The difference between acne and pimples is that acne is a disease and pimples are one of its symptoms.

Acne is a condition affecting the skin’s hair follicles and oil glands.

Under your skin, your pores are connected to glands that make an oily substance known as sebum. The glands and pores are connected by a canal known as a follicle that has a thin hair that grows out to the skin’s surface.

When sebum and dead skin cells clump together, they form a plug in the follicle. Bacteria in the plug causes inflammation, leading to red pimples in acne.What causes acne?

While the exact causes of acne haven’t been identified, it’s been determined that certain things can trigger acne or make it worse, such as:

  • hormonal changes, such as puberty, pregnancy, and the menstrual cycle
  • squeezing or picking at existing pimples
  • cleaning or scrubbing your skin too vigorously
  • pressure, such as from collars, hats, helmets, and backpack straps
  • high humidity
  • cosmetics, such oil-based products, sunscreen, and hair products
  • medications, such as corticosteroids and anabolic steroids

According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, common beliefs that suggest stress and dirty skin cause acne aren’t true.

Also, greasy foods and chocolate don’t cause acne in the majority of people.Acne symptoms

Different symptoms can indicate different types of acne and include:

  • blackheads: plugged pores on the skin’s surface, open
  • whiteheads: plugged pores, under the skin’s surface, closed
  • papules: small, tender red or pink bumps
  • pustules: papules with pus on top
  • nodules: large, painful lumps deep under the skin’s surface
  • cysts: painful, pus-filled lumps under the skin’s surface

Acne treatment

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

Learn more about the benefits of retinoids for skin.

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

Recommended OTC acne medications commonly include active ingredients, such as

  • differin (adapalene 0.1 percent), which is an OTC topical retinol
  • benzoyl peroxide
  • salicylic acid, though this isn’t commonly recommended in an acne regimen

In addition to topical retinoids, prescription topical medications commonly used to treat acne include:

  • antibiotics, such as topical clindamycin
  • azelaic acid

Prescription oral medications commonly used to treat acne include:

  • anti-androgen agents, such as off-label use of spironolactone
  • antibiotics, such as off-label use of doxycycline
  • combined oral contraceptives
  • isotretinoin