Acne is a skincare issue that has hit all of us at some point in life. And we have many reasons to hate these zits: they show up without warning and they stick around, often leaving behind scars and marks that tempt us to cover them up with concealers. On top of that, they’re so hard to differentiate.

To help you deal with blemishes and pimple, we’ve put together a simple guide to identify your acne and understand what causes them in the first place.

How Is Acne Formed?

Let’s take a quick look at how acne forms in the first place, before moving on to break down the different types of acne.

To keep the skin moisturised and lubricated, our oil glands produce sebum. Sometimes, too much sebum may be produced. This can clog the pores on mixing up with bacteria, dirt, and dead skin cells, and cause acne.

Now, what leads to excess sebum production? Contrary to what many believe, the reasons go way beyond uncontrollable ones like genetics and hormones.

  1. Lack of Hygiene: If you let dirt linger around your skin, you may suffer from frequent breakouts. Think sleeping on a filthy pillowcase, a dirty cell phone, or a missing post-workout skincare routine.
  2. Touching your Face Constantly: We bring our hands close to our face any number of times on any given day. This leads to a transfer of dirt and bacteria to the face.
  3. Shampoos and Conditioners: Your miracle shampoo might be great for your hair, but maybe not so good for the skin. When all that rich lather trickles down your forehead, it causes irritation to the skin.
  4. Harsh Exfoliation: This may sound counter-intuitive since exfoliation rids the skin from dead skin cells, dirt, and other impurities. However, you should know how to exfoliate properly. Using harsh face scrubs or abrasive products will cause more harm than good to your skin.


Types of Acne and Differentiating Between Them

It can be confusing when it comes to identifying one type of acne from the other. It’s time to clear this once and for all (pun intended).

The Bumpy Ones – Blackheads and Whiteheads

Both blackheads and whiteheads are small bumps on the skin, that are noninflammatory in nature. The key difference between the two is this:

In the case of blackheads, the pore is stretched open. Since it comes in contact with the air, it oxidises and turns black.

With whiteheads, the pore remains closed. This is why oxidisation and blackening don’t occur.

Blackheads and whiteheads often make their debut in teen years. Thanks to hormonal changes, and a resulting spike in sebum production.

If you’ve ever wondered what those black strawberry dots on your nose are, they’re most probably blackheads. And those white bumps chilling around your eyes, nose, and chin? They’re whiteheads.

Moving on to the inflammatory forms of acne…

The Red Ones – Papules

Often occurring in groups, papules are a type of acne that are caused by the bacteria P acnes. Papules are sensitive, tender, reddened and often painful to touch. Inflammation causes the walls surrounding the pores to break down, and thus, the pain.

A simple way to identify these skin lesions is to look out for changes in the skin’s colour or texture— they can make the skin feel rough.

The Pus-filled Ones – Pustules

Meet Pustules. Sounds gross, right?

Often confused with whiteheads, pustules are larger, tender bumps with a defined circular centre. This centre is filled with pus – yeah, the name says it; making it look white or yellow.

In addition to the face and the neck, pustules are also common in sweaty areas like the armpits, the pubic area, and the chest.

Beware – your facialist may tempt you to pop pustules to get rid of them fast. However, this is one of the most common skincare mistakes and may leave you with acne scars.

Acne popping is a conflicted territory, and we’d recommend not treading that path. Taking the DIY route, or not knowing the ins and outs of popping can land you in a sticky situation.

The One That Looks Like a Red Horn – Nodules

Nodules are one of the most severe types of acne and go much deeper than blackheads and whiteheads. They develop when clogged pores damage tissues and cells beneath the skin’s surface.

Nodules have no visible centre or head. While they often turn red, they could even match your skin tone.

Furthermore, nodules are much bigger in size than papules – generally between 1 and 2 centimetres wide.

The Severe One – Cysts


If there’s anything worse than nodules, then it’s cystic acne. These angry pimples form deeper within the skin than nodules and are the most severe type of acne blemish.

What’s even worse is that cysts are often immortal – they tend to reoccur in the same place.

While maintaining hygiene and chemically exfoliating can help, cystic acne needs medical attention since it’s extremely deep-seated.

What can you do?

Acne can range from milder types like blackheads and whiteheads to really severe ones like nodules and cysts.

While acne is curable with the right remedies and treatments, it’s important to look for solutions that are more permanent. You don’t want to be stuck in the loop of curing acne, only to tend to newer ones.

A key game changer to end this vicious acne cycle is how much (and we don’t mean money) you invest in your skin care. Watch out for harmful skincare ingredients, and always spend at least 30 seconds cleansing your face, morning and night. Avoid touching your face especially when your hands have been up and about, and go for clean, safe and effective skincare that balances your skin’s sensitivity and pH levels.

If you need help on that front, delegate to us. We can curate a personalised skincare routine that’s suited just for you. Our 3-minute skincare assessment is the stepping stone to cleaner skin!

About the Author

In-house skincare expert, loves books, tea, and dancing. Currently starring in her own reality show titled, A Modern Monroe; One Girl’s Search for true love.

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