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Pimples on skin can be caused by various skin disorders. The word “pimple” is an urban term which represents all kinds of lumps on the skin, but there are some more accurate terms which determine the appearance of these skin changes. They can be localized on different parts of the skin, and the localization can sometimes help making the diagnosis. However, pimples on the face, chest, and back during adolescence are almost always a manifestation of acne. Here are some of the most common types of pimples.

Blackheads And Whiteheads

Blackheads are one of the manifestations of acne in an non-inflamed state. They develop due to an accumulation of secretions from the sebaceous glands, called sebum. Sebum often blocks the pores of the skin and accumulates, creating the plugs called comedones. If these comedones are open, they turn black in contact with air because of the oxidation process, hence the label blackheads. On the other hand, whiteheads represent closed comedones. Blackheads and whiteheads are both more frequent in men than in women because of the testosterone which stimulates the secretion of sebum.


Papules are red bumps on the skin which appear if the pores get so blocked that the comedones damage their walls and cause inflammation. If there are also bacteria, they can aggravate the symptoms. The most common bacterium contributing to acne development is called Propionibacterium Acnes. Papules are often painful or itchy and they can bleed if irritated.


If the pimples are colonized by too many bacteria, the tissue damage will attract white blood cells (leukocytes) in order to fight the infection. These blood cells live very briefly and remain in the place of inflammation along with dead cells and dead bacteria, which is seen as pus. Pimples containing pus are called pustules.


Nodules are large, firm, and very painful pimples. They develop when papules are irritated, usually by trying to squeeze them. As tissue damage increases, the inflammatory process gets worse and causes pain. These nodules can get very big and besides being painful, they are also aesthetically unpleasing.


Cysts can develop from either papules or pustules, and they contain fluid drained from the place of inflammation or the pus. They have a soft, thin wall which can easily break, causing leakage. Cysts can also be large and painful until their wall breaks.

Managing Pimples

The most important measure for the treatment and prevention of all kinds of pimples, especially if they are caused by acne, is good hygiene. Wash your skin with a neutral soap and apply hydrating creams to avoid contact with harmful agents from the environment. Some ointments can worsen acne symptoms by adding more oil to skin that is already oily.

For persons with acne problems, there are various cosmetic products containing topical antibiotics and keratolytics (peeling agents). Comedolytics, such as benzoyl peroxide dissolve the comedones which are the main pathological features of acne. The most commonly used topical antibiotic is clindamycin.

For moderate and severe cases, oral antibiotics and retinoids can be used in order to eliminate bacteria and comedones more efficiently. However, oral retinoids carry some side effects so they should be used exactly according to the instructions from a dermatologist.

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