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Pimples vs. Acne: What’s the Difference?

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While ‘pimples’ and ‘acne’ are terms often used when referring to the same condition, they actually mean different things. Pimples are a type of spot or blemish, whereas acne refers to a common skin condition where pimples can be one of its symptoms. There are different causes, symptoms, and treatments associated with pimples vs acne.

Realizing what the issue is you’re dealing with is going to be most helpful when deciding how to go about treating it. For example, while over-the-counter creams you can find at your local pharmacist might be able to help you deal with pimples, a dermatologist might be required in the case of serious acne.

TL;DR – Acne is more severe, and looks like a bunch of big pimples in a very red and inflamed area. It doesn’t go away easily. Pimples are usually isolated, inflamed pores that can go away by simply washing your face.

What Are Pimples?

Pimples occur when pores or hair follicles become blocked by bacteria, forming what are commonly known as blackheads or whiteheads.

Isolated Pimples On A Chin

These spots form close to the surface area under the epidermal layer of the skin. Whiteheads tend to be closed and sit beneath a thin layer of skin.

Blackheads, on the other hand, tend to be open, and their tops are exposed to the natural elements, which is what causes them to be darker in color. Pimples can be quite common and can form from other skin-related issues other than acne.

They are usually able to be treated using over-the-counter topical creams.

What is Acne?

Acne is a skin condition that usually takes much longer to clear up than pimples. It’s generally more serious and causes more pain. Acne in teens is usually more common, too, due to hormonal changes.

Acne On Teenager Face

Pimples associated with acne tend to occur with more damage done to the skin and can take the form of papules, pustules, nodules, or cysts (which happen to be the worst). Depending on the severity of the case, acne can be treated with several different options.

Where over-the-counter products don’t work, oral or topical antibiotics might be required upon prescription by your doctor, or stronger creams might be advised by a dermatologist.

Causes and Symptoms of Pimples and Acne

While there are some common symptoms shared between both pimples and acne, there are also some important differences between the two. Understanding these differences will better help you in finding a suitable treatment option for whether it’s pimples or acne you’re dealing with.

How are pimples caused?

Pimples are often linked to hormonal changes, the over-producing of sebum (a natural oil coming from the skin), an unclean environment, sugary and processed foods, and genetics.

Pimples are then formed whenever the pores become blocked by too much sebum, bacteria, or an ingrown hair.

What is Acne Caused By?

While the causes of acne can be somewhat similar in ways to that of pimples, some of them are more prone to be associated with acne.

Acne is usually found in people who are more likely to over-produce sebum. This is because sebum increases inflammation of the affected area and leads to the formation of bacteria at the site. Those with acne also more commonly share hormonal irregularities and tend to be more impacted by genetic factors. Some other contributors to acne may include:

  • Squeezing or popping spots
  • Over-washing
  • Makeup or skincare products
  • Steroids or medications

Although pimples can be one symptom of acne, both pimples and acne have their own different symptoms. By understanding what the differences in symptoms are, you’ll be in a better position to effectively treat your condition.

Symptoms of pimples

Pimples are generally characterized by a white or black-headed spot, known as whiteheads or blackheads, on an area of uninflamed skin.

Example Of Pimples

The spot is usually only slightly raised or else flat, and swelling or soreness should be fairly low. If you think your symptoms appear more severe, perhaps you’re dealing with acne.

Symptoms of acne

Acne is usually characterized by inflammation of the skin, and pimples here are generally accompanied by redness and are sore to touch. Acne, or acne-related spots or blemishes, are usually found on the face, neck, or back. Ever see a bunch of acne on the forehead? This is almost always because of dirty skin, or hormonal imbalances.

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Acne-related lesions are usually more raised than general pimples, so this is another characteristic to look out for when telling the difference. Acne generally lasts for a much longer time than general pimples and can sometimes require more intense treatment methods to be cured.

Recommended Skin Care Techniques

Regardless of whether you’re treating pimples or acne, you’ll want to ensure you have a good treatment strategy in place. That way, you’ll have the best chance of getting rid of the condition.

Natural Approaches

Pimples can often be treated at home using over-the counter- products. However, hard pimples can be treated using the following methods:

  • Topical creams and ointments
  • Tea tree oil
  • Vitamin ointments
  • Ice packs
  • Non-soap cleansers
  • Warm compress

Treating Acne

To treat acne, it will depend on the severity of the case as to what method you’ll use. Acne can be mild. moderate, or severe.

For mild acne cases, over-the-counter creams and products recommended by a pharmacist will usually help. Alternatively, ‘glow’ CBD acne cream is another product where users often see good results.

For moderate or severe cases, you should attend an appointment with your doctor. Here, they will usually prescribe an antibiotic (either topical or oral) or a topical retinoid. If none of these help, your doctor will then likely refer you to go and see a dermatologist for more specialized treatment. A dermatologist will usually provide more intense treatment products, like Accutane.

Helpful ingredients

Below are some helpful ingredients you’ll want to look out for when choosing over-the-counter treatment products:

  • Salicylic acid: Helps by reducing the production of sebum.
  • Glycolic acid: Acts as an anti-bacterial.
  • LHA: Reduces large pores into smaller ones.
  • Niacinamide: Reduces scars and pigmentation


Pimples and acne, whilst often interchangeably used, are two different skin-related issues. Pimples can often be a symptom associated with acne. However, both pimples and acne have their own set of symptoms.

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Here, we’ve laid out for you what some of the main differences between the two are, including their causes, symptoms, and methods of treatment. Understanding whether you’re dealing with pimples or acne is very important since both can require different forms of treatment, especially when it comes to more severe cases of acne.


Medical News Today: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321011#outlook
NHS: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/acne/treatment/

About the Author

Dale Hewett Author

Dale Hewett

Dale is the owner and founder of New Phase Blends. He discovered his passion for CBD use after suffering from injuries sustained while on Active Duty in the US Army. His number one priority is introducing the same CBD products that he himself uses for relief to others who can benefit from them.

Dale holds a Master Degree of Science, and is the inventor of the popular, patent-pending CBD-based sleep aid known as ‘Sleep.’