The Difference Between Acne and Pimples

difference between acne and pimples

I know. You are wondering what’s the difference between acne and a pimple? Aren’t they like the same thing? Well, you are right partially, they are almost the same thing but they also have quite a few things that set them apart. And we are going to get into that now.

The words ‘acne’ and ‘pimples’ are sometimes used interchangeably, but in reality, these terms have very different meanings.  The difference between acne and a pimple is that acne is a skin condition with a lot of symptoms, causes, and management options while a pimple is a type of blemish on the skin.

Acne is a skin condition that affects the skin’s hair follicles and oil glands. You see under your skin; your pores are linked to a gland that makes an oily substance known as sebum. The pores and glands are connected by a canal called the follicle which has thin hair that grows out to the skin’s surface.

When dead skin cells and sebum clump together, they create a plug in the follicle. Bacteria in the plug causes irritation, leading to red pimples in acne.

Knowing the type of skin you have is very important for the effective management of oily acne-prone skin. While pimples are typically able to be improved with over-the-counter products, contrary to serious acne lesions that may require a consultation with a dermatologist or doctor.

difference between acne and pimples

Acne or Pimples

The easiest way to differentiate between acne and pimples is to understand this basic simple which is pimples are a symptom of a condition, whereas acne is the condition itself. Someone who has acne will experience pimples as a part of the symptom, however, not everyone who has pimples will have acne-prone skin.

What Are Pimples?

‘Pimple’ is a term for closed or open comedones, also known as whiteheads and blackheads. These are small, non-inflamed blemishes that occur when a pore becomes blocked. Blemishes of this kind occur close to the surface of the skin in the epidermal layer.

Closed comedones (whiteheads) have a core shielded by a very thin layer of skin. In contrast, open comedones (blackheads) have a core that is exposed to the air, hence their dark, oxidized appearance. It is possible to experience pimples as part of a ‘normal’ skin type or as reaching a ‘certain age’ and they are usually able to be improved by over-the-counter topical products.

What Causes Pimples?

A wide range of factors can cause pimples. Some of them are:

  • Hormones and hormonal imbalances
  • Genetics
  • Excess sebum (oil)
  • Diet
  • Environmental pollution and other factors.
  • Using too much makeup

Pimples form when a pore becomes blocked with sebaceous matter, ingrown hair, or other impurities. This means there are some bacteria present, but usually not enough to cause inflammation.

Pimples Symptoms

What does a pimple symptom look like?

  1. Key symptoms of a pimple include a shallow blemish with a white or blackhead, with an absence of inflammation.
  2. The blemish will be either flat or minimally raised and there should be only minimal presence of swelling, redness, or tenderness.

If you are noticing symptoms that are more severe than this description and persists over time, then you are likely experiencing acne.

Pimples Treatment

Luckily, the treatment for pimples is not as costly or rigorous as the treatment for acne. Some over-the-counter medications can do wonders without much stress.

  • Use a pimple treatment Cream.
  • Wash your face regularly.
  • Try Using More Products That Have Salicylic Acid.
  • Tweak your diet.
  • Glycolic acid – has anti-bacterial properties and helps exfoliate dead skin cells
  • Use light therapy to get rid of pimples.
  • Nodular pimples –  which requires treatment with systemic medications such as hormonal medications (oral contraceptives, spironolactone, and oral antibiotics)

Pimples Prevention

Even though it is quite easy to get rid of a pimple, it is still advised you try and prevent it. Prevention is always better than cure.

  • Wash your face gently at least twice a day to decrease the possibility of pimples.
  • Use oil-free makeup, lotions, or moisturizer.
  • Avoid touching and popping or squeezing your face with your hands.
  • Drink lots of Water: at least 1.5-2 liters of water every day to detoxify your skin and body.
  • Avoid junk food, dairy products, and foods processed in high sugar as they may trigger pimples.
  • Reduce Stress: try to reduce your stress levels; as stress increases internal cortisol levels, which in turn can increase oil secretion.
  • Keep Hair away from falling on the face; as oils and gels applied to your hair will make it oily or may irritate your skin coming in contact with it.

What Is Acne?

If you have acne, you will know that this is an ongoing skin condition that is much more serious, tenacious, and often more painful than just the occasional pimple. Acne is characterized by persistent and recurrent pimples, frequently accompanied by larger, deeper lesions including pustules, papules, nodules, or cysts that occur deep within the dermal and subcutaneous layers of the skin.

Acne requires targeted management including over-the-counter products, topical options prescribed by a doctor or dermatologist, and occasionally oral medications including tretinoin and antibiotics.

What Causes Acne?

The precise causes of acne still remain unknown, but it has been determined that certain things or lifestyles can cause acne or make it worse, some of them are:

  • Hormonal changes, such as pregnancy, puberty, and the menstrual cycle
  • Touching your face
  • Squeezing or picking at existing pimples
  • Cleaning or scrubbing your skin too vigorously
  • High humidity
  • Cosmetics, make up products, oil-based products, sunscreen, and hair products
  • Medications, such as corticosteroids and anabolic steroids

Acne symptoms

Acne symptoms are not so straightforward. Different symptoms can indicate different types of acne and they include:

  1. Blackheads: plugged pores on the skin’s surface, open
  2. Whiteheads: plugged pores, under the skin’s surface, closed
  3. Papules: small, tender red or pink bumps
  4. Pustules: papules with pus on top
  5. Nodules: large, painful lumps deep under the skin’s surface
  6. Cysts: painful, pus-filled lumps under the skin’s surface

Acne Treatment

Dermatologists naturally prescribe a topical retinoid for your acne, such as adapalene or topical tretinoin.

Any other treatments or recommendations depend on the type of acne being treated. Sometimes, over-the-counter (OTC) medications are recommended as well.

Some medications that are endorsed by dermatologists are:

  • Antibiotics, such as topical clindamycin, doxycycline, and azelaic acid
  • Anti-androgen agents, such as off-label use of spironolactone
  • Isotretinoin
  • Light therapy, such as photodynamic therapy or intense pulsed light (IPL) therapy

Acne Prevention

To prevent your skin from being acne-prone or help it heal from already terrible acne. Here are some ways to prevent Acne:

  • Always wash your face.
  • Use noncomedogenic hair products, sunscreen,
  • Use less or no makeup.
  • Avoid squeezing or picking at blemishes.
  • Avoid touching your face with your hands. Keep it contact-free.
  • Maintain a healthy diet, and avoid skim milk and food products with a high glycemic load.


Acne is a common skin disorder, and pimples are a symptom of that condition. While the exact causes of acne haven’t been determined, there are a number of self-care, OTC, and prescription options to help you reduce or eliminate acne and the pimples that accompany it.

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