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Types of Inflamed Acne Blemishes

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Updated June 02, 2014

Did you know that there are many different types of acne blemishes? Comedones, or blemishes, all begin as a blockage of oil and dead skin cells within the hair follicle. When bacteria infect a comedone, or it is irritated by squeezing, inflammation occurs. Inflammation is characterized by redness, swelling and pain. There are four main types of inflamed acne blemishes.

Watch the Video: What To Know About Inflamed Blemishes

1. Papules

Acne Papules
Photo © Angela Palmer
Appearance: A papule is a red and inflamed lesion on the skin's surface. It contains no pus or white head.

Development: Papules result from a high break in the follicle wall, allowing cellular debris and bacteria to spill into the dermis. This break may occur when a pore becomes engorged with debris and oil, or is squeezed or otherwise irritated. A papule often progresses to a pustule.

Treatment: Do not squeeze a papule or you may worsen the breakout. Most papules heal quickly and without scarring, as they are not deep lesions. Benzoyl peroxide treatments may help prevent papules from occurring.

2. Pustules

Acne pustule
Photo © Angela Palmer
Appearance: A pustule is a typical pimple -- red and inflamed with a white head. They range in size from small to fairly large. Sometimes the brownish comedonal core can be seen as a cap on the pus head.

Development: Pustules follow papules after white blood cells invade. The white cap on a pustule is pus, sebaceous matter and cellular debris.

Treatment: Mild acne or occasional pustules can ordinarily be treated at home with benzoyl peroxide creams or cleansers. See your dermatologist if you have numerous pustules, if they are highly inflamed, or difficult to control. Although it's tempting, don't pop a pustule.

3. Nodules

Nodules on the back
Photo © A.D.A.M.
Appearance: Nodules are large inflamed lesions that occur deep within the dermis. They feel like a hard, painful lump under the skin. Where papules occur at the surface, nodules occur deep within the skin.

Development: A nodule occurs when the follicle wall ruptures deep within the dermis. Contaminated debris from the follicle empties into the dermis and infects adjoining follicles. A nodule is a severe form of an acne lesion.

Treatment: Never squeeze or pick at a nodule. The infection is deep and the risk of scarring is high. If you are prone to nodular breakouts, see your dermatologist.

4. Cysts

Cystic acne of the back.
Photo © A.D.A.M.
Appearance: Cysts are very large, inflamed lesions. They feel like soft, fluid-filled lumps under the skin's surface. The most severe form of a pimple, cysts are very painful.

Development: Like nodules, cysts begin as a deep break in the follicle wall. A membrane develops around the infection in the dermis. As a cyst works its way to the surface, it damages healthy skin tissue, destroying the follicle. The likelihood of scarring is very high.

Treatment: If you are prone to cystic breakouts, you must talk to your dermatologist. Treatment usually consists of topical and systemic medications.

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