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24 Dec 2021

We talk a lot about oily and acne-prone skin, and for good reason – it’s an incredibly common skin concern for adolescents and for adults. However, it can be easy to forget that ‘acne’ is an umbrella term that encompasses many distinct types of blemishes. All forms of acne happen when a pore blocked with excess skin cells and sebum creates a haven for pimple causing bacteria. However, there are important differences that affect how each type should be managed.


Read on - we’ll walk you through how to distinguish between different kinds of acne, their causes, tailored management options and must-have ingredients for each blemish type. 


The term ‘non-inflammatory acne’ refers to mild, surface level blemishes. As the name suggests, the key characteristic of non-inflammatory acne is an absence of inflammation, swelling, redness and tenderness in the skin surrounding the blemish. The underlying reason for the lack of swelling seen in non-inflammatory acne is because in this type of blemish, the pore remains intact rather than ruptured.



Blackheads have several distinctive visual and structural features, but the biggest clue is in the name, as they are easily identified by their small dark heads and flat appearance. Blackheads get their colour from oxidisation, because the core of these blemishes is exposed to the air. The dermatological name for a blackhead is ‘open comedone’. These blemishes are ‘open’ because their cores are devoid of the usual covering of a thin layer of skin. Comedone remains the dermatological name for a pore blocked with sebum (oil), hair, dead skin cells or other impurities. In terms of causes, blackheads are more common in people prone to excess sebum production or enlarged pores, however all the regular causes of acne-prone skin apply, including hormones, bacteria, excess dead skin cells and ingrown hairs. To manage the concern of blackheads, try a cleanser or serum containing salicylic acid and opt for an oil-free moisturiser if you have oily or combination skin.



The key feature of whiteheads is the small, pale head very close to the skin’s surface. Whiteheads are the surface level blemishes that form when a clogged pore’s contents are covered by a thin layer of skin. As opposed to open headed blackheads, whiteheads are also called closed comedones. Appearing on the smaller side, without much inflammation or redness, whiteheads are also considered ‘mild acne’. A very common skin concern with a wide array of causes, including excess sebum production, dead skin cells, bacteria and hormones. For management, salicylic acid is your hero ingredient when it comes to dealing with whiteheads. If you’re finding that’s not quite enough, slowly introduce a retinol serum into your routine.



Inflammatory acne occurs when lesions become larger, deeper, red and tender. These more uncomfortable symptoms happen because bacteria have flourished inside the blemish. Eventually, the wall of the blocked pore breaks down and allows debris and bacteria to spread into the surrounding dermal tissue. This form is more likely to be more tricky to kick. It’s not all bad news though! Understanding which type of inflammatory acne you’re experiencing is the first step to managing the skin issue.



Papules fall into the ‘moderate acne’ category. They’re raised, more sensitive bumps that have no visible centre and feel hard to the touch. Unlike a lot of blemishes, they’re solid rather than filled with pus. All types of acne-prone skin begin with a blocked pore, but a blemish becomes a papule when the pore wall ruptures and allows debris and bacteria to spread into skin nearby. Aside from the general causes of acne-prone skin, papules can be associated with irritants such as harsh scrubs, fragrance and heavy-duty makeup. Manage papules by avoiding known irritants. You can do this by opting for gentle skincare products and makeup formulated for sensitive skin. Benzoyl peroxide is your go-to ingredient for skin prone to moderate-acne, so be sure to include a product with this in your routine.



If you imagine a stereotypical pimple, what you’re picturing would likely be a pustule. This occurs when a papule becomes inflamed and develops a pus filled centre due to infection. Pustules are especially likely to form in extra oily areas, although all the general causes of acne-prone skin also apply. In areas with more sebum, it’s easier for bacteria to grow and create a more severe lesion. When seeking to manage pustules, it can be tempting to try and pop them. Under no circumstances should you actually do this – targeted ingredients remain the best path. Again, benzoyl peroxide is a highly effective option, as it helps reduce redness, inflammation and fight bacteria. You can also try using a warm compress to help speed up the recovery process.



If you have nodules, you’ll be well aware that these lesions are considered severe. Characterised by their larger size (1-2cm wide), lack of pus and soreness, nodules are situated deeper beneath the skin than papules or pustules. When papule lesions continue to worsen, these blocked and irritated pores grow larger and become nodules. Nodules are noticeably wider and deeper than papules and are characterised by spread into dermal or even subcutaneous tissue. Because nodules are severe and quite deep under the skin, managing these lesions should involve input from a medical professional. It’s a good idea to seek prescription treatments from your dermatologist or doctor.



Cysts are the most severe and largest form of acne lesion. Expect swollen, painful blemishes that occur very deep within the skin. These are also the most likely to result in long term scarring. The key cause of cysts is a bacterial infection within the blemish. Very oily skin is necessary for the bacteria flourish, which is why cystic acne is most common in adolescents or adults with hormonal imbalances. Due to their severity, cysts call for a consultation with your dermatologist or doctor, who may prescribe antibiotics or other prescription medication.




A preventative skincare routine targeted towards the root causes of acne-prone skin is the best way to help prevent blemishes and lesions from forming. Our Effaclar Range of dermatological oily skin solutions is formulated with the key ingredients you need in your skincare routine.



Follow these three simple steps each morning and night for acne-prone skin.

1. Gently cleanse your face with our Effaclar Foaming Gel Cleanser. This face wash flushes away dirt, impurities and excess sebum without disrupting the skin’s natural pH balance.

2. Massage 2-3 drops of our Effaclar Salicylic Acid Serum into your freshly cleansed face. This serum contains highly concentrated Salicylic acid to unclog your pores and clear imperfections, LHA for microexfoliation and anti-bacterial glycolic acid to visibly reduce redness.

3. Smooth on our Effaclar Duo (+) Anti-Acne Moisturiser, because oily skin still needs hydration. This formula is designed to absorb quickly so you don’t feel greasy. The niacinamide targets redness and reduces the appearance of dark marks.

4. Use a face sunscreen for daily protection.

Your complete Clear Skin Routine



If you’re looking for a solution to help remove excess sebum and help regulate excess sebum production, our Effaclar Anti-Acne Purifying Clay Mask is well suited to your skin concerns. Leave this corrective mask on for five minutes to further unclog your pores and reduce shine by removing invisible impurities such as dust and pollution particles. Use once or twice a week only by applying a fine layer to freshly cleansed skin.



After that rundown, it’s possible you’re still asking yourself “What type of acne do I have?”. Even if you think you’ve got it all figured out, chatting with a dermatologist is a valuable first step. A dermatologist will be able to definitively diagnose the exact nature of your blemishes and use their advanced expertise to advise on particular ingredients and treatments that will work best for your specific skin concerns.


Once you understand the different forms of acne-prone skin and what to do about them in the future, you can learn our three steps to tackle a blind pimple for some timely advice.

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