What’s the Difference Between Acne and Pimples

Article Read Duration 5 min read

The words ‘acne’ and ‘pimples’ are sometimes used interchangeably, but in reality these terms have very different meanings. One of these terms refers to a type of blemish whereas the other refers to an ongoing skin condition with a host of different symptoms, causes and management options.


Understanding the exact nature of your skin concerns is crucial to the effective management of oily acne-prone skin. While non-inflamed pimples are usually able to be improved with over-the-counter products, serious acne lesions may necessitate a consultation with a dermatologist or doctor.


Regardless of what kind of blemishes you’re experiencing, our Effaclar range consists of targeted skincare options for people who experience pimples or acne-prone skin.

Acne vs. pimples

The clearest way to distinguish between acne and pimples is to understand that pimples are a symptom of a condition, whereas acne is the condition itself. Someone who has acne-prone skin will experience pimples as a part of their condition, however not everyone who gets the occasional pimple has acne-prone skin.

What is a pimple?

‘Pimple’ is an informal term for closed or open comedones, also known as blackheads and whiteheads. These are small, non-inflamed blemishes that occur when a pore becomes blocked. Blemishes of this kind occur close to the surface of the skin in the epidermal layer.

Closed comedones (whiteheads) have a core covered by a very thin layer of skin. In contrast, open comedones (blackheads) have a core that’s exposed to the air, hence their dark, oxidised appearance. It’s possible to experience occasional pimples as part of a ‘normal’ skin type and they are usually able to be improved by over-the-counter topical products.


What is acne?

If you have acne, you’ll be well aware that this term refers to an ongoing skin condition that’s much more serious, persistent and often more painful than just the occasional pimple. Acne-prone skin is characterised by persistent and recurring pimples, usually accompanied by larger, deeper lesions including papules, pustules, cysts or nodules that occur deep within the dermal and subcutaneous layers of the skin.

Acne-prone skin requires targeted management including over-the-counter products, topical options prescribed by a dermatologist or doctor, and sometimes oral medications including antibiotics and tretinoin.

Difference between pimples and acne

What are the causes of acne vs. pimples?

Pimples and acne-prone skin share a number of common causes, however there are some key causal differences that are useful to understand. After all, the more you understand you skin concerns, the more empowered you’ll be to choose the most efficacious skincare products to manage your skin.


What causes pimples?

Pimples have a wide range of causal factors including hormones and hormonal imbalances, excess sebum (oil), genetics, diet, environmental pollution and other factors. Pimples form when a pore becomes clogged with sebaceous matter, an ingrown hair, or other impurities. There is some bacteria present, but usually not enough to cause inflammation.


What causes acne?

Acne-prone skin is linked to all of the same causes as pimples, although there are some factors that are more strongly linked to developing this long-term skin condition.

When pimples become acne-prone skin, this development is more likely to be seen in people with extensive excess sebum production. Why? Because sebum acts as food for the blemish causing bacteria, so more oil allows lesions to become more inflamed. People with acne-prone skin are also more likely to have a hormonal imbalance or a genetic predisposition.


What are the symptoms of acne vs. pimples?

While pimples can be a symptom of acne-prone skin, both pimples and acne have their own distinctly different set of symptoms. It’s important to be able to identify the difference between the two so you can tailor your skincare routine accordingly.


Understanding pimple symptoms

What does a pimple look like? Key symptoms of a pimple include a shallow blemish with a white or black head, with an absence of inflammation. The blemish will be either flat or minimally raised and there should be only minimal presence of swelling, redness or tenderness. If you’re noticing symptoms that are more severe than this description that persist over time, you’re likely experiencing acne-prone skin.


Understanding acne symptoms

What does acne-prone skin look like? Signs of acne-prone skin include a large number of pimples and deeper inflamed lesions across a large area of the skin on the face, back or neck. Acne lesions can be more raised or exist deep under the epidermis, with redness and inflammation present. Acne-prone skin is often more tender to the touch. Lastly, a key differentiator between pimples and acne-prone skin is the persistent nature of the condition. Acne-prone skin has blemishes that are long lasting, persistent and frequent.

Recommended skincare for pimple and acne-prone skin

Whether you’re experiencing the occasional blackhead or more serious symptoms of acne-prone skin, a consistent and targeted skincare routine is essential. When it comes to managing acne-prone skin, look for products specifically designed and targeted to your skin type for optimal results. Here are some of the most useful ingredients to look for in skincare products:

• Salicylic acid –exfoliates surface cells and helps reduce sebum production.

Niacinamide – helps visibly reduce scars and uneven pigmentation.

• LHA – refines and reduces the appearance of enlarged pores.

• Glycolic acid – has anti-bacterial properties and helps exfoliate dead skin cells.

Effaclar face serum has three complimentary peeling acids with anti-wrinkle and anti-acne benefits

The perfect combination of 3 peeling acids + Niacinamide: Effaclar Serum


Gently cleanse your face with a wash for acne-prone skin

Begin your everyday anti-blemish skincare routine by freshening up your face with a cleanser designed to visibly reduce pimples and acne. Our Effaclar Micro-peeling Purifying Gel Cleanser is the ideal cleanser for acne-prone skin, containing Salicylic Acid, Zinc and LHAs to reduce sebum and deeply cleanse pores.

Lather a sparing amount of the gel cleanser in the palms of your hands with some water, before applying to the face with a gentle massage and washing thoroughly. This versatile cleanser is also suitable for bodily use, especially for those who have pimples or acne on their chest or back.


Apply a serum containing salicylic acid to reduce pore congestion

Our Effaclar Salicylic Acid Serum contains a carefully selected combination of complementary ingredients including Salicylic Acid, LHA and Glycolic Acid for an optimal pore clearing effect.

Press 2-3 drops of serum over your entire face, before carefully massaging into the skin to aid absorption. This powerful serum will help visibly reduce blemishes both existing and future ones.


Smooth on a non-comedogenic moisturiser

Conclude your simple and effective skincare routine by applying our Effaclar Duo (+) Anti-Acne Moisturiser. Spread a thin layer of this Niacinamide enriched cream to your entire face every morning and evening.

It can be tempting to forego moisturiser if you have oily or combination skin, but a moisturiser with a non-greasy formula should be a non-negotiable part of your routine. If you try to ‘dry out’ oily skin by skipping moisturiser, your sebaceous glands will likely try and compensate by producing even more oil. That’s why using a corrective moisturiser for congested skin like the Effaclar Duo (+) Anti-Acne Moisturiser is an effective option to help regulate sebum production.



Learning more about your acne-prone skin is key to managing your blemishes. Now that you understand the difference between pimples and acne, it’s useful to understand too that acne-prone skin can also be sensitive. To learn how to avoid provoking sensitive skin, read our article, do I have sensitive skin?