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What is Moderate Acne?


Updated June 11, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Photo: Ranald Mackechnie / Getty Images

With moderate acne, breakouts are more obvious and inflamed.

Photo: Ranald Mackechnie / Getty Images
Question: What is Moderate Acne?

You may be surprised to learn that there isn't one standardized, consistent way to classify acne. There are actually many classification systems, but most people like us (and most dermatologists too) group acne by severity: mild, moderate, or severe.

Knowing the severity of your acne will help you get the right treatment, so you'll actually see improvement in your skin.


As the name suggests, moderate acne is moderate -- not mild, but not severe either. It's more obvious and stubborn than mild acne, but not quite as inflamed or as serious as severe acne.

With moderate acne, you'll have noticeable breakouts. You'll probably have quite a few papules and pustules, and maybe even a few nodules.

You may have lots and lots of closed comedones (those "bumps" on the skin) and blackheads. But not everyone with moderate acne has blackheads. Some people with moderate acne have inflamed blemishes.

Moderate acne can happen at any age. Teens with moderate acne are more likely to have both blackheads and inflammatory breakouts. Adult women, on the other hand, often don't have blackheads at all, but only get inflamed breakouts. These tend to pop up on the lower cheeks, chin and jawline, especially right before their periods.

Acne isn't limited to the face, either. You may have breakouts on your back, neck, chest, and shoulders too.

Although scarring can happen even with milder forms of acne, you're more likely to have scarring at this severity (a really good reason not to pick or pop those pimples!).

Wondering if you have moderate acne? See if any of these statements describe your skin:

  • My breakouts tend to be red, inflamed papules and pustules.
  • I have a lot of obvious bumps (closed comedones) and blackheads.
  • Some of my blemishes feel "deep," or are large and painful.
  • I've tried over-the-counter treatments; they don't work for me.
  • I'm noticing dark spots and/or scars on my skin.

If any one of these statements describes your skin, you probably have moderate acne. (Doesn't sound like your skin? Maybe your acne is more mild, or more severe. If you're not sure, don't hesitate to make an appointment with your physician. It's helpful to have an objective set of eyes look over your skin.)

If you have moderate acne, don't despair. There are effective treatments available for moderate acne.

First, you'll want to make an appointment with a dermatologist. Over-the-counter acne products rarely work well for moderate acne. You'll save yourself a lot of time and heartache by making an appointment right away.

Don't wait, either. Because moderate forms of acne tend to be inflammatory, there's a higher risk of scarring. You'll want to start treatment right away to lessen your chance of developing scars.

There are plenty of prescription acne medications that are effective in treating moderate acne breakouts. Your dermatologist will most likely start you on a topical medication or two. Depending on your skin and your circumstances, you may be prescribed an oral medication as well.

It can take several weeks to see improvement in your skin, so don't give up too soon. Follow the treatment plan that your derm gives you, and be as consistent with those treatments as possible.

There is a treatment out there that will work for your acne, so don't give up!

Next Steps:

Moderate Acne Treatment Options

Video: How To Treat Moderate Acne


Feldman S, Careccia RE, Barham KL, Hancox J. "Diagnosis and Treatment of Acne." Am Fam Physician. 2004 May 1;69(9):2123-2130.

"Treating Moderate to Moderately Severe 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.

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