Glossary of Acne Terms

Acne conglobata: A type of severe acne defined by pimples that are connected beneath the surface of the skin.

Acne mechanica: A type of acne that occurs when skin isn't exposed to the air, something rubs against the skin, or it’s overheated.

Acne vulgaris: This is the medical term for acne, or pimples.

Androgens: Hormones that boost oil production by sebaceous (oil) glands in the skin.

Antibiotics: Acne medication that destroys bacteria, which can cause or worsen acne. Antibiotics come in pill and topical forms (creams, lotions, ointments, and gels).

Benzoyl peroxide: An ingredient in many types of topical acne medication used to destroy bacteria and treat acne.

Blackhead: A pimple that isn’t inflamed and that has a dark spot in its center filled with oil and dead skin cells. Also called an open comedo.

Closed comedo: A pimple that isn't inflamed and has a white spot in its center. Also called a whitehead.

Comedo: A pimple. The plural form is comedones.

Comedogenic: A term used to describe ingredients in makeup or skin care products that may cause pimples.

Cyst: A painful lump on the skin that may have pus, fluid, or air inside it. Deeply inflamed pimples can form cysts.

Dermabrasion: A procedure to get rid of acne scars by removing the top layer of the skin.

Follicle: A small opening in the skin where hair grows and sebum (oil) is excreted. Also called a pore.

Hormones: These are chemicals released by the body to help regulate its many processes. Hormones related to puberty often cause acne.

Inflammatory: The term used to describe a pimple that is red and irritated, often because of a reaction to a chemical or bacteria in a clogged follicle.

Isotretinoin: An oral acne medication that is prescribed to treat very severe acne. Isotretinoin is known to cause severe birth defects, so it can't be taken during pregnancy or breastfeeding. It is very important to prevent pregnancy while taking this drug. The drug is sold under the brand names Accutane, Amnesteem, Claravis, Sotret, and others. [Note: The brand name isotretinoin product Accutane is no longer being manufactured.]

Microcomedo: A very small comedo in its early stages.

Nodulocystic acne: A very severe type of acne that causes inflamed, infected pimples that go deep into the skin. These pimples are hard to the touch and may be sore, are often purple or red in color, and can cause scars.

Non-comedogenic: A term used to describe an ingredient in makeup or skin care products that is not likely to cause pimples.

Non-inflammatory: A term used to describe a pimple that isn't inflamed or red in color.

Open comedo: A non-inflamed pimple with a dark spot in its center. These hard pimples are also called blackheads.

Oral contraceptives: Birth control pills, which may be prescribed as acne treatment for some women.

Papule: An inflamed pimple that is small, raised, and red.

Papulopustular: A type of acne that includes papules and pustules.

Pore: A small hole in the skin. When pores are clogged with oil, acne occurs. Also called a follicle.

Post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation: The term used to describe dark skin that occurs where an inflamed pimple was located.

Pustule: An inflamed pimple that has a white center surrounded by a circle of red.

Retinoid: A type of acne treatment based on vitamin A.

Salicylic acid: An ingredient that is found in many types of acne treatment and topical acne medication that helps destroy bacteria and clears skin.

Sebaceous glands: Glands that secrete sebum, or oil. Pimples form on the skin where these glands are located, most often on the chest, back, neck, and face.

Sebum: The oil secreted by the sebaceous glands that can cause acne when too much is produced.

Steroid acne: This is a type of acne that occurs as a side effect of using corticosteroid drugs for too long.

Systemic treatment: This is a type of acne medication that affects the whole system, rather than just being applied to the skin. This includes pills, infusions, and injections.

Topical treatment: A type of acne treatment that is applied to the skin. Lotions, creams, gels, and other solutions can be rubbed into the skin to treat acne.

Whitehead: A pimple that isn't inflamed, and is caused by dead skin cells and oil buildup clogging a follicle. Also called a closed comedo.

Zit: A slang term for a pimple or acne breakout.

The Latest in Acne

Speaking Acne: A Glossary of Common Terms

Learning the lingo can help you better understand what causes acne — and how to prevent breakouts and get rid of pimples.

‘Maskne’ Is the Latest Skin Problem — Here’s How to Prevent or Get Rid of It

Red spots and bumps along your mask line are potential signs of "maskne." Don't not wear a mask during the COVID-19 pandemic; instead, follow these tips...

7 Wellness Bloggers’ Best Tips for Taming Period Acne Flare-Ups

Read up on spot treatments to try, bad habits to bust, and diet changes to make to lessen the likelihood you’ll break out.

11 Common Acne Treatments, Explained

Looking to banish breakouts, blemishes, and red spots? Here’s how to find the right treatment for you.

Best Natural Remedies to Add to Your Anti-Acne Skincare Routine

While they can’t replace dermatologist-recommended acne treatments, these remedies can be a good, natural addition to your skincare routine.

Best Acne Treatments for Teens

Puberty is hard enough without having to deal with acne. These washes, toners, masks, and treatments can help fight those pesky breakouts.

Best Face Washes for Acne

Learn more

These products can help control oil, clear breakouts, and prevent flare-ups.

Best Makeup for Oily and Acne-Prone Skin

These bronzers, primers, and tinted moisturizers for acne-prone skin can help create a flawless look.

Read more on: acne