Acne usually causes small skin swellings when follicles get full or partially blocked with dead skin cells and skin oil. Blackheads are partial blockages, while a whitehead is completely clogged up, the American Academy of Dermatology explains; pimples that fill with pus are called papules and pustules. Sometimes acne causes hard bumps, which are more serious because of their appearance and potential for scarring.
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Hard acne bumps come in two types. An acne nodule extends below your skin's surface and is large and hard to the touch. An acne cyst also goes below the skin and is filled with pus, as well as skin oil and dead cells. Both of these hard acne bump types are very visible and hurt if you touch or press them. Never pick at these bumps or try to pierce or pop them.
Neither mild nor serious acne is caused by uncleanliness. You get pimples if your skin produces too much of the oil called sebum, which your body typically starts to produce with adolescent hormone changes. Bacteria gets into the mixture, attracting white blood cells and inflaming the resulting skin lesion. Eighty percent of teenagers get pimples, according to the TeensHealth website, although not all of them develop severe cases with hard acne bumps like nodules and cysts.
Both acne nodules and cysts have a high risk of scarring once they finally disappear, and often they persist despite typical home treatments, such as products containing salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. See your regular physician or a dermatologist if you have persistent hard acne bumps to get proper treatment before you develop scars. Doctors have stronger remedies, like prescription creams, antibiotics, corticosteroid injections and potent oral medications like isotretinoin, the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases advises.
Scars from hard acne bumps may be narrow and deep or may take the form of a gradual depression in the skin. Both scar types can be treated with a variety of methods, depending on the severity of the mark. Chemical peels and microdermabrasion are often effective for mild scarring, while more severe problems may require dermabrasion, laser resurfacing or deeper laser treatments. Other options to remove scars or lessen their appearance include filler injections and surgical procedures.
You cannot completely prevent acne if your skin is overproducing sebum, but you may be able to ward off more serious lesions like nodules and cysts by gently washing your skin no more than twice per day with mild soap or cleansing products. Never use harsh cleaners or scrub your skin, as irritation makes acne worse and can cause hard acne bumps. Treat mild cases promptly with over-the-counter creams, and refrain from picking, squeezing or popping any pimples.
- American Academy of Dermatology: Acne: Signs and Symptoms
- MedlinePlus: Acne
- National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases; Questions and Answers about Acne; October 2010
- TeensHealth; Why Do I Get Acne?; January 2011
- TeensHealth; Can Acne Scars Be Removed? March 2010
- MayoClinic.com; Acne: Treatment and Drugs; Nov. 3, 2009