What is acne?

As previously stated, I’m not a dermatologist and this is purely my own research.

Mayo clinic defines acne as “a skin condition that occurs when your hair follicles become plugged with oil and dead skin cells.”

Many of us suffer from acne as a teen and well into adulthood and I think it’s important to know the different types of acne, so you know what you’re dealing with.

Types of Acne: 

Whiteheads (Milia)

According to the Mayo clinic, whiteheads are closed plugged pores. They’re usually hard to touch and they look like they’re filled with a white substance. Paula’s Choice says they often need to be removed by an aesthetician or physician. When I first started getting acne as a teen, I always thought whiteheads were whichever pimples had white at the tip. However, this is not the case. Milia is different from the usual ‘whitehead’ we are used to.


Photo of Milia on eyelids of adult male 


Blackheads are an open plugged pore. It isn’t dirt inside the pore, it’s sebum. When sebum is exposed to air, it oxidises and turns brown. It’s important to note the difference between blackheads and sebaceous filaments. Sebaceous filaments are common on your nose and are often mistaken for blackheads. You can read my post here for more information. Blackheads can often be treated with a well formulated chemical exfoliant, such as a BHA. BHA exfoliants are a type of chemical exfoliant which I have written about here.

Here is a photo from demonstrating the difference between a normal pore and whiteheads/blackheads

Blausen.com staff. Blausen.com staff. “Blausen gallery 2014“. Wikiversity Journal of MedicineDOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.010ISSN 20018762.


Papules can range in size from the size of a pinhead to 1cm around. They’re abnormal skin tissue and usually have a very distinct border. These are super common among people suffering acne and it’s what I would refer to as a ‘normal’ pimple without a white tip. Paula’s Choice says that this is the easiest type of pimple to manage, and would respond well with benzoyl peroxide or a BHA exfoliant. BHA exfoliants are a type of chemical exfoliant which I have written about here. However, it’s best to also ensure you have a good skincare routine in general in combination of these treatments.


Pustules are what many people refer to as ‘whiteheads’. These are similar to papules but have pus at their tips. According to Paula’s Choice, this type of pimple is also very common among people dealing with breakouts. In many cases, they may need to be treated with a prescription product. For example, I use a prescription retinoid to treat mine, which responded extremely well. However, it would be best to speak to your doctor or dermatologist to work out the best treatment.

See a photo of pustules on Medicine Plus here


Cysts are quite large and are a very painful type of pimple. They can be filled with fluid, pus or other material. Cysts go deep within your sebaceous glands and take quite a while to heal. These will almost always need to be treated by a professional as it’s rare they respond to surface treatments. It’s important to not attempt to pop them because this could cause scarring.

See photos on MedicineNet here 


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