This is no one’s favorite topic, but like other unavoidable things in life, pimples and acne happen. And when they do, being able to name that spot will clue you in on the best option for treatment.

Where to begin? You likely already know that the pimple begins its life in a pore that becomes clogged due to a combination of dead skin cells, ingrown hairs, excess oil, or bacteria. I’ll spare you the pictures of other people’s pimples. You’ve seen plenty of your own to know what I’m talking about here.

With that out of the way, let’s dig deep into the 6 main types of pimples.


Whiteheads are closed comedones. This means that even though the pore is clogged up, the top of the pore is covered with skin and hasn’t broken open. As the name implies, these, after blackheads, are easy to spot because it looks like a white pus-filled bump. (Other tell-tale signs include fingers itching to squeeze.)

Effective treatment: Skincare products that contain salicylic acid. This acid type moves deep into pores to dissolve debris, leaving pores clear once again.


A close sibling of whiteheads, blackheads are open comedones. These are spots that are open to the environment, instead of having a layer of skin covering the clogged pore. The black bit is the oil in the pore that has oxidized (which is the same process that turns cut fruit brown).

Effective treatment: Because blackheads are similar to whiteheads, you can treat blackheads in a similar fashion. Salicylic acid cleansers should be a regular treatment plan in your skincare routine. You may also want to experiment with clay masks, chemical exfoliation, a deep-cleaning facial brush, or pore strips. 


Often mistaken for whiteheads. The difference is that pustules are inflamed pimples. Whereas whiteheads are not. Pustules look like a white or yellow pus-filled bump sitting on top of a red bump (the infected area).

Effective treatment: Pimple patches, salicylic acid, and benzoyl peroxide cleansers. Don’t move in to pop a pustule before it’s ready. (Ideally, you don’t pop it at all, but hey, we’re all human. Some things can’t be helped.) Use a pimple patch to help get the pimple to a state where the inflammation has lessened and the pus is ready to come out.


Papules are red bumps caused by clogs in the pores, but which do not show any pus-filled head, whether black or white or yellow. Papules simply sit under the skin, looking red and angry to be there. To make matters worse, they often appear in patches. So instead of just one, you get a group that appears more rash-like than an outcropping of pimples.

Effective treatment: Regular papule appearances might be due to products that you are using which cause your skin to be clog-prone. Eyeball your skincare products and see if there’s anything you are using that is comedogenic. Replace with non-comedogenic products, aka, products that reduce the chance of pore blockage. Additionally, consider a daily use of a salicylic wipe or cleansing product to keep pores clean and clear.


These are nasty, serious business. Papules that are large and deep within the skin are nodules. While papules can clear up in a few days to a week, nodules can take weeks to clear up. Sometimes even months. You’ll know you have a nodule when the bump is large, but no head is visible, and it is painful to the touch. No matter how much you might wanna, DO NOT TRY TO POP THESE TYPES OF PIMPLES. This will leave scarring because nodular pimples are too far under the skin for anything to easily reach the surface.

Effective treatment: If you find yourself regularly dealing with nodular pimples, visit a dermatologist for an antibiotic treatment plan.


One level deeper than nodules, and you get cysts. Cystic acne is the largest type of pimple and the deepest within your skin. They are often caused by fluctuating hormones. To top it all off, the huge redness of it is because of infection and inflammation. Like with nodular pimples, you should never try to pop these on your own as that will absolutely lead to scarring.

Effective treatment: Ice can help bring down the swelling. The less inflammation the pore needs to fight, the faster it can work on expelling the pus. For a longer-term solution, visit your doctor to evaluate if you have a hormonal imbalance, or if something else might be causing the hormonal acne outbreak.


—Emma Jean

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