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Understanding Different Types of Acne: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

Acne Management by Dr. Sanchit Talwar

Acne is a common skin condition that affects millions of people worldwide, regardless of age or gender. From pesky blackheads to painful cysts, acne can take various forms and significantly impact one's self-esteem and quality of life. Understanding the different types of acne and how to treat them is essential for effective management and prevention of breakouts.

Types of Acne

Acne manifests in various forms, each with distinct characteristics and implications for treatment. Here are the different types of acne explained in detail:

  • Whiteheads (Closed Comedones: Whiteheads are closed comedones, appearing as small, white bumps on the skin's surface. They develop when pores become clogged with a combination of oil (sebum) and dead skin cells. The top of the pore remains closed, preventing oxidation of the trapped material. Whiteheads are typically non-inflammatory and are considered a mild form of acne. They can occur on the face, particularly the forehead, nose, and chin, as well as on the chest and back.
  • Blackheads (Open Comedones): Blackheads are open comedones that result from pores becoming clogged with oil and dead skin cells. The material inside the pore is exposed to air, leading to oxidation and a darkened appearance. Contrary to popular belief, the dark color is not due to dirt but rather melanin, the skin's pigment reacting with oxygen. Like whiteheads, blackheads are non-inflammatory and are common on the face, especially the nose, cheeks, and chin.
  • Papules: Papules are small, red, inflamed bumps that can be tender to the touch. They develop when the walls surrounding your pores break down from severe inflammation. Unlike whiteheads and blackheads, papules are considered inflammatory acne, indicating the body's immune response to the trapped material. They do not contain pus and can be sensitive or painful. Papules are often seen in clusters and may worsen with improper treatment.
  • Pustules: Similar in appearance to papules, pustules are also red and inflamed, but they have a white or yellow center caused by pus accumulation. Pustules are considered moderate inflammatory acne and often result from the same factors as papules. They are typically more visible than papules due to the pus-filled center and can be painful to the touch. Picking or squeezing pustules can lead to further inflammation and potential scarring.
  • Nodules: Nodules are larger, solid, painful lumps that form beneath the skin's surface. They result from a buildup of sebum, dead skin cells, and bacteria deep within the hair follicles. Nodules are a severe form of inflammatory acne and can persist for weeks or even months. Due to their depth, nodules do not come to a head like pustules or cysts. Attempting to squeeze or pop nodules can worsen inflammation and increase the risk of scarring.
  • Cysts: Cysts are deep, pus-filled lesions that are often painful and prone to scarring. They are the most severe form of acne and result from an infection deep within the skin. Cysts are characterized by their size, often larger than papules or pustules, and their tendency to linger for extended periods. They can cause significant discomfort and may rupture beneath the skin, leading to further inflammation and scarring. Cysts often require professional treatment, such as corticosteroid injections or drainage by a dermatologist.

Causes of Acne

  • Excess Sebum Production
  • Clogged Hair Follicles
  • Bacterial Overgrowth (Propionibacterium acnes)
  • Hormonal Fluctuations
  • Genetics
  • Certain Medications and Skincare Products
  • Diet and Lifestyle Factors

Symptoms of Acne

Acne is characterized by a range of symptoms, each indicative of different stages and types of the condition. Recognizing these symptoms is crucial for early identification and appropriate treatment. Here are the common symptoms of acne:

  • Presence of various types of lesions.
  • Redness and inflammation around affected areas.
  • Tenderness or pain when touching acne lesions.
  • Oily or shiny skin, especially in the T-zone (forehead, nose, and chin).
  • Skin feeling greasy to the touch.
  • Visible blackheads on the skin's surface.
  • Skin sensitivity, especially to skincare products or harsh ingredients.
  • Formation of scars, especially with severe or untreated acne.
  • Hyperpigmentation, dark spots left after acne lesions have healed.
  • Fluctuations in acne severity, with breakouts occurring in cycles or triggered by certain factors like hormonal changes or stress.

Topical Treatments

  • Over-the-Counter (OTC) Products: Over-the-counter (OTC) products are readily available and can be effective for mild to moderate acne. These products typically contain ingredients like benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, or retinoids.
  • Prescription-Strength Topical Medications: For more severe or persistent acne, dermatologists may prescribe prescription-strength topical medications. These include topical antibiotics or stronger retinoids. Topical antibiotics, such as clindamycin or erythromycin, are used to reduce inflammation and control the growth of acne-causing bacteria. Stronger retinoids, like tretinoin or adapalene, are potent acne fighters that unclog pores, reduce inflammation, and promote skin cell turnover.

Oral Medications

  • Oral Antibiotics: Oral antibiotics are commonly prescribed for moderate to severe acne. They work by reducing inflammation and controlling bacterial growth. Some examples of oral antibiotics used to treat acne include doxycycline, minocycline, and tetracycline. These medications are taken orally and can be effective in improving acne symptoms, especially when combined with topical treatments.
  • Oral Isotretinoin (Accutane): Oral isotretinoin, commonly known as Accutane, is a powerful medication reserved for severe, treatment-resistant acne. It works by reducing sebum production, preventing clogged pores, and controlling inflammation. Accutane is typically used as a last resort when other treatments have failed due to its potential side effects and risks. This medication requires close monitoring by a dermatologist and strict adherence to a treatment plan.


  • Extraction of Comedones: Dermatologists can perform extractions to remove comedones, such as blackheads and whiteheads. This procedure involves gently removing the contents of the clogged pores using specialized tools.
  • Chemical Peels: Chemical peels are exfoliating treatments that use acids, such as glycolic acid or salicylic acid, to remove dead skin cells and unclog pores. They can improve acne and also address acne scars and hyperpigmentation.
  • Laser Therapy or Light-Based Treatments: Laser therapy and light-based treatments target acne-causing bacteria and reduce inflammation. These treatments can help improve acne and may also be beneficial for acne scars.
  • Corticosteroid Injections: For large, painful cysts or nodules, dermatologists may administer corticosteroid injections. These injections can quickly reduce inflammation and pain associated with deep acne lesions.

Skincare Routine

  • Gentle cleansing twice daily to remove excess oil, dirt, and impurities
  • Moisturizing with non-comedogenic, oil-free products to maintain skin hydration
  • Using sunscreen daily to protect the skin from UV damage and prevent post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation


1. Can certain foods trigger acne?

Some studies suggest that dairy, high-glycemic foods, and certain types of fats may exacerbate acne in some individuals. However, more research is needed to establish a direct causal relationship.

2. How long does it take for acne treatment to work?

The effectiveness of acne treatment varies depending on the severity of the condition and the chosen treatment method. It may take several weeks to months to see noticeable improvements in acne symptoms.

3. Can acne scars be treated?

Yes, acne scars can be treated with various procedures, including laser therapy, microneedling, chemical peels, and dermal fillers. Treatment choice depends on the type and severity of the scars.

Are you struggling with acne and seeking personalized treatment options tailored to your skin's needs? Don't wait any longer to take control of your skin health. Schedule a consultation with experienced dermatologist Dr. Sanchit Talwar at Talwar Skin Clinic in Chandigarh or explore services at Skin Rejuv in Ludhiana with their team of experts. During your consultation, Dr. Talwar will conduct a thorough evaluation of your skin, discuss your concerns and treatment goals, and recommend a customized treatment plan designed to address your specific type of acne and skin condition.

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1104, Sector 34C Rd,

Sector 34C, Sector 34,

Chandigarh, 160022

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Monday to Saturday

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Sunday - Closed.

Skin Rejuv G10-1/2,Ferozepur Road, 


Opening Hours

Monday to Saturday

10:00 am to 7:00 pm

Sunday - Closed.