Acne Types: Classify Your Spots

While all types of acne start with clogged pores, not every spot and bump is exactly the same. Before you create a plan of attack, we suggest getting to know your skin a little better. After all, the severity of your condition depends on the form your blemishes typically take. We’ve outlined the different kinds here, so you can get a better idea of what you’re facing.

You may experience one, or all three, of these categories of bumps: comedones, larger spots, and milia.

Comedo (plural: comedones)

All acne starts in the form of a comedo, or clogged pore. These precursors to inflamed spots are follicles that are stopped up with excess oil, bacteria, and dead skin cells. Comedones come in two varieties: closed (whiteheads) and open (blackheads).


Very aptly named, these pimples are small, raised white bumps on top of the skin. These pimples crop up when a closed comedo becomes inflamed and ruptures.


Also named for their appearance, these dark dots are comedones that are open. Because the plug in the pore is exposed to oxygen, the contents oxidize to create that dark, black color.

Larger Spots

Sometimes the walls of pores become so irritated and inflamed from the ongoing battle with acne bacteria that they break down and grow into larger pimples.


These swollen bumps are typically hard to the touch, with a red appearance.


Similar in size to papules, pustules look like how the name sounds—filled with pus. This might be what you picture when you think of a full-on zit, an irritated, raised bump on the skin filled with white stuff.

Cysts & Nodules

Much larger infections that happen when whiteheads or blackheads have burst deep inside the skin. Acne cysts have pus inside of them and feel soft to the touch; on the surface of the skin they resemble large, red boils. By contrast, nodules can be skin-colored and feel more like a large, hard bumps under the skin.


Tiny, whitish bumps that are typically clustered together and often appear on the forehead and around the eyes. These are commonly mistaken for whiteheads; however, milia aren’t surrounded by an inflamed red ring.

Take a look in the mirror to take stock of what you’re dealing with. Better yet, come see us for a consultation to identify what types of acne you’re facing. Once we’ve identified the types of zits you experience most often, we can create a treatment strategy that fits your skin. In terms of severity, acne that primarily consists of papules and pustules is generally considered “mild to moderate.” Acne that presents with many cysts and/or nodules—with or without papules and pustules—is considered “severe” acne, and may require treatment with oral medication by a dermatologist.

Ready to let the healing begin? Schedule a consultation with one of our skin specialists today.

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