Much Ado About Acne: How to Zap Every Type of Zit

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

While acne comes in many forms, plugged up pores are usually to blame thanks to pesky things like:

  • bacteria
  • hormones
  • ingrown hairs
  • excess dead skin cells
  • excess oil (sebum) production

Here’s everything you need to know about acne plus top-notch treatment tips for each kind.

Pictures of different types of acne

ishonest No.312 - Prevent Acne

No.312 - Prevent Acne

Here’s some pics to help you figure out your skin sitch.

What type of acne do I have? Acne types explained

The “good things come in small packages” thing def doesn’t apply to acne. Whether you’re dealing with a minor breakout or a full-on pimple palooza, acne is the pits.

Inflammatory acne is typically more intense than non-inflammatory acne, which is usually clogged comedones.

These are the acne types you might be dealing with:

Non-inflammatory acne (aka comedones)

Whiteheads (closed comedones)

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These lil’ buggers are a mix of sebum (oil), debris, and dead skin cells that clog your pores. The bumps usually have a white center and a red or discolored border.

Blackheads (open comedones)

Fun fact! These zits don’t get their dark color from trapped dirt. Blackheads form when zit gunk is exposed to air. This creates those tiny black dots that can be a pain in the A to get rid of.

Inflammatory acne


Pustules kinda look like next-level whiteheads. They also have a yellow-y or whitish center and a reddish or discolored base. But they’re usually bigger and tender.


Nodules happen when clogged pores get irritated or swollen. They occur deep within your skin so you might not be able to DIY them away.


ishonest No.313 - Prevent Acne

No.313 - Prevent Acne

Papules are solid, tender, raised bumps. They don’t have a visible center but can make the surrounding skin reddish, pinkish, or discolored.

Acne mechanica

Acne mechanica is caused by pressure or friction on your skin. It can cause inflammatory skin conditions like pustules, papules, or nodules.

BTW, “maskne” can totes fall under this category . Make sure your mask fits 10/10 to prevent friction.


These pus-filled lumps are a combo of sebum, dead skin cells, and bacteria. Cysts occur under your skin and can be uber painful. They also tend to be bigger than other forms of acne and can cause scarring.

Acne conglobata

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Acne conglobata (AC) is a rare form of nodulocystic acne. It happens when acne cysts and nodules combine. So basically, *sing* you get the wooorst of both worlds. It usually happens on your face, chest, or back and can lead to scarring or disfigurement.

What’s the deal with bacne?

As if the spots on your face weren’t bad enough, acne can also attack your back (and other parts of your bod). Like facial acne, bacne comes in many forms (e.g. comedones, pustules, nodules, papules, or cysts).

Here are some tips to keep your bacne at bay:

  • Shower after each sweat sesh. This can wash away excess oils and debris that can clog pores.
  • Exfoliation station. A light exfoliant can slough off excess skin cells. You can opt for a scrub or a chemical exfoliant like salicylic acid.
  • Let your back breathe. Wearing tight clothes on the reg can lead to bacne. Switch to breathable fabrics, especially when you work out.
  • Meds. Your doc can prescribe an oral medication or topical cream to help you get your back on track.

How severe are the different types of pimples?

While all acne can be annoying AF, some types are more severe than others.

ishonest No.141 - Humectant

No.141 - Humectant

Here’s the lowdown:

  • Mild acne. This includes noninflammatory acne like whiteheads or blackheads. It can usually be treated with an OTC product or lifestyle changes.
  • Moderate acne. Peeps with moderate acne have inflammatory pimples like papules or pustules. You might be able to treat them with OTC meds, but sometimes Rx meds are needed.
  • Severe acne. Cysts, nodules, and acne conglobata are the most severe types of acne. OTC remedies usually won’t help clear them up. You’ll need to see a skin specialist.

FYI: You usually need to go to a doc to treat severe types of acne. But in the meantime, you can use a cold compress to reduce swelling and discomfort.

Tips for treating different types of acne

Your acne prob won’t clear up overnight, but that’s OK! Some treatments can start to work in a few days, but others can take several months till you see a difference.

You might want to schedule an appointment with a dermatologist if OTC remedies or certain skin care regimes don’t work. They can recommend more effective treatments that can help you ditch your zits.

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Your derm can also determine if your acne is actually acne. Other skin conditions that resemble acne include:

  • milia
  • rosacea
  • folliculitis
  • keratosis pilaris
  • sebaceous filaments
  • sebaceous hyperplasia

P.S. Don’t use a million products at once. This can dry out your skin and make your acne even worse.

Your acne treatment guide

We love a good visual. Here’s a chart to help you pick the best treatment path for your unique skin-tuation.

Bottom line

It’s totes normal if a facial volcano hits you hard in the feels. But keep in mind, acne is nothing to be ashamed of .

Give your doc a call if acne is affecting your life. They can help you come up with a dope treatment plan.

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