The Different Types of Acne

Did you know there are many different types of acne? It's important to learn which type of acne you have in order to properly treat it. All forms of acne fall under 2 major categories: Non-inflammatory Acne or Inflammatory Acne

1) Non-inflammatory Acne

Due to many potential reasons, follicles sometimes get blocked or clogged up. The sebum (oil), which is continuously excreted to keep your skin lubricated, then builds up underneath and bacteria begins to grow. This build up forms what is called a microcomedone.

Types of acne - a microcomedone.

Microcomedones develop into non-inflamed skin blemishes called comedones. Comedones then eventually turn into either whiteheads or blackheads, depending on whether or not the pore opens up.


When the pore does not open up and the clogged sebum and bacteria stay trapped below the skin’s surface, a whitehead is formed.

types of acne - whiteheads.


Types of acne - blackheads.

When the pore opens at the surface, then the sebum is exposed. The sebum actually contains a skin pigment called melanin. When the pore is open, the melanin oxidizes and this causes it to turn into a dark brown/black color, thus forming a blackhead.

A whitehead or blackhead heal themselves by slowly releasing their contents to the surface. However, the follicle wall can often rupture, which causes the sebum and bacteria to leak into the dermis. This rupture results in inflammatory acne (see below).

A rupture can occur randomly or it can be caused by picking, touching, or otherwise irritating the skin. This is why it is important not to pick or frequently touch your face when dealing with acne prone skin.

If a rupture does occur, white blood cells rush in and cause:

2) Inflammatory Acne

After the rupture in the follicle wall, white blood cells rush in try to fix things which results in inflammation. Papules and pustules then result.


When the follicle wall has just ruptured and the inflammatory acne lesion is just beginning to form, this is called a papule. Papules are what people generally refer to as pimples. They are small pink bumps that are tender to the touch.


Several days later when the white blood cells make their way to the surface of the skin, the acne lesion is then called a pustule. When the earlier pink bump develops a white head at the top, this means it is now a pustule.

Sometimes the rupture of the follicle wall can be more severe and the inflamed lesion can completely collapse or explode. This causes severe inflammation of the surrounding skin and sometimes damage to the neighboring follicles. Lesions of this kind are called nodules or cysts.


When a follicle wall breaks at the bottom, it can completely collapse. This creates a large and inflamed bump that is sore to the touch.


The skin can sometimes have an even more severe inflammatory reaction, which results in very large pus filled lesions called cysts. A cyst is much more inflamed than a nodule, but both are often painful to the touch.

Dermatologists classify the different types of acne into 4 Grades of severity:
  • Whiteheads and blackheads (non-inflammatory acne) are considered “Grade 1” in severity
  • Papules and Pustules are considered “Grade 2” acne
  • Nodules are considered “Grade 3”
  • Cysts are considered “Grade 4”

So now if anyone asks you "What is acne?" or to explain the different types of acne, you are ready to impress them with all of your knowledge!

However, you should also be aware of the many acne myths that have been circulated over the years. The truth will set you free!

Diagrams courtesy of: National Institute of Health

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