The 6 Different Types of Acne

& the do’s and don’ts of how to treat each type.

Acne can be a minor inconvenience, or a huge burden - but through medical advances and professional dermatological care, there are ways to manage, reduce, and even get rid of acne entirely. Each breakout is classified as one of six different acne types. It’s important to consult our Board-Certified dermatologists to determine which type of acne you’re suffering from so they can provide a diagnosis and customized treatment plan. 

The first two types of acne - whiteheads and blackheads - are both non-inflammatory. Whitehead and blackhead removal is usually easier to achieve than inflammatory acne removal, and in most cases can be managed through topical medicines or non-invasive treatments. The other four other types - papules, pustules, nodules, and cysts - are all inflammatory forms of acne that may require more advanced care to avoid the spread of infection or acne scarring.

Whiteheads & Blackheads

Whiteheads occur when the pores are blocked on the skin’s surface, leading to the formation of a small white bump. Blackheads present as darkened pores on the skin's surface, although they too result from clogged pores. These are the most common forms of acne. Expert extractions by a licensed medical aesthetician can usually remedy the skin’s appearance for sufferers of white and blackheads.

Whitehead and blackhead treatment for milder cases includes regular use of salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. These topicals can be applied to the affected part of the skin or as an entire facial treatment to help remove dead skin cells through gentle exfoliation. Salicylic acid may also help prevent non-inflammatory acne from returning in the future. 

Do: Use dermatologist-prescribed topical retinoids if your whiteheads or blackheads persist or reappear. Often a preferred treatment by dermatologists, retinoids help heal current breakouts as well as scarring caused by previous breakouts. One of the most popular topical retinoids, Tretinoin, has been approved by the FDA as a dependable acne treatment for over 50 years. With retinoids, it is important to follow the guidelines of your dermatology provider as drying, peeling, and increased sun sensitivity may occur with use.

Don’t: Use over-the-counter pore strips. As satisfying as the removal may be, pore strips are not a permanent solution to whiteheads or blackheads. Removing just the top of the clogged pore rather than all of its contents, pore removal strips merely mask the issue and can cause redness and broken capillaries through their glue adhesives.

Papules & Pustules

Papules are tiny, mostly skin-color bumps that form when excess sebum or skin cells clog up pores and mix with bacteria on your skin. They are different from whiteheads or blackheads in that they are not filled with pus - making it even more imperative that they are removed and treated by a dermatology expert. Papules are associated with hormonal fluctuation and puberty, making them more common in teenagers and younger adults.

Pustules are blister-like lesions or sores - often seen in areas where moisture and oil-production are most common. A pustule is commonly known as an inflamed hair follicle, although it can be a sign of the presence of bacteria or fungus

Do: Use the topical retinoids or antibiotics Dr. Feinstein or Dr. Bohaty may prescribe you, as well as a benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid-based wash to keep the area clean. In certain cases, birth control pills may also be prescribed to combat both hormonal and bacterial factors causing papules or pustules.

Dont: Attempt to extract the area yourself. Wait to be treated professionally. As the American Academy of Dermatology Association says, “patience today, clearer skin tomorrow.”

Nodules & Cystic Acne

Nodules are a more severe inflammatory acne. They are further from the skin’s surface, making them more difficult to reach. Nodular acne can be painful, so it is important to see a dermatologist if you suspect you are suffering from a nodule or patch of nodules. Topical treatments are far less effective for nodular acne than for whiteheads, blackheads, papules or pustules since nodules are developed internally.

Cystic acne can be a combination of dead skin cells and bacteria deep within the skin. Often caused by hormonal changes, cystic acne forms a bump of pus - either hard or soft -  layers below the epidermis. Cystic acne can leave the surface-level color of the skin completely unaffected, but can be painful and difficult to get rid of. 

Do: Wait and seek professional advice from a dermatologist. To manage pain prior to your appointment, you can use a clean, warm compress for 10-15 minutes at a time. Be careful not to burn your skin! Antibiotics or, in some cases, oral steroids prescribed by a dermatologist may help the acne subside within a few days. For more persistent breakouts, draining or removing the cyst or nodule can be recommended.

Don’t: Touch the affected area and risk even more irritation. Popping or draining nodules or cysts is strongly discouraged and may lead to further infection and permanent skin damage. 

Questions? Speak with our experts at (561) 498-4407.

Hours of Operation

Feinstein Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery


8:00 am-5:00 pm


8:00 am-5:00 pm


8:00 am-5:00 pm


8:00 am - 5:00 pm, Evening Appointments Available


8:00 am-4:00 pm


Coming Soon!