Home
/
NowPatient Blog
/
A guide to the different types of acne

A guide to the different types of acne

Acne just won’t quit. It can be hard to treat, and it can stick around for years.

The good news is that effective acne treatments are available. The slightly worse news is that to choose the right one, you need to know what type of acne you have (and there are loads of different types of acne). The confusing news is that you probably have more than one kind of acne at the same time, so you could need a combination of treatments.

Don’t sweat it though, that’s what we’re here for. To help get your skin sorted.

What causes acne?

Your skin is covered in very small holes called follicles, or pores. These follicles are the holes in your skin from which hair grows, but you have them even where you don’t seem to have hair, as often you do have microscopic hairs in these places. Follicles and pores are usually most visible on your face, particularly on your nose, where they look like small dots.

You get acne when your follicles become blocked. The follicles produce a type of oil called sebum, which moisturizes and protects your skin. Sebum can block follicles though, particularly in areas of your body where you produce lots of it, like your face. Blocked follicles become spots, and they can become infected and inflamed too. Other things can block your follicles besides sebum, like dead skin cells or ingrown hairs. Other things like your hormone levels and your diet can also make your body produce more sebum, making it more likely that your follicles become blocked and you get acne.

These are the different types of acne.

Non-inflammatory acne

Non-inflammatory acne, also called comedonal acne, is the milder form of acne. Blocked pores become spots, but there’s no infection, and usually no swelling and soreness. You typically get two types of spot with non-inflammatory acne:

Blackheads (also called open Comedones)

You get blackheads when a follicle becomes blocked, but it stays open at the surface, so you can see the black blockage inside; like looking down into a half-filled hole filled with black dirt.

Blackheads can often be cleared up with a good skin cleansing routine, particularly when using products that contain salicylic acid, like cleansers and face washes. Salicylic acid cleans your pores and exfoliates your skin, removing dead skin cells, and may be the only treatment you need for blackheads.

Whiteheads (also called closed Comedones)

These are similar to blackheads in that they’re caused by a blocked follicle, but this time it closes over at the surface, causing a small, white bump on your skin.

Whiteheads are more difficult to treat than blackheads, as the follicles are closed. Using skincare products with salicylic acid can help, but whiteheads may react better to topical retinoids. Retinoids are a type of molecule that’s similar to vitamin A. Topical means that it’s applied directly to the skin. Topical retinoids for acne are usually creams or serums which you apply to your face once a day. Retinoids can unplug and clean follicles, and remove dead skin cells, like salicylic acid, but are generally stronger.

Inflammatory acne

Inflammatory acne, also called acne vulgaris, is when your skin becomes swollen and inflamed as well as having spots. It’s more severe than non-inflammatory acne. Your skin gets inflamed when bacteria infect blocked follicles. The bacteria feed on the sebum and dead skin cells and spread through your skin. Inflammation happens as your body fights the infection. The deeper the infection gets into your skin the more painful the acne spots become, and the harder it is to fight them.

Papules

These are raised spots that are often pink to red, and tender to the touch. They occur when the walls around follicles break down and the bacterial infection spreads out into the surrounding skin, meaning papules are usually bigger than blackheads and whiteheads.

As with non-inflammatory acne, topical retinoids can be used to tackle papules, but you can also try using products which contain benzoyl-peroxide (usually creams and gels) which can be bought over-the-counter from pharmacies. The benzoyl-peroxide dries the skin, kills the bacteria, and can reduce inflammation too. You can also use prescription antibiotics, often as topical creams, to help fight the bacterial infection, such as tretinoin (also sold under the brand Retin A).

Pustules

These are papules which are filled with pus, which is the yellow/white fluid that builds up when your body fights an infection (pus is mostly made of dead white-blood cells). Pustules look similar to papules but have a white or yellow head on top where pus is near the surface of the skin.

Pustules can be treated in the same way as papules, with cleansing products which contain benzoyl-peroxide, with topical retinoids, and with antibiotics.

Nodules

These look and feel like hard bumps under your skin, and they can be skin-coloured, but are often pink or red, and they’re usually painful to touch. They happen when the infection in a follicle spreads into other follicles and deeper into the skin, causing the spot to grow larger and more inflamed. Nodules are more serious than papules and pustules, are harder to deal with, and can leave scars on the skin.

Because the infection has moved deeper, nodules usually can’t be treated with over-the-counter skin products. You’ll need to use prescription medications which contain antibiotics to deal with the bacterial infection, like tretinoin.

Cysts

Cysts are similar to nodules in that they form deeper in the skin and can be relatively large, but they tend to contain more pus, so usually have a white or yellow head. Like nodules, they’re harder to deal with and can leave scars on your skin.

Cystic acne is usually treated in the same way as nodules, with prescription medications that contain antibiotics, but in really severe cases cysts can be surgically removed.

Tretinoin

You can order an effective prescription acne medication directly from us called tretinoin which is a topical cream that is applied directly to your face. Tretinoin is a retinoid and it works by promoting the faster growth of new skin cells and the removal of old ones and natural oils (sebum) from your face. It can be used to treat a range of acne types and is especially suited for fighting more than one kind of acne at a time.

But simply knowing what kind of acne you have is just the first step to tackling it.

Acne can be a tough condition to treat and it can take time to see improvements, sometimes months, even if you’re using the right treatments, so you may have to be patient. And whilst medication is important, it’s only one part of treating acne. You should have a cleansing routine to keep your skin clean and to remove excess sebum and dead skin cells, and you can also try making changes to your diet. Then the improvements should begin.

Sources

Medical Disclaimer

NowPatient has taken all reasonable steps to ensure that all material is factually accurate, complete, and current. However, the knowledge and experience of a qualified healthcare professional should always be sought after instead of using the information on this page. Before taking any drug, you should always speak to your doctor or another qualified healthcare provider.

The information provided here about medications is subject to change and is not meant to include all uses, precautions, warnings, directions, drug interactions, allergic reactions, or negative effects. The absence of warnings or other information for a particular medication does not imply that the medication or medication combination is appropriate for all patients or for all possible purposes.

Now Patient Data Security

Data Security

Our Commitment to You.

Find out moreNow Patient Data SecurityNow Patient Data Security

What is NowPatient

Telehealth and Online Pharmacy

NowPatient is a licensed online pharmacy and doctor service that is available around the world. Our service is FREE and packed with valuable features that can benefit your health such as medication reminders, educational blogs, medically approved symptoms checker, UK NHS online pharmacyprivate treatment plansRx Advantage cardhealth conditions information, affordable medications options, genetic testinghome test kitshealth riskspollen meterair quality monitor, weight loss plans, drug savings programs and lots more!

A laptop screen displaying a health dashboard with widgets showing health profile, notifications, personalized health tools, and favorite widgets including body mass index and weight loss tracking.

WHY WE BUILT NOWPATIENT

To improve the lives of everyone by making high-quality care accessible and convenient

We are here to improve lives. Our service gives you access to smart features and resources that can help empower you to take control of your health and improve your health outcomes. All this, in one place, for FREE. We strive to bring a fresh perspective to managing health. NowPatient can be accessed by downloading the App or using your web browser.

Download our app today

A collage showing a map with pharmacies, a questionnaire, medication details, and a person video chatting on a screen.

Can I trust NowPatient

Meet our medical team

We are a passionate group of clinicians and medical writers covering a broad range of specialities with experience operating in health systems in the United Kingdom & United States. Providing excellent care and advice is at the heart of everything we do. You can read more about our medical team by visiting the medical team page or learn more about how we curate content by visiting our editorial process

Your Questions Answered

For your peace of mind, we can answer your questions quickly

We have a comprehensive list of FAQ’s on each feature page. Alternatively, for broader questions around our service just click the button below.
Find your answers