How To Differentiate Between Pimples And Acne

How To Differentiate Between Pimples And Acne


Have you been troubled by your skin for a long period of time? You seem to have weird lumps and bumps on your skin regularly, and they don’t seem to go away. You find out online that they can be acne or pimples, but you’re not too sure exactly what the problem is. Even after trying out multiple skincare products, the problem persists. If you have problematic skin, it is extremely important to differentiate between acne and pimples in order to get a clear understanding of what’s wrong, and what you should do to tackle the problem. In essence, acne is a skin condition that affects the skin’s hair follicles and oil glands, while pimples are symptoms of acne. If you have multiple pimples that persist over a period of time, you may be suffering from acne. Otherwise, it is likely that your pimples are a one-off occurrence and may disappear on its own. Read on to find out how you can differentiate between pimples and acne, and what causes them in order to get the clear skin of your dreams!

What causes hair follicles and oil glands blockage?

Pimples form when sebum and dead skin cells clump together. Sebum is an oily substance that is connected to the glands and pores under your skin. Glands and pores are connected by follicles, which are thin facial hairs that grow onto the skin’s surface. If the sebum and dead skin cells lump together, it can cause a blockage in follicles. When this happens, bacteria can also cause inflammation, resulting in pimples on the skin which appear as red bumps and lumps.

Understanding acne

If you suspect that you might be suffering from acne, you need to understand its root cause and why you might be suffering from the skin condition. As mentioned, acne is a skin condition with pimples as one of its symptoms. While dermatologists and scientists have been unable to identify the direct and exact cause of acne, it is widely believed that certain factors can trigger acne or worsen its condition. There are a range of factors, but some of the most common ones include hormonal changes, aggravating existing pimples, exfoliating your skin too intensely, certain cosmetic products, medications, humidity, and pressure from accessories. Hormonal changes may be caused by changes in our bodies like puberty, the menstrual cycle, or pregnancy. This is one possible reason why many women tend to have pimple outbreaks at a specific point of time in their menstrual cycle. Aggravating your existing pimples can be from actions like picking or squeezing your pimples, or poking them. Exfoliating your skin too vigorously like cleaning or scrubbing too hard can also result in pimples. Certain cosmetic products like oil-based products, hair products, or sunscreen can also clog up pores under the skin and result in pimples. Specific types of medications may also come with side effects that possibly cause pimples. Corticosteroids and anabolic steroids are such examples. High humidity and pressure from accessories like helmets, hats, and collars may also cause pimples on the skin. Surprisingly, contrary to popular belief, dirty skin, greasy food, chocolate, and stress do not cause pimples to occur.


Acne comes in the form of many symptoms. As mentioned earlier, one of the most obvious ones is the presence of multiple pimples that persist over a period of time. Other symptoms that may suggest that you are suffering from acne include:


  • Whiteheads: These are commonly seen on our skin. Whiteheads generally refer to clogged pores under the skin’s surface, with the pores being closed. They are generally mild and not significantly noticeable. 
  • Blackheads: Many people suffer from blackheads as well, most commonly on oily areas like the T-Zone (forehead and down the nose). Blackheads are clogged pores on the skin’s surface, with open pores. They are more easily noticeable compared to whiteheads due to their color. 
  • Nodules: Nodules are painful & large lumps under the skin’s surface. These are usually deeply embedded under the skin and is a sign of severe or worsening acne.
  • Papules: Papules are smaller, pink, or red bumps under the skin that are tender to touch and slightly painful. They may suggest severe or worsening acne. 
  • Pustules: Pustules are papules, except being open with pus on top. They may suggest severe or worsening acne. 
  • Cysts: Cysts are the worst kind of skin symptom to have. They are large and painful lumps under the skin’s surface, which is also filled with pus. Cysts are hard to remove on their own, and you may even need a medical procedure to remove them.


Although acne sounds absolutely horrible and terrifying, not all hope is lost. Acne is in fact a treatable skin disease with little long-term or heavy complications. If you suspect that you are suffering from acne, you will need to see a dermatologist to get it identified and treated accordingly. Most dermatologists will prescribe a form of topical retinoid treatment cream, like topical adapalene or tretinoin, to treat your acne. These are meant to be applied directly to the problem areas to tackle the problem. Other types of medication will depend greatly on the type of acne that you are suffering from, and that needs to be treated. In more severe cases of acne, your dermatologist may even prescribe you some over-the-counter (OTC) medications together with the topical creams for a more effective treatment. Common OTC medications include antibiotics,  combined oral contraceptives, anti-androgen agents, etc. You may also need to undergo some cosmetic treatment procedures like chemical peel, or light therapy to effectively tackle the acne problem.


Acne can definitely be troubling. The sight of acne on your skin can cause you to feel less confident and affect your self-esteem, as acne is extremely noticeable. Fret not, however, as acne can be treated. Remember to differentiate between pimples and acne, so that you can get the correct treatment that targets the right problem! And be sure to do ample research on your end to find the best options as well as ways to actively prevent it from coming back as well.

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