6 Different Types Of Acne, Explained

It’s a truth universally acknowledged, that acne is no joke. Triggered by a nasty combination of hormones, diet, and genetics, all of which lead to different types of breakouts, each with their own symptoms and requiring their own separate game plans to get rid of. 

We often mis-identify and treat breakouts in the same (panicked) way, but once you figure out what you’re seeing on your skin, it gets easier and quicker to treat and prevent your acne. Scroll down for your ultimate guide to identifying, understanding, and treating the different types of acne, including blackheads, whiteheads, pustules, papules, cystic pimples, and hormonal breakouts. 


Blackheads (or open comedomes) are a common form of mild acne often experienced by those with oily skin, and typically found in the T-zone area (forehead, nose, and chin). They form their colour as a result of oil and dead skin clogging pores and oxidising (as it’s exposed to air), which turns them black. As blackheads, they don’t typically cause any textural irregularity or pain until the pore is clogged and a blemish forms. 

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Similarly to blackheads, whiteheads (or closed comedomes) are basically clogged pores, formed when excess oil and dead skin cells block the opening of the pore. However, as they are ‘closed’ at the surface of the skin and don’t come into contact with air (in order to oxidise), they retain a white or pale yellow colour and don’t appear as noticeable on the skin’s surface. 

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Not all blackheads and whiteheads form blemishes, but if the pore becomes extremely clogged the skin begins to swell and a pustule is formed. Pustules are what many people would consider to be a typical ‘spot’ and are essentially infected pores, named for the pus that fills them. Pustules usually appear as a white dot surrounded by inflamed, red skin that swells into a bump. 

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Papules are the tiny red spots that don’t form a head or appear to break through the skin’s surface. They’re caused by the growth of acne bacteria on the skin’s surface which triggers inflammation and causes sore, red bumps. 

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One of the more extreme and severe forms of acne, cystic breakouts appear as swollen lumps under the skin, filled with pus that has nowhere to go. They gradually become sorer as they worsen, and once they become inflamed or rupture, are incredibly painful to touch. Cystic breakouts are deep-rooted in the skin tissue so don’t always come to a head and often reappear in the same place – they’re notoriously hard to get rid of for good and often leave scars. 

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When papules and cysts start to appear around your mouth, chin, and jawline, it’s likely that these breakouts are triggered by your hormones – you may only experience them at certain times of the month. Hormones fluctuate throughout the monthly cycle and as progesterone levels rise before and during your period, oil production is kicked into overdrive – this increase means it’s much more likely that pores will clog and blemishes will form. Hormonal acne is more likely to affect your jawline and chin because this area has a large number of oil glands. 

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