Different Types of Acne and How to Treat Them

Acne is never on anyone’s wish list. Unfortunately, it is an unavoidable and annoying part of human life. Anybody and everybody can get acne at some point in his or her life. For others, it may even be a long and difficult battle trying to get rid of acne.

Because of this, many products and treatments are found everywhere to help you manage your skin’s acne problems. While most products do help, there are actually several different types of acne and they are not created equal. Different types of acne require different treatments. In order to find out the appropriate measures, you must understand and identify first the type of acne you are experiencing.

Girl hiding from acne under the bedsheets


How do we get acne?

One day you have perfectly clear skin and then the very next day you find a throbbing giant zit resting in the middle of your forehead. Congratulations! You have a pimple!

It all starts with our hair. Yes, you heard it right. All humans are blessed with hair shafts everywhere in our body except for the palms of our hands and the soles of our feet. You may not see hair growing in other parts of your body but they do exist. They can be super tiny that you don’t even see them but they’re there.

Our hair is rooted within the follicles, aka pores, which are embedded in the skin. Along with the hair within these pores are what we call sebaceous glands. Sounds spooky, right? As intimidating as they sound, these glands and the sebum they produce are important to keep our hair and skin healthy and protected.

When skin cells, dirt, and too much oil clog up our pores, sebum is trapped and skin bacteria called Propionibacterium acnes may start to take over the pores. This bacteria is what causes inflammation and breakouts.

This is how it all starts and it can lead to the different types of acne.

Types of Acne

Acne can either be inflammatory or non-inflammatory. Their differences lie in how they occur and some of them can be identified by appearance alone. Both categories have their own subtypes as well.

Non-inflammatory Acne

Not your skin’s friend but definitely less annoying compared to inflammatory acnes. Also known as comedones, blackheads and whiteheads occur when pores get clogged with sebum. These are the mildest forms of acne you can get.

The only difference between the two is if the top of the pore is exposed or closed off. Blackheads have an exposed top part hence the black blemish it appears to be. In whiteheads, the top part of the pores close up that’s why they look like little bumps on the skin.

Inflammatory Acne

When you say acne, this is what you are probably thinking of. Inflammatory acne is more difficult to manage and get rid of. They can be painful and more noticeable compared to plain old comedones.

There are four types of inflammatory acne and their differences lie in what causes them and how they manifest on your skin.

1. Papules or Early Pimples

When too much oil, debris, and bacteria get trapped beneath the skin’s surface and it leads to inflammation, you have yourself an early pimple or papule. They appear red and swollen with the area around appearing pinker than usual. It’s your classic pimple.

Now that the blemish is already inflamed, a different plan of attack is required to combat pimples. You are now faced with enough bacteria that has caused your skin to swell up and this can actually clog your pores even more.

2. Pustules

What’s worse than a pimple? A pimple with what we usually call “the head”. Introducing to you, the pustule. Pustules come out red and are more swollen than your regular papule. These pimples are filled with pus so they come with a yellow or white head at their tops.

3. Nodules

Acne that gets clogged deeper beneath the skin are called nodules. Compared to papules and pustules, this acne is caused by further irritation and the damage to the swollen pores is larger. These pimples are much more swollen, painful, and they appear bigger on the surface of the skin.

4. Cysts

Cysts develop deeper below the skin’s surface compared to nodules. This would be the largest type of acne and will likely lead to scarring. They can appear as white or red large and painful bumps. Severe infection and pores clogged by bacteria, sebum, and dead skin cells are the usual cause of cysts.

Bouquet of flowers in a paper bag branded acne


Treatments Against Acne

Different types of acne call for different types of treatments. Milder acnes like comedones, papules, and pustules require gentler treatments but cysts and nodules would require the help of dermatologists to fully address.

1. Proper Cleansing

For mild acne, having a good cleansing regimen can be the simplest step at tackling acne. Wash your skin gently and listen to your skin’s needs. Choose the mildest products first before trying out the heavy cleansers you see at the store. Your first goal is to maintain your skin’s ph balance so it can protect itself against infections and irritations.

2. OTC Products

Both types of comedones can eventually lead to pimples but are relatively easy to deal with using over-the-counter treatments like salicylic acid. Salicylic acid is an effective exfoliant that removes dead skin cells and helps unclog pores. You can find salicylic acid as an ingredient in cleansers, toners, serums, and moisturizers.

Topical retinoids and cleansers with benzoyl peroxide are also helpful at getting rid of excess harmful acne bacteria that can turn comedones into inflammatory acne.

Papules and pustules can also be easily treated with OTC salicylic acid, benzoyl-peroxide, and topical retinoids. Products with benzoyl-peroxide can also help reduce swelling and stop excess bacteria from taking over your skin. Topical retinoids are great at combating pimples at these stages too.

Another product you can try is Niacinamide. It helps reduce breakouts by soothing inflammation while maintaining skin hydration. Excess oil production is contained and skin is kept moisturized and balanced.

3. Prescription Medication

Treating nodules is a little more difficult since the inflammation happens deep within the skin. Prescription medication from your doctor or dermatologist is one way of treating nodules. An oral medication derived from a form of vitamin A called isotretinoin can be taken daily for 6 months to clear up a breakout of nodules. Isotretinoin acts by decreasing oil production in the pores to ease out and prevent new pimples from forming.

Antibiotics may be prescribed as well so that bacterial infections can be stopped at their source. Severe acne on the face and body may require this treatment to prevent further breakouts.

4. Oral Contraceptives

Birth control pills are sometimes prescribed because they contain the hormones estrogen and progesterone that minimizes sebum production and acne.

You can treat mild to moderate acne with customized skincare. Customization solves your skincare struggles because the products in your regimen are made only for you. A good skin care regimen goes a long way in getting and maintaining healthy skin.

5. Consult your doctor

If you’re really having trouble getting rid of your acne through mild treatments, consult your dermatologist for other treatments that can be helpful to your skin.

Severe acne types like cysts will need to be surgically removed by medical professionals. Do not attempt to extract them yourself as these sit way below your skin’s surface. It will be dangerous and it can only worsen your acne if you do this yourself.


You can have multiple types of acne at once. Be gentle to your skin and know when you need professional help. The last thing you want is to spread infection and cause further damage to your skin.


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