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The Different Types of Acne

While you may associate acne with the tumultuous teenage years, acne can hit at any age, affecting 50 million Americans every year. And there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for those unsightly blemishes. Different types of acne require different treatments.    

At Manhattan Dermatology, our team of general and cosmetic dermatologists understands the frustration acne can bring regardless of your age. That’s why we offer the best in laser, oral, and topical acne therapies for our New York City patients. 

What is acne and what causes it?

Acne is an inflammatory skin condition that causes pimples and spots. It’s usually chronic and can be due to a number of factors, including blocked sebaceous (oil) glands and a buildup of sebum (a waxy substance that protects your skin) and superficial debris (dead skin cells, bacteria, and dirt). 

There are many reasons you may be suffering with acne. Temperature and humidity, the use of certain makeup products, genetics, stress and anxiety, and hormonal changes linked to pregnancy and menstruation can all trigger acne breakouts. 

There are many different types of acne, and understanding what form you have is essential to finding an effective and lasting treatment. Broadly speaking, there are two main types: non-inflammatory acne and inflammatory acne.       

Non-inflammatory acne

Non-inflammatory acne doesn’t cause swelling of your skin. There are two main types of non-inflammatory acne: blackheads and whiteheads.


Blackheads form when pores become clogged with sebum and other debris, like dead skin cells, but the surface of the pore remains open. Also called open comedones, blackheads get their name because the clogged pores resemble black dots on the skin. 

Considered a mild type of acne, blackheads can occur in many places on your body including your face, back, chest, arms, shoulders, and neck. 


Whiteheads also form due to clogged pores, but with whiteheads, the outer layer of the pore closes the sebum and debris in. 

The result is a small bump with a white tip that erupts from the skin. These closed comedones are also considered a mild form of acne and can appear in the same places as blackheads. 

Inflammatory acne

Unlike blackheads and whiteheads, inflammatory acne causes inflammation and swelling. While sebum and dead skin cells play a role in the development of inflammatory acne, bacteria create the inflamed reaction these types of acne cause.


Papules, also known as pimples, are inflamed red bumps on your skin. These unsightly blemishes form when bacteria and debris enter a hair follicle. Most papules occur on the face and are considered a moderate form of acne.


Another moderate type of acne, pustules are papules or pimples with a white-colored tip or head. The head of these pustules contains pus, which forms as your body’s reaction to the bacteria, as well as the dead skin cells and oil. 


These are a more severe form of acne and appear as larger, inflamed lesions that are painful and hard to the touch. 

While papules and pustules form on the surface of the skin, nodules develop deeper down when the sebum, debris, and bacteria enter the deeper layers of the skin due to a damaged hair follicle. 

They usually contain pus in addition to the oil and debris, but since they form deeper down, nodules do not always have a white tip. The face, back, buttocks, and chest are the most common locations affected. 

When several inflamed nodules connect to other nodules, you can develop acne conglobata. 

Acne cysts

Acne cysts are one of the most severe and painful types of acne. Unfortunately, they’re also the most difficult to treat. 

Acne cysts are large, soft, fluid-filled bumps beneath the surface of your skin. They can be painful to the touch and often lead to acne scars. This type of acne forms in the same way nodules form, but acne cysts are more severe and contain blood along with the pus and debris.  

How do I know which treatment is right for my acne?

At Manhattan Dermatology, we determine the underlying cause of your acne, then provide a treatment plan to clear your skin and provide lasting results. Depending on the cause of your acne, your treatment plan may include one or more of the following:

Are you ready to say goodbye to acne and hello to clear skin? Call or book online for in-person and telemedicine appointments through one of our Manhattan locations, in Murray Hill or Midtown East.

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