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Types of Acne and How to Treat Them

Feb 25, 2022

Acne is an unwelcome condition that occurs when skin’s pores become clogged by oils, dead skin, and debris.  Whether mild or severe, no one enjoys the bumps and skin irritations that appear on your body (face, neck, back, shoulders, arms, shoulders, chest) caused by these overactive glands, skin not shedding cells properly, and bacterium in the pores.  You may not realize that there are actually different kinds of acne, thus, different treatments for them.

Non-Inflamed Acne

Non-inflamed acne, or comedonal acne, includes blackheads, milia, closed comedones, micromodones. Symptoms of these types of acne include an unevenness, or bumpy, skin texture. Pores that are blocked but open create blackheads while pores that are closed create milia or whiteheads.  These types of acne are most common in teens, adults with oily skin, and smokers and can be perpetuated by heavy or oily lotions and creams as well as makeup.  If these breakouts are around the hairline, hair products may be the instigators.


It’s good to start with an over-the-counter (OTC) treatment method that includes salicylic acid or glycolic acid.  These both speed up the shedding of skin cells, which keeps pores from getting clogged.  It may take up to 8 weeks to see results, so stick with it!

If you’ve been battling these unwanted visitors for more than 8 weeks or if the blockages are severe, it may be time to receive a prescription medication prescribed by a dermatologist.  Topical retinoids, such as Retin-A, Retin-A Micro, Differin and Tazorac, Benzoyl Peroxide, Azelaic Acid and even (for women) birth control can both clear and prevent blockages.

Inflamed Acne

When you think of pimples and zits, you are likely thinking of red, swollen acne.  These are papules, pustules, nodules, cysts.

Papules and Pustules

Papules are the red, raised bumps while pustules are pustules that result in a whitehead. Because these form when the hair follicle (pore) becomes clogged with excess oil and skin cells, which feed bacteria and cause it to multiply.  The extra material multiplying in the pore creates a pressure that eventually causes it to rupture causing the red, inflamed, sore, irritation.  Pus then forms (transitioning into pustule acne).


Papules and Pustules typically respond well to topical treatments that include salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, or sulfur.  You apply these OTC medications directly to the affected area for results.  The spot treatment method treats existing irritations but does not prevent them.  To prevent them, use a cleanser, lotion and/ or cream that has the same medications. More severe inflamed acne breakouts may also require a prescribed treatment method, such as retinoids and erythromycin to improve symptoms.


Nodular, or cystic acne, is also red and inflamed but occurs deeper within the skin.  Nodules can sometimes take months to heal.  If sebaceous glands become overactive there can be a large build up of cells within the pore causing bacteria to grow in excess.  Because they are deeper in the skin, there is a higher risk of scarring. It is not recommended to squeeze or pick at these blemishes but to apply ice throughout the day and even see a dermatologist for an injection.  Nodules should always be treated by a dermatologist due to their severity.  Depending on the severity of the nodules, Isotretinoin or (for females) another medication may be prescribed.

Find Treatment

The dermatologists at Arlington Dermatology are committed to helping you find beauty in healing.  Visit our website at or call 847-725-0824 to schedule an appointment today!