Back to Basics: Understanding the Different Types of Acne

Many people, especially those who only have occasional breakouts, don’t know that acne comes in many different forms. The best treatment plans for acne take into consideration the specific type of acne that is affecting you. So, in order to treat acne or to know when it’s time to see the dermatologist, you need to understand it.
Here is a brief overview of the different types of acne.

  • Comedones: Hair follicles that become clogged with oil and dead skin cells develop into bumps called whiteheads and blackheads.
  • Whiteheads: Clogged pores that remain below the skin and are not inflamed. They appear as either a small, flesh-colored bump on the skin or a raised bump with a white head.
  • Blackheads: Blackheads are comedones that are open to the surface of the skin. They appear black or dark brown in color, which is caused by oil’s reaction to air.
  • Papules: Appearing as small, red or pink bumps on the skin, papules are whiteheads or blackheads that have become inflamed. Sometimes they hurt and are sensitive to the touch. Picking or squeezing papules can make the inflammation worse and may lead to scarring.
  • Pustules: Another version of an inflamed pimple, a pustule looks like a whitehead but it also has a ring around the bump. This type of acne is the “classic zit” that most people think of. The pustule is typically filled with white or yellow pus. Again, avoid “popping” pustules as this can make the acne worse and lead to scarring.
  • Nodules: Nodules are large, inflamed bumps that are firm to the touch and not usually filled with pus. They develop deep within the skin and can take a much longer time to go away than the other forms of acne. Though it’s tempting, again, do not pop or squeeze them, as this can push bacteria further into the pores, perpetuating inflammation.
  • Cysts: Cysts are large, pus-filled lesions that look similar to boils. They are larger than other types of acne, developing deep in the skin and are sensitive to touch. People who have cysts and nodules are considered to have more severe acne.
  • Acne Conglobata: This is one of the more severe types of acne, where many inflamed nodules are connected under the skin to other nodules. It can affect not only the face but also the body – chest, arms, neck, back, etc., often causing scarring.
  • Acne Rosacea: Acne rosacea is basic acne accompanied by a red rash that usually covers the nose, cheeks, forehead and chin. It primarily affects women over 30 and should have a very specific treatment plan that takes into consideration the sensitivity of rosacea.
  • Acne Fulminans: This type of acne comes on very suddenly and is usually accompanied by a fever and aching. It affects mostly men and usually comes after an unsuccessful treatment for acne conglobata.
  • Gram Negative Folliculitis: A rare type of acne that is usually caused as a side effect of long-term antibiotic use, these bumps usually contain a specific species of bacteria and appear as pustules and cysts.

With almost a dozen different types of acne – each appearing and reacting in its own unique way – specialized treatment is often the key. An Inclusive Health® lifestyle should be part of your treatment plan because it supports your body’s natural ability to inhibit the onset of acne and to resolve breakouts when they do occur.

Article by Howard Murad, M.D., FAAD, a world renowned skincare expert and founder of the Inclusive Health movement.

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