicles that are near sweat glands, such as in the armpits or on the upper thighs. Find out more about hidradenitis suppurativa here.
  • Perioral dermatitis: This condition results in small pimples around the mouth. These pimples may be red, dry, and look like a rash. Find out more about perioral dermatitis here.
  • Chloracne: Chloracne is uncommon and usually results in blackheads on the face or body. Chloracne is the result of a person coming into contact with certain chemicals, such as dioxins.

Dead cells regularly collect on the skin and deposit in follicles, which is where hairs grow out of small openings in the skin’s surface. These cells typically rise to the surface of the openings and eventually fall away from the skin.

Sebaceous glands attached to the follicles produce an oil called sebum, which helps prevent the skin from drying out. When excess sebum builds up, it can cause dead cells to stick together, forming a mixture that becomes trapped in the follicle’s opening.

Acne occurs when a pore becomes clogged with dead skin cells, natural body oils, and bacteria includingCutibacterium acnes (C acnes.)

When these bacteria enter and infect clogged pores, they cause inflammation and the formation of acne blemishes. The resulting inflammation can damage the structure of the follicle, allowing bacteria, fatty acids, and lipids to pass into the surrounding skin. This can lead to wider inflammation, clusters of acne lesions, and more severe acne, such as cystic and nodular acne.

In cases of minor-to-moderate acne, a person may be required to use home and OTC remedies consistently for 2-3 months before they see results. More severe inflammatory types of acne tend to take much longer to clear up.

A person should speak to a doctor or dermatologist if whiteheads, blackheads, papules, or pustules:

  • are severe
  • do not respond to OTC 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

Treatments

Most active ingredients in OTC products also are available in prescription-strength treatments. A doctor may prescribe these if a person experiences severe acne symptoms.

Dermatologists can treat large, persistent lesions. They can also remove those that do not respond to other forms of treatment.

A person should always see a doctor or dermatologist about nodules and cysts because these require medical care. Untreated nodules and cysts, and those that have been picked or popped, can cause scarring.

Frequently asked questions

(Video) Types of Acne

Below are answers to some frequently asked questions about acne.

What is a hard pimple?

Hard pimples are the result of dead skin cells or bacteria getting under the skin. Hard pimples are deep, often large, and occasionally pus-filled. They can be one of the most difficult types of pimples to get rid of.

Find out more about hard pimples here.

How do I know if my acne is hormonal?

Hormonal acne is not a different condition from acne. It develops due to changes in a person’s hormones. A rise in testosterone can cause hormonal acne.

For adolescents, hormonal acne usually happens in the “T-zone”. This covers the forehead, nose, and chin. For adults aged 20 years and over, hormonal acne usually occurs on the lower areas of the face, such as the chin, jaw, and lower cheeks.

A person can work with a doctor to determine what is causing the acne.

Learn more about hormonal acne.

How do I identify my acne?

There are various types of acne and a person may develop different kinds of spots depending on which type they have. For instance, mild acne is characterized by up to 30 blackheads, whiteheads, and small papules or pustules. A person with severe acne will have over 100 pustules, papules, and cysts, and may find their acne painful.

A person should visit a doctor or dermatologist to help them understand which type and stage of acne they have.

There are several types of acne. These can vary from small bumps to serious cysts.

Acne can present as non-inflammatory blemishes such as blackheads and whiteheads. These result from a buildup of dead skin and oil in hair follicles and are most common on the face, back, and chest.

If these blockages become infected by bacteria, they may become inflamed. Inflammatory forms of acne can range from mild bumps, such as papules and pustules, to more severe forms, such as nodules and cysts.

Severe acne can have a negative effect on a person’s quality of life. However, a person will be able to manage most forms of acne at home with OTC remedies.

(Video) 6 types of acne explained and their treatment

In more extreme cases, a doctor may prescribe topical ointments, antibiotics, or procedural intervention to reduce the formation of acne.

FAQs

How can I identify my acne type? ›

What are the different types of acne?
  1. Blackheads: Open bumps on the skin that fill with excess oil and dead skin. ...
  2. Whiteheads: Bumps that remain closed by oil and dead skin.
  3. Papules: Small red or pink bumps that become inflamed.
  4. Pustules: Pimples containing pus.
1 Sept 2020

How many types of acne are there? ›

There are three main types of acne: comedonal, papules and pustules, and nodulocystic. The best acne treatment for you depends on which type of acne you have.

What are big pimples called? ›

What Is a Pustule? A pustule is a bulging patch of skin that's full of a yellowish fluid called pus. It's basically a big pimple. Several conditions, ranging from something as common as acne to the once-deadly disease smallpox, can cause pustules.

Why does my pimple have 3 heads? ›

However, multiple sebaceous oil glands can be connected to each pore, so the sebum clogged beneath your initial pimple can lead to nearby pores getting clogged. This, in turn, leads to multiple pimples in one spot.

What is painful acne called? ›

Cystic acne is a type of inflammatory acne that causes painful, pus-filled pimples to form deep under the skin. Acne occurs when oil and dead skin cells clog skin pores. With cystic acne, bacteria also gets into the pores, causing swelling or inflammation. Cystic acne is the most severe type of acne.

What food causes pimples? ›

Sugar and Some Carbs

You're more likely to have acne if your diet is full of foods and drinks like soda, white bread, white rice, and cake. The sugar and carbohydrates in these foods tend to get into your blood really quickly. That means they are high on the glycemic index, a measure of how foods affect blood sugar.

What type of acne is small bumps? ›

Early pimples

When excess oil, bacteria, and dead skin cells push deeper into the skin and cause inflammation (redness and swelling), you'll see small, red bumps. The medical word for this type of acne blemish is a papule. They feel hard. If you have a lot of papules, the area may feel like sandpaper.

What is stress acne? ›

Like all types of acne, stress acne is caused by a mix of bacteria, oil, inflammation, and hormones. "To prepare ourselves for a stressful environment, our bodies overproduce certain hormones like cortisol," says Zeichner. These hormones stimulate your oil glands and put them into overdrive.

How do hormonal acne look like? ›

What does hormonal acne look like? Whiteheads, blackheads, papules, pustules, cysts and nodules are all common hormonal acne symptoms. Normally, whiteheads and blackheads do not cause pain, inflammation or swelling, but if they do, then they are most likely forming into cysts and pustules.

Do I have hormonal acne? ›

Your acne appears around your chin and jawline. One of the telltale signs of a hormonal breakout is its location on the face. If you're noticing inflamed cystic acne on your chin or jawline area—anywhere around your lower face, really—you can bet your bottom dollar that it's probably hormonal acne.

What is difference between acne and pimples? ›

Pimples are small growths on the surface of your skin. They may become inflamed or discolored. Acne typically causes pimples to develop, most commonly on your face, chest, shoulders and upper back.

What type of acne is on forehead? ›

Forehead acne often looks like solid red bumps, called papules. You might also see bumps with a collection of pus at the top. These are called pustules. No matter where you spot acne, it's important to treat it properly.

How can I identify my skin type? ›

Normal Skin: If you notice a slight shine on your nose and forehead then you have normal skin. Oily Skin: And if there is a lot of shine on your nose, forehead and cheeks, then you might have oily skin. Combination Skin: If you have a combination skin type, then the skin will get oily around T Zone.

What is a big pimple with no head? ›

A blind pimple, also known as cystic acne, is a pimple that lives beneath the surface of your skin and doesn't come to a head. It is often in the form of a red, painful bump beneath the skin. Blind pimples are caused by oil getting trapped beneath the skin.

Why does my pimple have no head? ›

Blind pimples can develop when sebum (oil), bacteria, and dirt become trapped deep within a hair follicle. The end result is a painful lump under your skin that doesn't have a “head” as other pimples might have. If you have oily skin, you may be more prone to blind pimples than people with dry skin.

What is blind pimples? ›

Blind pimples are pimples (zits) that form under your skin. They may stay under your skin's surface, causing pain and inflammation. Or they may erupt through the surface in the form of a whitehead, blackhead or red bump. Treatment includes warm compresses and acne-fighting creams.

Why do pimples refill? ›

When we have changes in hormone levels on a monthly basis, an increase in hormones can trigger increased oil production, increased risk of bacterial infection, and re-irritation of that pimple again. 'Sometimes these reoccurring pimples are cystic and come back because they never form a head to be extracted.

What causes blood pimples? ›

A blood-filled pimple is a red, swollen bump on your skin that contains blood. It can happen when you pop, squeeze, scratch or over-exfoliate a pimple, breaking the surrounding blood vessels. If you have frequent blood-filled pimples or other acne problems, talk to your primary care provider or dermatologist.

What causes acne on cheeks? ›

What causes cheek acne? Cheek acne may be due to one or more of the following: makeup, your phone spreading bacteria, dirty pillowcases, touching your face, or hormonal changes. The good news is there are several steps you can take to prevent it or reduce the severity of your cheek acne.

Why do pimples hurt to touch? ›

Pimples hurt because the body is trying to get rid of the stuff that doesn't belong there. The redness, swelling, and inflammation cause the pain. The body knows that the dead skin, oil, and bacteria are supposed to be in the hair follicle (which is outside the skin).

What are pimples filled with water? ›

Pustules are small bumps on the skin that contain fluid or pus. They usually appear as white bumps surrounded by red skin. These bumps look very similar to pimples, but they can grow quite big. Pustules may develop on any part of the body, but they most commonly form on the back, chest, and face.

How do pimples get so big? ›

Pimples start when a pore in your skin gets clogged, usually with dead skin cells. Bacteria can also get trapped, causing the area to become red and swollen. Cystic acne happens when this infection goes deep into your skin, creating a bump that's full of pus.

What to drink to get rid of pimples? ›

Best Acne Detox Beverages
  1. Green Tea. Green tea is one of the most popular morning drinks and one of the most effective beverages for fighting acne. ...
  2. Coffee. ...
  3. Coconut Water. ...
  4. Lemon Water And Honey. ...
  5. Kale Green Juice. ...
  6. Pomegranate Juice. ...
  7. Turmeric Milk. ...
  8. Aloe Vera Juice.

Is Egg good for pimples? ›

Eggs are full of progesterone, which is an acne-triggering hormone. Since your body creates its own progesterone, consuming extra hormones can obviously disrupt your body's natural hormone levels. Excessive progesterone levels may trigger acne, so it is better to keep a check on your consumption of eggs.

What is the best fruit to eat for acne? ›

Kiwis, cherries, and stone fruits (like peaches, nectarines, and plums) may be good for acne because of their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Kiwis are a high fiber fruit packed with vitamin C and vitamin E. Peaches have b-complex vitamins, which may help improve skin tone and texture.

What does bacterial acne look like? ›

A blackhead may look like dirt stuck in pores. But actually the pore is congested with bacteria and oil, which turns brown when it's exposed to the air. Pimples are raised red spots with a white center that develop when blocked hair follicles become inflamed or infected with bacteria.

What is fungal acne? ›

Fungal acne is an overgrowth of yeast within the hair follicles. Sebaceous glands within your skin produce an oil called “sebum.” These glands can overproduce oil, and your pores and hair follicles can become clogged with oil as well as bacteria and yeast that are naturally found on your skin.

What is cystic acne look like? ›

On the surface, cystic acne can look like large, red boils. Cysts, like nodules, reside deep underneath the skin's surface. But because they're filled with pus, cysts are softer than nodules. The pimples that define cystic acne burst open, often leading to infection.

How do I know if my acne is hormonal or bacterial? ›

You can tell if acne is hormonal or bacteria by its severity if flare-ups occur during hormonal imbalances, and whether topical treatments resolve the issues, or if systemic medications are needed.

What does bacterial acne look like? ›

They resemble a whitehead with a red ring around the bump. The bump is typically filled with white or yellow pus. Avoid picking or squeezing pustules. Picking can cause scars or dark spots to develop on the skin.

How do hormonal acne look like? ›

What does hormonal acne look like? Whiteheads, blackheads, papules, pustules, cysts and nodules are all common hormonal acne symptoms. Normally, whiteheads and blackheads do not cause pain, inflammation or swelling, but if they do, then they are most likely forming into cysts and pustules.

What is painful acne called? ›

Cystic acne is a type of inflammatory acne that causes painful, pus-filled pimples to form deep under the skin. Acne occurs when oil and dead skin cells clog skin pores. With cystic acne, bacteria also gets into the pores, causing swelling or inflammation. Cystic acne is the most severe type of acne.

What is stress acne? ›

Like all types of acne, stress acne is caused by a mix of bacteria, oil, inflammation, and hormones. "To prepare ourselves for a stressful environment, our bodies overproduce certain hormones like cortisol," says Zeichner. These hormones stimulate your oil glands and put them into overdrive.

Which hormone causes acne in females? ›

Androgens. Androgens represent the most important of all hormones regulating sebum production. As of puberty, androgens stimulate sebum production and acne formation in both sexes. This androgen-dependent secretion of sebum is mediated by potent androgens such as testosterone and DHT and likewise with weaker androgens.

What triggers hormonal acne? ›

What causes hormonal acne? Acne is caused by clogged pores. Hormonal acne develops when hormonal changes increase the amount of oil your skin produces. This oil interacts with bacteria on the pores of your skin where hair grows (hair follicles) and results in acne.

What is fungal acne? ›

Fungal acne is an overgrowth of yeast within the hair follicles. Sebaceous glands within your skin produce an oil called “sebum.” These glands can overproduce oil, and your pores and hair follicles can become clogged with oil as well as bacteria and yeast that are naturally found on your skin.

What disease causes acne? ›

Excess production of hormones, specifically androgens, GH, IGF-1, insulin, CRH, and glucocorticoids, is associated with increased rates of acne development. Acne may be a feature in many endocrine disorders, including polycystic ovary disease, Cushing syndrome, CAH, androgen-secreting tumors, and acromegaly.

How long does hormonal acne last? ›

The severity of the symptoms of hormonal acne are different for everyone. If you develop acne during puberty, it tends to peak at age 17-19 and for most people will go away by their mid-20s. However, some people continue to suffer from acne into their 40s.

When does acne stop for females? ›

Teenage acne usually lasts for five to 10 years, normally going away during the early 20s. It occurs in both sexes, although teenage boys tend to have the most severe cases. Women are more likely than men to have mild to moderate forms into their 30s and beyond.

What causes acne on cheeks? ›

What causes cheek acne? Cheek acne may be due to one or more of the following: makeup, your phone spreading bacteria, dirty pillowcases, touching your face, or hormonal changes. The good news is there are several steps you can take to prevent it or reduce the severity of your cheek acne.

How can I reduce hormonal acne? ›

What else can I do to clear hormonal acne?
  1. Wash your face in the morning and again in the evening.
  2. Apply no more than a pea-size amount of any acne product. Applying too much can dry out your skin and increase irritation.
  3. Wear sunscreen every day.
  4. Use only noncomedogenic products to reduce your risk of clogged pores.

What causes big acne? ›

Causes of Cystic Acne

Cystic acne occurs when bacteria, dead skin cells, and sebum (the substance that makes your face feel oily) get trapped beneath the skin's surface and become infected. This leads to a large, swollen cyst (bump) that can hurt just to touch.

What is a blind pimple? ›

A blind pimple is a pimple (zit) that forms under your skin. Unlike other types of pimples that form a visible whitehead, blackhead or red bump, blind pimples develop under the surface. Some blind pimples eventually come to a head and “erupt” from underneath your skin's surface, forming a visible blemish.

Why is my pimple leaking clear fluid? ›

Why does clear fluid come out if you squeeze a spot too much? 'Clear fluid is just oedema – fluid that accumulates in the area due to redness and swelling. It is not pus, and it is not an infection.

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