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A Guide To The Different Types of Acne and How to Treat Them

In honor of National Acne Awareness Month, we are diving into the different types of acne and how to treat them in a strong way. 


Blemishes, bumps, pimples, cysts and breakouts are some of the terms used to characterize acne. Properly characterizing acne is the first step. While persistent acne should be identified by a skin professional due to its many causes, we've put together a list of the six main varieties of acne, how they develop, how they appear, and how you might address them.


This article is strictly for information purposes and should not be misinterpreted as medical advice.


1. Whiteheads

Acne occurs almost always as a result of clogged pores. Excessive oil, bacteria, or skin cell growth, as well as hormone swings, can cause clogged pores. Whiteheads are what skin experts refer to as "closed comedones," or closed skin pores filled with excessive oil and bacteria. Whiteheads can be treated with over-the-counter products that contain ingredients like salicylic acid, azelaic acid and retinoids.

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2. Blackheads

Unlike whiteheads, blackheads appear... well, black. This is because these comedones are open - not overlapped by skin - and the bacteria or oil is exposed to air, making it appear black on the surface.

3. Papules

Cutibacterium acnes (C. acnes) causes papules, which are little red bumps that appear when oil or dead skin cells clog a pore and mix with Cutibacterium acnes (C. acnes) bacteria on your skin (formerly Propionibacterium acnes). Because the contents of this blocked pore spill out, pathogens can enter the surrounding skin tissue. After that, the bacteria cause an inflammatory lesion. Pus is not seen in papules.

Because of its antibacterial properties, the over-the-counter therapy benzoyl peroxide may still be beneficial for treating papules (and other kinds of inflammatory acne).

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4. Pustules

Pustules are typically small, bulging bumps with a white center surrounded by red, inflamed skin. They may be found in clusters on the breast, face, or back. Pustules are produced by an infection of blocked pores, but they can also be caused by hormonal changes in the body. Pustules are similar to papules, but they contain a yellowish substance called pus. They respond to the same over-the-counter and prescription treatments as papules. Antibiotics are almost always prescribed to treat the bacteria-infested pus. 

5. Nodules

The appearance of flesh-colored or red pimples characterizes nodular acne. This occurs when bacteria causes painful infection deep within the pore.

OTC remedies for nodular acne are ineffective since they only work on the surface of your skin. Acne nodules can be treated with prescription-strength benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid, antibiotics, retinoids, or birth control pills (on women), according to skin experts.

If medications don't work, your doctor may choose to manually drain the nodules or use a laser or chemical peel to safely remove the outer layer of skin.

6. Cystic Acne

Cystic acne is the most severe type of acne, and it is caused by an infection deep below the skin's surface. Acne cysts are blemishes on the skin that are large, red, inflammatory, painful, and pus-filled. Cysts are softer than nodules because they are pus-filled and frequently burst, contaminating the surrounding skin.

Although it is recommended that you do not touch any acne, it is especially important not to try to "pop" nodular or cystic acne. Because the infection is deep in the skin, releasing it from its "cyst" can spread the infection to nearby cells and possibly even causes sepsis, or infection to spread to the blood. 

Chronic cystic acne is the most challenging to treat and should be addressed by a dermatologist. Antibiotics, topical retinoids, birth control pills (for women), or spironolactone can all help you combat the reason for these acne cysts, as can treatments like isotretinoin, an oral retinoid.

Treating and managing acne breakouts without damaging skin requires the use of synergistic ingredients that both, address acne and protect your skin's natural microbiome. While more severe cases of acne should be treated by a skin expert as they may require prescription medication and professional extraction, managing less severe acne can be done with potent, clinic-grade serums for acne prone skin like CALM Face + Hand Serum, which contains oil-regulating Niacinamide, antibacterial Lavender Oil and anti-inflammatory Cannabidiol and Cannabigerol (highest potency on the market).

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*These statements are found to be accurate as of the time this blog is published.

Except where otherwise indicated, statements regarding products have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.