The 6 Types of Acne & What to Do About Them

When it comes to getting rid of acne, it helps to know which type you have as there are different ways of tackling them.

In general, there are six types of acne and it's possible to have more than one type at any one time.

These six types fall under two main umbrellas - non-inflammatory and inflammatory acne.

Let’s take a closer look at them!

Non-Inflammatory Acne

No matter the type of acne you have, at the root of it is a clogged pore. This happens when dead skin cells and sebum build up inside a pore to form a blockage.

Non-inflammatory acne are as you might have guessed acne that's not red or inflamed. As such, they are also considered milder forms of acne.

make it relatable and simple - use everyday terms

1. Blackheads

As the name suggests, blackheads are easily identified by their black-colored tips. Also known as open comedones, these are clogged pores that have been exposed to the air.

The dark coloring isn’t a result of dirt, as some might think. It happens when the skin pigment melanin reacts with oxygen in the air. As such, while regularly cleansing your face is important, poor hygiene is not to blame for blackheads.

Blackheads (tip of the comedo is oxidized) - take forever to come out - sits there and lingers (nothing getting it out)

What to Do: Because blackheads are caused by clogged pores (as with all acne), the key is in flushing out the dead skin cells and blockages before acne forms.

As the acne treatment algorithm below shows, topical retinoids are dermatologists’ top choice when it comes to tackling comedonal acne. The second choice is AZA, a naturally occurring acid found in grains.

In a single bottle of Clear Out, you can find not one, but both of these highly effective ingredients. Packed with medical-grade retinol and AZA, Clear Out goes deep into your pores to perpetually flush out clogs and make skin less acne-prone. The formulation is also balanced with botanicals to be powerful yet gentle on sensitive skin.

2. Whiteheads

Whiteheads are small, white- or flesh-colored bumps covered by a thin layer of skin. They are also known as closed comedones.

Whiteheads (mild infection without inflammation)

What to Do: Similar to blackheads, whiteheads can benefit from daily use of Clear Out. However, whiteheads can be more difficult to address because the pores are closed. If needed, you can upgrade to Clear Out Extra Strength, which is 20% stronger than the original Clear Out.

The increased pore-purging power comes from the addition of salicylic acid. Another go-to choice for dermatologists when it comes to treating comedonal acne, it works by exfoliating skin and breaking down sebum.

Inflammatory Acne

When C. acnes bacteria, which feed on sebum, begin to flourish in clogged pores, the immune system senses an infection and sends blood to the tissues surrounding the pores. This results in inflammatory acne - which includes the characteristic red, swollen spots we commonly call pimples.

In general, anywhere in your body (muscles and liver), inflammation is a bad thing (i am in trouble, send blood here to this area) but with the skin - inflammation causes damage, premature aging, scarring, hyperpigmentation - Get rid of source of inflammation and inflammation - avoid inflammation as much as possible - Inflammation = bacterial infection - body would start to react to it and explode out all that issue

3. Papules

Papules are small, firm, red bumps without visible pus.

What to Do: On top of regular use of Clear Out to flush out clogged pores, inflamed acne also benefits from treatments that target the C. acnes bacteria. Stop Spot* is our new acne spot treatment gel that does just this. Powered by acne-fighting salicylic acid, licorice root, sulfur, glycolic acid, and farnesol, it is perfect for treating acne before the inflammation causes tissue damage and scarring.


Apply it onto any red, inflamed spots throughout the day and they’ll tamp down before you know it. It’s also good to use Stop Spot as soon as you feel a pimple brewing to prevent it from breaking through the skin surface.

4. Pustules

Similar to papules, pustules are also red, inflamed bumps. The difference is that pustules are filled with pus and have white- or yellow-colored centers.

small, fluid-filled

What to Do: Clear Out and Stop Spot work just as well for pustules and we recommend incorporating both into your skincare routine. Whatever you do, and as tempting as it may be, do not attempt to pop the pustules as it may cause scarring.


With both papules and pustules, once the acne has cleared, the inflammation may leave behind red marks caused by residual blood and dilated blood vessels. It normally takes 8 to 12 weeks for these blood vessels to shrink back to their original size. Lighten Up can help speed up this process as it quickly fades the appearance of red acne marks before they collect melanin and turn into stubborn dark marks.

5. Nodules

One of the more severe types of acne is nodules, which happens when clogged, swollen pores endure further irritation and infection. They occur as large and painful lumps that reside deep under the skin. They do not usually contain pus and are firm to the touch.

hard to get out, deep and stubborn, closed comedones

Nodule - mountain (hardened tissue lump deep in skin) vs cyst (a lot of nodules, bigger, olive/golf ball sized)

Dermatologists Acne Treatment Algorithm

6. Cysts

Cysts are also large, inflamed bumps that reside deep within the skin. However, they are filled with pus and more tender. They usually stem from a severe infection and are more likely to scar.

What to Do: With nodules and cysts, Clear Out and Clear Out Extra Strength can assist with clearing these deeper clogs. However, we recommend consulting a dermatologist, especially if the acne is persistent and more severe.


Still unsure about what type of acne you have or what to do?

We’re here to help! Get in touch with us via Messenger chat or Instagram DM (@clearlybasics), and let’s work out an acne care plan for you.

*Stop Spot is known as Calm Down outside the US. While the names are different, the formulation is exactly the same.

**Calm Down is only available as an add-on product. Shop it here with your Clearly favorites.

Disclaimer: This article should not be interpreted as personal medical advice. For medical-related matters, please consult your dermatologist.

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