A guide to the different types of acne

Acne is pretty complicated...

Whether it’s trying to understand the causes of acne (hormones, age, diet), the age you can experience acne (pretty much any age for different reasons), or why you experience acne on particular areas of your body….the questions go on and on. However, what is more clear cut is that when you have acne you can experience 6 different types of spots.

So what are they, and should you treat them in different ways?


Blackheads look like small black specs on your skin, and people with oily skin are most likely to experience these on the nose, forehead and chin (the t-zone). They are formed as skin debris, such as dead skin cells, and oil get clogged in pores, and are known as open comedones. The open pore oxidises through a chemical reaction when it comes into contact with air, turning the clogged material inside the pore black.


Dermatologists advise using skincare products containing Salicylic Acid (e.g. a face wash or chemical exfoliant or toners) which helps to break down dead skin cells and oil before pores become clogged. Prescription medication like topical retinoids can also help. It’s also best to check any makeup you are using is noncomedogenic to avoid pores becoming blocked.
As tempted as it is, it’s best to avoid extracting blackheads yourself by squeezing or trying out extraction tools. A dermatologist could do this for you if needed, who will be trained to do this without risking the blackhead becoming inflamed and developing into a bigger problem than you started with.


Whiteheads are similar to blackheads as they are clogged pores. However, they are closed comedones so they are not open to the air like blackheads are, but are closed by a layer of skin. This means they retain their original colour.


Hydrocolloid patches are popular for whiteheads, as they help to absorb moisture while making sure you avoid picking or touching the spot which can cause more inflammation. Other treatments, and tips for preventing more, are similar to blackheads as the cause is a blocked pore. Use skincare washes or chemical exfoliants (not scrubs!) containing Salicylic Acid to help keep pores from getting blocked and to help remove debris from the skin.


These are red, inflamed bumps that have a white middle. These occur when follicles clog and become infected causing bacterial growth - basically a raised, pus filled bump.


Definitely don’t squeeze! Because the pustule is inflamed, you definitely want to avoid making the infection worse. Instead, gently wash face without rubbing or scrubbing in a mild cleanser - again, Salicylic Acid can help to remove oil and stop pores blocking. Using spot treatments that aren’t too powerful will avoid drying or making the area around the pustule red and sensitive, so choose one that has a balance of blemish fighting and calming ingredients (e.g. Niacinamide and Zinc).


Similar to pustules as they are solid and raised from the skin, but without the white pus tip. They may not be as large as a pustule.


Similar to a pustule. Salicylic acid washes and toners to prevent clogged pores, and apply blemish treatments directly to the papule that are balanced with blemish fighting and inflammation calming ingredients. If you are getting breakouts of both pustules and papules sometimes a detox mask (e.g. a clay) can help to provide the skin with some extra support, helping to remove excess oil and skin build-up.


These are a more severe type of acne spot. They are large lumps that build up below the surface of the skin, and can often be quite painful. They are caused by a blocked pore again, but the blockage and infection is deeper down in the skin and develops into a larger lump. Nodules can also take much longer to heal than a pustule or papule, sometimes months, and may lead to scarring on the skin.


It’s always best to get medical support to treat acne nodules. Accutane is an example of a medication typically used for nodules, or sometimes nodules are injected with steroids to reduce the inflammation. 


This is the most serious type of acne. Like all types of spots, blocked pores are the cause. Cystic acne tends to be the largest in size, and is similar to nodule acne in that it occurs deep within the skin and the lumps can be large and sore. However, unlike nodule acne, cystic acne contains fluid or pus build up which can rupture and become extremely painful. The cysts may often keep reoccurring and are likely to leave to scarring.


Like nodules, you need professional medical support to treat cystic acne. Prescription medicines such as antibiotics or retinoid medications are often used. It’s important to understand both the benefits and side-effects of medication like this, but we always advise to seek support as soon as possible if you think you have cystic acne.

We hope that has helped to explain the 6 different types of acne, so that you can understand what sort of treatment is right for you. Blocked pores have a lot to answer for!


Whatever sort of acne you have, make sure you get the right support if your skincare routine or over the counter medication isn’t working for you, or it’s impacting your mental health. If you want to know more or need a bit of advice, get in touch and say hi at hello@clearskindays.com. We’d love to hear from you x



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