Spotted a zit this morning? You’re not alone. We’ve always been told that pimples go when puberty does—but sometimes, that’s just not the case. Adult acne is more common than you think, and just as annoying as it was back when you were rocking out to the Spice Girls.

Although stress, lack of sleep, and too much rich food can lead to acne, the main culprit is sebum—an oily, waxy substance produced by your skin’s sebaceous glands. The moment sebum clogs your pores is when all the (evil) magic happens. Need specifics? Learn about the different kinds of acne with this rundown. Warning: TMI alert!


These small but terrible things usually appear in clusters. They occur when your pores get clogged by oil, dead skin, or bacteria, and are pretty much the entry point to acne. Dermatologists refer to whiteheads as “closed” comedones, because the irritants are trapped under the skin and not exposed to air. Blackheads, on the other hand, are called “open” comedones, because they are only partially trapped and thus experience oxidation. That’s what leads to their blackened, discolored appearance. Luckily, whiteheads and blackheads have a quick lifespan—so keep your face clean and just hang in there!

WE RECOMMEND: Skinlite’s Nose Pore Strips with Aloe, Tony Moly’s Egg Pore Blackhead Out Oil Gel, and Dermalogica’s Clear Start Blackhead Clearing Pore Control Scrub


A papule is a whitehead that has become inflamed. It is firm to the touch and reddish in color. You’ll notice it doesn’t have an “eye” in the center because it contains no pus. These are the kinds of pimples that hurt when you poke them and yield absolutely nothing when you try to pop them. So don’t do either. You’ll just wind up with a nasty scar or a long-lasting dark mark.


Pustules are your classic juicy pimples, with a whitish or yellowish center, AKA the “eye.” They are filled with pus and are the most tempting to pop (admit it!). Here’s something you might not realize: even though they appear swollen, pustules don’t hurt as much as papules do, and they don’t contain that much bacteria. Also, they will expel the pus inside them naturally, if you let them be.

WE RECOMMEND: Cetaphil’s Oily Skin Cleanser, By Nature’s Sea Mud Pie Soap Bar, and Skinlite’s Tea Tree Deep Cleansing Peel-Off Mask

And if you’re a serial popper—well, it can’t be helped. Try this or this for damage control.


What do these two things have in common? They’re huge and hurt like crazy. Nodules are very hard, severely-inflamed lesions trapped deep within your skin. Cysts are softer, pus-filled lesions also rooted deep, down under (and they feel like a squishy sac when you touch them). Think of papules and pustules, but on steroids!

WE RECOMMEND: Visiting the derma for a doctor-prescribed regimen


  • Chackne: Chin acne, or chest acne
  • Backne: Back acne
  • Buttne: Buttocks acne
  • Attackne: What you should never do to your whiteheads, blackheads, and pimples—unless you’re attacking them with medicine! (See what we did there?)


  • If you’re acne-prone, choose makeup that is labeled “non-comedogenic.” This means it is clinically formulated not to clog your pores.
  • Exfoliate on the regular. Doing this helps you polish away dead skin cells, draw out impurities, and beautify the texture of your skin. Our favorite new thing besides the usual scrubs and peels is an exfoliating sponge, like Kuu Konjac’s.
  • Treat it when you spot it! Never wait for your acne to fester before you douse it with a topical cream or medicated wash. Basically, don’t give it the time of day.
  • Finally, when in doubt, always book an appointment with your dermatologist. Self-medicating will only take you so far—after that, it’s best to consult a professional.

    Interested in learning more about acne? We have a very comprehensive guide on everything you need to know about acne here.