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A Look at the Different Kinds of Acne

A pimple’s a pimple, right? Not exactly.

Acne comes in several forms, from mild to serious. But they all start with one common problem: clogged pores. Whether yours are blocked because of excess dead skin cells, bacteria, too much oil, or a complication of fluctuating hormones, you’re among 17 million Americans in the same boat.

Teens and adults throughout Lake Worth, Texas, and the surrounding communities trust Dr. Matthew Mittelbronn at Lakeview Dermatology to identify the cause of their acne, diagnose the exact type of acne they’re dealing with, and treat it quickly, safely, and efficiently so they can get back to a blemish-free life. 

If you’re frustrated with at-home remedies and off-the-shelf products that don’t seem to help, you may be trying to treat the wrong kind of acne. Here’s what you need to know.

Noninflammatory acne

There are two main categories of acne: inflammatory and noninflammatory. As their names suggest, one causes overall redness and swelling, and the other doesn’t. The mildest form, noninflammatory, comes in two basic types: blackheads and whiteheads.


If a close look at your skin reveals small dark dots, you’re likely dealing with blackheads. These occur when oil gets trapped in your pores. The top of the pore stays open, and when the oil becomes oxidized it turns dark, leaving the tiny oil plug visible as a blackhead.


Whitehead acne is exactly that — a whitehead. Like blackheads, whiteheads form when oil and old skin cells clog up your pores, but this time the skin closes over the top of the pore and creates a white bump, or pimple.

Salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide are the go-to treatments for mild, noninflammatory acne. They’re excellent exfoliators and bacteria fighters, so they clear away dead skin cells, dry up excess oils, and kill germs. You can find these ingredients in many over-the-counter acne treatments, as well as in some moisturizers, cleansers, and toners.

If you’re prone to acne outbreaks, it’s important to keep your face clean, refrain from touching your face throughout the day, and avoid heavy creams and makeup that can block pores.

Inflammatory acne

When you have red pimples that are swollen and painful, you’ve crossed into the inflammatory category. These types of acne are a bit harder to treat as they involve an infection under the skin. They’re also the type that can scar your skin, especially if you tend to pop your pimples. Here are the types of inflammatory acne you might experience:


When you think of acne, you probably think of the typical pimple or zit that pops up for all the world to see. But papules are a form of acne that lurks almost entirely under the surface. They manifest as firm and tender pink areas that only hint at the inflammation below, which has broken down the walls of your pores.


Papules’ angry cousin, the pustule, is also caused by an infection under the skin, but this type fills with pus and erupts from the surface. The infected pus forms a white or yellowish head surrounded by reddened, tender skin.


When the acne infection becomes more severe and turns inward, your pores expand internally and create a deep, painful pod called a nodule. You can’t treat this type of acne topically. It takes an oral medication prescribed by Dr. Mittelbronn to combat it.


Cysts are the largest, most painful form of acne. Like nodules, cysts form deep within the skin when a pore or hair follicle becomes so clogged with debris it’s forced deeper under the tissues. 

In addition to big red or white pimples on the surface, cysts also form a painful lump in reaction to the severe infection. This type of acne can only be treated with prescription medication.

Are you sure it’s acne?

Now that you know the main types of acne and what they look and feel like, it’s also important to be able to distinguish acne from other skin conditions that may have some similar characteristics. Here are a few of them:

Because all these conditions can trick you into thinking you have acne, you may be trying to treat the wrong problem. The best way to know for sure what you’re dealing with is to come see us for a skin analysis. We can let you know exactly what skin condition you're facing and customize a treatment plan that will clear it up.

To get started, contact our office today.

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