Types of acne, explained

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People in Instagram photos might all seem different, but they all have one thing in common: beautifully smooth skin. While filters on social media make it possible, human skin in reality is far from what the beauty industry calls “perfection”. According to a study published on PubMed, acne is estimated to affect 9.4% of the global population, making it the eighth most prevalent disease worldwide.  

The American Academy of Dermatology says acne is the most common skin condition in the United States, affecting up to 50 million Americans annually.

The disease usually begins in puberty when our hormones are at the wildest and affects many adolescents and young adults. Approximately 85 % of people between the ages of 12 and 24 experience at least minor acne, although it can occur at any stage of life and may continue into one’s 30s and 40s.

Acne can be caused by many factors and it can manifest in many different ways. Here are the most common types of skin blemishes. 


Whiteheads are one of the most typical forms of acne. They appear on the skin as small or medium bumps. As they “ripe”, their top becomes white in colour giving them their name. 

Understanding where they come from can help you prevent future breakouts. Whiteheads occur when a pore is clogged with dead skin cells and sebum, the oily substance produced by your body’s sebaceous glands to moisturise and protect your skin. 

The causes may vary. One of the most common reasons for blemishes is hormonal changes, especially those that increase the production of sebum, like puberty, menstruation or pregnancy. 

Some studies suggest that a major factor is genetics. If someone in your family suffers from this disease, you have a higher chance of getting it, too. 

Contraception that contains progesterone can also trigger hormonal spikes and cause acne flares.  

Whiteheads can develop anywhere on your body, but the oily parts of your face, like T-zone might be particularly prone to acne. But they can also appear on your chest, back, shoulders or arms. They’re known to affect both men and women at any age. 

They are non-inflammatory and are fairly easy to treat. Don’t pop whiteheads, as the bacteria in it can easily spread to other pores, infecting them, too.  


Blackheads are the dark spots on your skin. Like whiteheads, blackheads are caused by clogged pores, but unlike whiteheads, they are open to the air. So when they come into contact with oxygen, they turn dark.

Blackheads, just as whiteheads, don’t cause swelling or infection and are considered noninflammatory

They’re mild types of acne that usually form on the face, especially on the tip of the nose and around it. But they can also appear on your back, chest, neck, arms or shoulders. 

Like most types of acne, they may develop due to hormonal changes. Other reasons include buildup of the Cutibacterium acnes bacteria on the skin. It’s the bacteria generally linked to acne that can also cause chronic blepharitis and endophthalmitis, particularly following intraocular surgery.

Irritation of the hair follicles when dead skin cells don’t shed on a regular basis is another reason for blackheads.

Blackheads are usually treatable with over the counter drugs. These medications are available in cream, gel, and pad form and are put directly on your skin. The drugs contain ingredients such as salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and resorcinol. They work by killing bacteria, drying excess oil, and forcing the skin to shed dead skin cells.


Papules are the swollen red bumps that so many of us imagine as “typical” breakouts.

Papules are usually less than one cm in diameter. They can have distinct or indistinct borders. Appearing in a variety of shapes, colors, and sizes, they’re not considered a disease.

Papules are often called skin lesions, which are essentially changes in your skin’s color or texture. Sometimes, papules cluster together to form a rash. In most cases, they’re not serious.

Papules can be caused by skin diseases or conditions like contact dermatitis, HPV, seborrheic keratosis, actinic keratosis, cherry angioma, molluscum contagiosum or eczema. Many other things can affect the condition of your skin. Among less common causes of those blemishes are lichen planus, psoriasis, shingles or even bug bites. 

Here is some advice with how to treat papules:

– Don’t scrub your skin during cleaning.
– Use warm water — not hot water — and gentle soaps when washing.
– Don’t put makeup or perfumed lotions on the affected area.
– Discontinue use of any new makeup or lotion to see if it’s the cause.
– Let the affected area get as much air as possible.

Papules develop when excess oil and dead skin cells clog your pores. Pressure builds up in the blocked pore and can cause the walls of your pore to rupture. Your immune system responds to the rupture with inflammation, giving papules their red and swollen appearance. After a few days, most papules graduate to pustules

Pustules are essentially papules that fill with pus when your immune system kicks in. They can appear on your face, shoulders, chest, back, neck, underarms, pubic area and hairline.

If pustules suddenly erupt all over your face or in patches on various parts of your body, you may be having a bacterial infection and should contact your doctor.


Dermatologists use the term “nodules” as a general term to describe any lump underneath the skin that’s at least 1 cm in size. Nodules are often used to refer to enlarged lymph nodes. Nodules on your face are a more severe form of acne. They look like papules but start deeper in the skin, so they are challenging to treat and nearly impossible to pop. Nodules are red, feel firm and are painful to the touch. These blemishes can appear on their own or in sore patches across your skin. They can also coexist with cysts.

Nodules should be closely examined. Sometimes the cause isn’t obvious, and you may need an ultrasound or, in some cases, an excision to remove a nodule and find out what the cause of it is.


Cystic acne is the most severe form of acne that starts in the deep layers of your skin. Like nodules, cysts resemble deep, red lumps, but filled with pus and other liquids, they are soft to the touch and are painful. Don’t try to pop or dry them as they may leave scars. 

Although anyone can develop acne, cystic acne tends to occur in people with oily skin. It’s more common in teens, women, and older people with hormonal imbalances.

Acne cysts develop on your face, but they’re also common on the chest, neck, back, and arms. Sometimes you can find them on the shoulders and behind the ears.

In order to treat cystic acne, you must see a doctor, who will prescribe antibiotics. Over the counter drugs aren’t strong enough to treat it.

RANKEL Smart Beauty, a unique LLLT device can help you solve your acne problem. It is widely used in cosmetology to improve blood circulation and normalise the appearance of your skin and restore its elasticity. The device is intended for use in cosmetology clinics, beauty salons, as well as at home. It has no absolute contraindications and is safe to use.

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