What are the different types of acne? Which acne patch should I choose?

What are the different types of acne? Which acne patch should I choose?

Acne is a very common skin condition that happens when dead skin cells and sebum (oil secreted by the skin) clog hair follicles (pores). While acne is most common among teenagers and young adults, it can affect people of all ages. Most people will experience it at some point in their lives.

What are the different types of acne?

Typical forms of acne include papules, pustules, blackheads, whiteheads, nodules and cysts. 



The plug or blockage which is formed when a hair follicle is clogged with skin cells and sebum is called a comedo. The extra sebum in the comedo becomes the source of energy for bacteria that reside on the skin and facilitates them to multiply. As the blockage continues to grow, it puts more and more pressure on the follicle and, with enough pressure, the follicle wall ruptures allowing the bacteria to enter skin tissue. Our body will respond with inflammation to fight the bacteria and this inflamed lesion is a papule.

From the outside, a papule is a small, painful, red or pink bump on the skin. Picking or squeezing may worsen the inflammation and leads to scarring. 



Sometimes pus will form inside a papule as inflammation continues. It is then called a pustule. Pustules usually appear as white or yellowish bumps due to the accumulation of such fluids. Unlike papules, these bumps can grow quite big. It is often tempting for people to squeeze the pus out but doing so may risk spreading the bacteria further into skin tissue and worsen the inflammation. There will also be a risk of scarring or the forming of dark spots.



A blackhead, also known as an open comedo, is a bump on the skin formed by a mixture of dead skin cells and sebum which clog a hair follicle. These bumps are called blackheads because their surface looks darker or even black. The color difference occurs when sebum produced by the skin is exposed to oxygen and darkens during the oxidation process.



Whiteheads are formed the same way as blackheads – clogged pores caused by sebum and dead skin cells – but unlike blackheads, they are closed comedones. In other words, there will be no ugly black spots but only white or yellowish small bumps on the skin.


Cysts (cystic acne)

Acne cysts are painful, pus-filled lumps which develop deep underneath the skin (the dermis). A membrane forms around the infected area and thus creates a cyst. They are similar to nodules because both are deep and painful bumps under the skin. However, cysts are filled with pus while nodules are not.

These bumps can be difficult to treat and have a higher risk of scarring as they are the most serious type of acne. Like nodules, acne cysts should also be treated by a dermatologist.



Nodules are swollen, inflamed and often painful bumps which develop deep within the skin. They are also caused by clogged hair follicles but this time the blockage leads to a deep break of the follicle wall, causing the bacteria to spread into the dermis. There is a higher risk of scarring with nodules and it takes longer to heal than a papule. Nodules should be treated by a dermatologist because over-the-counter treatments may not be effective enough to cure them.


What are the different types of acne patches?

There are a few different acne patches available on the market for the treatment of acne. The benefits of acne patches include protecting the acne from picking and further irritation and thus facilitating the healing process. In order to achieve the best result, different types of acne should be treated by different acne patches.


Medicated acne patch

Medicated acne patches contain active ingredients that help to speed up the healing process. The most common ingredient is salicylic acid, which is well-known for its ability to “unclog” the blocked pores by exfoliating the skin. Tea tree oil is also a common ingredient for its anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties. Some products also contain skin-soothing ingredients such as aloe vera and vitamin A.

Medicated acne patches may help to reduce the size of bumps, pain and redness of inflamed acne. They may also enhance the absorption of these active ingredients into the skin.


Non-medicated acne patch

Non-medicated acne patches are in essence another form of hydrocolloid dressings, which are commonly used to help facilitate the healing process of post-surgical wounds. This type of acne patches can help absorb excess fluids from pimples and keep a moist environment which is beneficial for wound healing. They can also help prevent the wearer from picking and causing more damage to the affected area. 


Microneedle acne patch

Microneedle acne patches are a relatively new type of acne patches. These patches contain dissolving microneedles which, as implied by the name, are very tiny needles, self-dissolves when in contact with skin. The microneedles will penetrate the skin and release active ingredients directly at the targeted area, therefore increasing the efficacy of acne medications.

 acne types

Which acne patch should I choose?

In general, acne patches work best on surface-level acne. As mentioned above, non-medicated acne patches are essentially hydrocolloid dressings which absorbs extra wound fluids and facilitates the healing process. As a result, they are most effective on open and oozing lesions, such as a popped pimple.

Medicated acne patches can be used on cystic acne, papules, pustules or nodules. They may be less effective for deeper lesions (i.e. nodules and cystic acne). People who have sensitive skin should exercise caution when choosing medicated acne patches, because the active ingredients, such as salicylic acid or tea tree oil, may irritate and aggravate the skin surrounding the acne.

Microneedle acne patches are usually recommended for cystic or nodular acne. Nevertheless, their effectiveness may differ depending on the user and the depth of the lesion.


Table of comparison


Type of acne Definition Which acne patch to use
Papules clogged hair follicles that are inflamed; appear as small and red bumps medicated or non-medicated
Pustules inflamed clogged hair follicles with pus medicated or non-medicated
Whiteheads clogged hair follicles in closed pores (closed comedones)
Blackheads clogged hair follicles in open pores (open comedones)
Cysts (cystic acne) painful, pus-filled lumps which develop deep underneath the skin microneedle

(severe cysts should be treated by a dermatologist)

Nodules swollen, inflamed and painful bumps which develop deep under the skin microneedle

(severe nodules should be treated by a dermatologist)




  1. Acne – Symptoms and causes. (2022, May 25). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/acne/symptoms-causes/syc-20368047
  2. Acne Papules Causes and Treatments. (2020, March 28). Verywell Health. https://www.verywellhealth.com/papule-definition-of-an-acne-papule-15541
  3. Acne Visual Dictionary. (n.d.). WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/acne/ss/slideshow-acne-dictionary
  4. Blackheads: What They Look Like, Treatment & Prevention. (n.d.). Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/22038-blackheads
  5. Cherney, K. (2019, March 8). What Is Cystic Acne and How Is It Treated? Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/beauty-skin-care/cystic-acne
  6. Darmawan, C. (2019, September 7). 10 Acne Patches to Try: From Medicated to Micro-Needle. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/beauty-skin-care/acne-patches
  7. Frothingham, S. (2019, May 28). What Causes Acne Papules, and How Are They Treated? Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/papules-acne
  8. Frothingham, S. (2022, August 17). Can Salicylic Acid Help Treat Acne? Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/skin/salicylic-acid-for-acne
  9. Sissons, B. (2021, March 30). Is salicylic acid good for acne? https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/salicylic-acid-for-acne
  10. What Is Cystic Acne? (2022, May 23). Verywell Health. https://www.verywellhealth.com/cystic-acne-information-15605
  11. Zielinski, L. (2021, November 4). Blackhead vs. whitehead vs. pimple: what’s the difference? Health Guide. https://ro.co/health-guide/blackhead-vs-whitehead-vs-pimple/

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