Do You Have Whiteheads, Blackheads, Pustules, Milia Or Cysts?

Updated 12/1/17. Skin Fact: All blemishes are not equal. You must learn the differences and treat them accordingly.

Whiteheads/Closed Comedones

Little clogged bumps under the skin that aren’t red or sore and generally don’t go away on their own. They appear as white-ish, clear or flesh colored bumps under the skin and are referred to as “clogged pores.” Most people get them on the chin, sides of the mouth or hairline, but they certainly can be on all areas of the face such as the cheeks. They are also very common in deeper skin tones. (Note: Just because you have a bump doesn’t mean it’s a clogged pore. You could have skin growths like these.)

What you can do: Since these have no infection (meaning, they are not sore and are there consistently), you’ll want to avoid using overly drying acne products as these will cause a barrier of dryness on the surface and keep oil trapped underneath which causes a clogging in the pore. The best course of action is to use gentle products for your skin type and increase your exfoliation. When you exfoliate the skin with gentle acid serums or facial scrubs, you’re removing the blockage in the pore which can help them purge naturally. Read my complete guide to exfoliation. You’ll also want to consider getting a deep pore cleansing professional facial which is very beneficial for removing the impurities within the pores—especially if they just don’t seem to be going away. (You could also try cleaning them yourself using this DIY method.) Once you get the pores cleaned out, exfoliating products work deep within the skin to keep them clean.

You’ll also want to limit the use of facial oils. While cleansing oils and skin oils are popular to use these days, this might only add to your clogged pore condition.


Large pores that contain oil where it has oxidized with the air causing it to turn black.

What you can do: Although there is no way to permanently get rid of blackheads forever (I wish!), my best advice is to get regular monthly deep pore cleansing facials followed by home use of a well-formulated salicylic acid product like BHA Clarifying Serum to keep the pores clean long after the facial. Long term use of prescription retinoids can also help a lot but it has to be used regularly and for years before you can really see a difference. When it comes to choosing a moisturizer, avoid the ingredients Isopropyl Myristate and Isopropyl Palmitate in your skin care products as these may contribute to the formation of blackheads and clogged pores. For more information, read my 3-step plan for reducing blackheads.


Red, inflamed blemishes that contain pus. These are what you know as your traditional “zits” that can easily cause a post-breakout red or dark scars IF you don’t properly know how to care for them.

What you can do: You MUST NOT touch these until you can see a whitehead. I cannot express how important it is to know how to properly care for a blemish the moment it appears to get it to go away fast with the least amount of scarring. Read this post and check out this Zit Care Kit that has all the tools and products you’ll need to get rid of a blemish quickly.


A red, painful blemish that has not quite reached the surface. It’s the stage past a closed comedone (whitehead) where bacteria has caused inflammation resulting in an infected blemish. A papule will then usually turn into a pustule but sometimes they can just stay in the skin for a while and not do much of anything.

What you can do: The main symptom of a papule is inflammation and irritation so the goal is not to dry it out with acne products but rather to calm down the inflammation by using topical cortisone cream (found at a pharamacy), ice compresses or ideally, my favorite Anti Cyst Treatment. These will all reduce the visible inflammation until the whitehead reaches the surface and can be gently extracted.


Hard, painful bumps that develop deep within the skin and can linger for weeks.

What you can do: Do not pick! Despite being sore, you’ll never get that infection out and if you attempt to, you’ll most certainly have a scar that will linger for months. The rule is: If a whitehead does not forms (which they never do if it’s a true cyst) then hands off. With a cyst, despite feeling something sore and painful underneath and wanting to make it come out, you have to understand that your body will eventually reabsorb the infection. You have only two options. Consider using a topical product like Anti Cyst Treatment (a true miracle of a product) or schedule an appointment to get a cortisone injection by a dermatologist.

Read more about cysts, papules and pustules and how to treat them.


Hard, white, raised bumps that feel like a little ball under the skin; most commonly found around the eyes and the apples of the cheeks, but can appear elsewhere.

What you can do: All the acne spot treatments in the world will never get rid of these. They may be caused by heavy pore-clogging oils found in moisturizer (mainly Mineral Oil or Petrolatum), but for many people, they are genetic or caused by smoking. The only way to remove these is to get them manually extracted by an esthetician or dermatologist. They are stubborn to remove so if you try to do it yourself, you’ll probably end up with some temporary scarring so it’s best to put your skin in the hands of a trusted professional. Once you get them removed, regular exfoliation is essential to keep them from coming back—or at least as quickly. This serum works extremely well to keep the skin exfoliated so milia has a harder time forming underneath the skin. It’s also important to use gentle, low-foaming cleansing gels to deep clean without drying out the skin. See my recommendations for non-drying, sulfate-free cleansers.

Acne Scars

Most blemishes will leave a purple or red mark once the blemish has crusted over. Depending on the severity of the blemish and if you picked at it, will determine how long it will last, but often times they can be there for up to two months. Post-Breakout Fading Gel is what I give to my clients to get a blemish scar to go away quickly.

It’s so important that you educate yourself on the type of bumps and blemishes you get because they all have a different course of action for how to best heal them. I hope this post provides you some new insight in your quest for clearer skin!

Which skin care products are best for you? See our nine skin types or take the Skin Type Quiz and get products recommended.

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Content found on, including: text, images, audio, or other formats were created for informational purposes only. The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.