The 6 Types of Acne and how to Treat Them

By: Anika In’T Hout

Pimples, zits, spots, blemishes, breakouts - there are so many names for acne. Many people think that all acne is the same and should be treated in a one-size-fits-all sort of way, but there’s actually many types of acne, and they should all be treated differently. In this blog post, we will look at the six different types of acne, what causes them, what they look like and how you can treat them. First off, what is acne? 

What is acne? 

Acne is a skin condition where the hair follicles under the skin become clogged. Oil and dead skin cells plug the pores, which often leads to breakouts. While it is most common on your face, acne can also pop up on your back, shoulders, and chest. Though it can affect people of all ages, acne is most common during puberty, so you will likely have a few pimples during your tween and teen years.

So if acne is almost inevitable during your teen years, where do you start? Step one is identifying what kind of acne you have and going from there. So let’s look at the six types of acne and how to treat them. 

1. Whiteheads

    Whiteheads, also known as closed comedones, are tiny white bumps that look like they are sticking out of your skin. They tend to show up when your pores become clogged with excess oil, bacteria and dead skin cells. This type is a mild form of acne, and it is also non-inflammatory, meaning that it is easier to treat and less likely to swell up. 

     How NOT to treat them: Whiteheads won’t go away if you squeeze them, and squeezing can push the bacteria in deeper and sometimes even leave scars. So even if it’s hard, leave them be. 

    How to treat them: Instead, try different whitehead treatments like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide, which can be applied to a specific whitehead or the entire face. Some affordable brands that carry salicylic acid/benzoyl peroxide cleanser products are Neutrogena, Clean & Clear and CeraVe. 

    2. Blackheads

      Blackheads, also known as open comedones, look like black dots on your skin. They appear on your skin when a pore is clogged by both dead skin cells and sebum (aka the oily substance your skin glands create). Like whiteheads, this type is a mild form of acne and is also non-inflammatory. 

      How NOT to treat them: Even though you can try to squeeze blackheads, it’s best not to because it can sometimes lead to pushing in bacteria deeper and scarring. Also, pore strips are a no-go because while they seem helpful at first, they are a temporary fix and can make your acne worse. 

      How to treat them: The same as with whiteheads, use acne products with salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. 

      3. Papules

        While not as commonly heard of as whiteheads or blackheads, papules look like small red bumps with no pus and with pink-coloured skin surrounding the area. They form when oil or skin cells mix with bacteria on your skin and result in hard, inflamed, clogged pores. Papules are a moderate type of acne but are inflammatory, meaning that it is a red and swollen form of acne and may take longer to heal. 

        How NOT to treat them: While you may be tempted to, try not to pick papules because they can potentially scar. Also, try not to do things that will irritate the area more like scrubbing your skin, using hot water on the spot or putting on lots of makeup and lotion. 

        How to treat them: To clear this type of acne, similar to whiteheads and blackheads, wash your face daily with an acne cleanser containing benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. Aside from that, though, it might be worth going to a doctor or dermatologist who could prescribe things to help fight this acne, such as topical retinoids, antibiotics or birth control pills.   

        4. Pustules

          Pustules are small, bulging pimples that are white or yellow on top surrounded by red, inflamed skin. Unlike papules, this type of acne contains pus (aka a yellowish fluid). They show up on your skin when a blocked pore gets infected. Pustules are also a moderate and inflammatory type of acne, so they may take longer to heal than a typical whitehead or blackhead. 

          How NOT to treat them: Even if you really want to, try not to pop papules because they can potentially scar and make the pimple worse. 

          How to treat them: Like with papules, you can get an acne wash with benzoyl peroxides as they are often antibacterial, which can help fight bacteria and treat this type of pimple. If that doesn’t work, though, antibiotics are another great way to get rid of them. 

          5. Nodules 

            While not as common as the types above, nodules are hard, red or skin-coloured bumps deep under the skin’s surface. Nodule acne forms on your skin when swollen and clogged pores get irritated and get bigger, causing a deeper infection within the pores. Nodules are an inflammatory kind of acne and are also one of the most severe acne types.  

            How NOT to treat them: Do not pick! While we recommend not picking any of your pimples, picking nodule acne is much more likely to leave you with scars on your skin than some of the milder types of acne. 

            How to treat them: As over-the-counter acne cleansers fight surface-level acne, those products simply won’t work with deeper-level nodules. 

            With the help of a dermatologist appointment and an antibiotic or retinoid prescription, you can get rid of this type of acne. 

            6. Cysts

              Cysts are large, soft, inflamed, painful, pus-filled, bumpy, red pimples. They form when pores get clogged by things like bacteria and dead skin cells before becoming infected deep within the skin, even deeper than nodular acne. Cysts are the most severe and inflamed form of acne and most likely need to be looked at by a doctor/dermatologist. 

              How NOT to treat them: Keep your hands off! While you shouldn’t pick any pimple, cyst acne is the most likely to scar, so try not to touch the infected area.

              How to treat them: Of all the acne types, cysts are sadly the hardest to remove, though not impossible. The first thing to do is go to a dermatologist, who will give you a cyst-treating medication like isotretinoin, spironolactone, antibiotics, or retinoids.

              What can you do to prevent acne? 

              While you can’t escape ever having acne, especially as a tween and teen, there are a few things you can do to prevent acne. Here are just some things you can try: 

              • Wash your face daily 
              • Drink water throughout the day
              • Try to limit the junk food
              • Try relaxing activities like meditation and journaling 
              • Don’t touch your face or pop your pimples

              Final thoughts

              Overall, while acne is not a fun thing for anybody, it’s a totally normal part of being a tween and teen. Now that you know the six types of acne and how to treat them, you will be ready to deal with any kind of pimple that comes your way. Everyone gets acne, especially during puberty, so remember to be patient and gentle with yourself. If you have any other burning questions, feel free to send us a message through our contact form or IG!

              About the Author

              Meet Anika, our content creator and copywriter! In her final year at Western, she’s studying media and creative writing. Even though it’s been a while since she had to deal with the awkwardness of buying her first bra, she is excited to join the Apricotton team and make bra shopping a little bit easier for tween and teen girls. You can connect with her here.