Although there isn't a uniform way to categorize acne, most people (including dermatologists) classify acne as mild, moderate, or severe. It's nice to have a basic idea of where your acne falls on this scale, because it will give you a good idea on where to start with treatment.
Not all people with mild acne get those "typical" pimples either. Some people are surprised to learn that the bumpiness they have on their face or back is actually a mild form of acne.
Mild acne can occur across all ages, in all skin types and ethnicities. Nearly every teen has acne; younger tweens too. And many adults are shocked to learn that the acne they thought they outgrew... it's back. Yes, mild acne is common in adults as well. Even newborn babies can have cases of mild acne (baby acne)!
This type of acne isn't just limited to the face. You can get mild acne breakouts on the back, chest, neck, and shoulders too. And don't be alarmed if you find blackheads in your ears or even on the earlobe. Mild acne breakouts can happen there as well.
Do the following statements describe your skin? If they do, you probably have acne and it's probably mild.
- Most of my breakouts are non-inflamed whiteheads and blackheads.
- I sometimes get red pimples, but not very many of them and they're not very big.
- The blemishes I do get are on the surface of the skin. They don't feel "deep."
- I don't get cysts or nodular breakouts (very inflamed, hard, painful blemishes).
- My breakouts are not causing scars.
(If this doesn't sound like your skin, then your acne might more accurately be described as moderate or severe. These types of acne are treated differently, and need a physician's help to get under control.
Also, there are some skin conditions that cause minor bumps and breakouts on the skin as well, and some of them look very similar to acne. If you're at all unsure, it wouldn't be a bad idea to have a dermatologist give your skin a once-over.)
For some people, acne will always stay relatively mild. But for others, those insignificant bumps and blemishes can progress to something more serious in a hurry.
It's always best to treat acne at this stage, when it is mild. Too often, people take the "wait and see" approach -- waiting to see if acne will just go away on its own. Unfortunately, it usually doesn't. Very often the acne gets worse, and progresses to a more severe case.
This is especially true with teen acne. Lots of kids will start getting superficial breakouts early on, sometimes as young as 9 years old. They're really easy to overlook at this point. But as time goes on, those little bumps become bigger, inflamed pimples. Once acne really takes hold, it gets tougher to treat, not to mention the risk of scarring that comes with more serious acne.
No matter what your age, you'll want to start treating acne right away, when it's still mild. You'll get better results, much more quickly.
Feldman S, Careccia RE, Barham KL, Hancox J. "Diagnosis and Treatment of Acne." Am Fam Physician. 2004 May 1; 69(9):2123-2130.
"Treating Mild Acne." AcneNet. American Academy of Dermatology, 2011. Web. 24 Apr 2012. http://www.skincarephysicians.com/acnenet/treatingmildacne.html
United States. NIAMS. Questions and Answers About Acne. Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health, 2006.