acne vs pimples

Acne vs pimples—the two terms are often used interchangeably. But are they the same thing?

They’re quite different, actually!

And really, there’s no harm in using both terms to refer to blemishes on your face in casual conversations. But knowing their difference can prevent confusion in the future.

So, let’s find out the difference between acne vs pimples and how you can deal with them.

Acne VS Pimples

acne vs pimples

The difference between acne vs pimples is that acne is a skin condition and pimples are one of its symptoms.

Acne, or acne vulgaris to be specific, is a skin condition that happens when hair follicles become clogged. Clogged pores become all sorts of blemishes, which are symptoms of acne.

Non-inflamed clogged pores can either be blackheads (open comedones) or whiteheads (closed comedones).

Inflamed blemishes form when acne bacteria multiply in the clogged follicles. These clogged follicles can either be papules—reddish lesions with no pus—aka zits. Or pustules—pus-filled reddish lesions—aka pimples.

What Causes Acne?

There’s no one known cause for acne and the plethora of blemishes it brings.

But we can still look at the known triggers of acne.

  • Hormonal changes — Sex hormones can affect acne formation.
  • Skin oil (sebum) build-up — Skin oil contributes to what clogs our pores.
  • Diet ­— Some foods can contribute in forming acne (like milk and sugar).
  • External factors — Products we use on our skin and even the water we use to wash our skin can contribute to acne.
  • Exfoliating — Letting dead skin cells be on our skin by not exfoliating allows them to clog our pores. Exfoliate too much and you can irritate your skin.
  • Stress — We tend to produce more sex hormones when we’re stressed. Those hormones that can affect acne formation.
  • Internal health issues — Our skin could be telling us there’s an underlying issue causing our acne.
acne vs pimples

There’s a post here already that discusses this topic a lot more extensively. Go and check it out here!

How Can You Prevent Acne?

Since it’s so hard to pin-point a single main cause for acne, preventing it goes with the same level of difficulty.

About 85% of people between 12- and 24-years old experience at least minor acne [1]. And acne beyond that age range is not unheard of. You’ll also be even more likely to get acne both your parents had acne. It’s also pretty impossible to predict who will develop more severe acne.

With that said, there are some simple things you can observe to prevent acne as much as you can:

  • Keep your face clean. Having a simple skincare routine can help keep your face clean of any dirt that can contribute to clogged pores.
  • Keep your excess oil under control. Especially for oily skin peeps, keeping all the excess oil under control will help prevent triggering more acne formation.
  • Be gentle to your skin. Avoid unnecessary mechanical stress and friction on your skin. Treat your skin as you would an open wound.

How Is Acne Treated?

acne vs pimples

Treatment for acne depends on its severity. It can range from products you can buy from the drugstore to prescription topical or oral medicine from your derm.

Moderate cases of acne usually call for dedicated topical treatments. Examples are benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid. Both are considered to be gold standard over-the-counter topical treatments for acne.

Retinoids are also known for effectively treating various severities of acne. You can encounter them as OTC and prescription products.

Moderate cases can benefit from OTC retinoids like retinol. While for severe cases, derms usually offer taking oral medicine.

A type of retinoid called isotretinoin, better known as Accutane, is a prescription-only oral medicine that’s known to be like a nuke for acne.

The good news for mild acne cases is that a basic working acne skincare routine can be enough to eliminate acne. Of course, if the acne is very persistent, that’s the time you’ll want to get checked by a derm.



If you want to be a stickler for using the right term, it helps to know the difference between acne vs pimples.

But remember what I said at the start? It's perfectly fine to use them both to refer to your blemishes in casual conversations.

Though I do hope you found it interesting to learn about their difference. And thank you for reading, I hope to see you again next time!

About the author 

Valeria

Valeria Dzhodzheva is the author, full-time acne coach, and content professor for Pretty Blooming. In 2016, Valeria completed her Master of Science (MS) in cold Denmark, and uses her newly gained skill set to translate acne research into plain English. She has a baby on its way, and that makes her cat Snow jealous.

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