Acne vs. Pimples… What’s the Difference?

Everyone seems to use the terms “acne” and “pimples” interchangeably. However, there is a distinct difference between the two. Acne is a disease, while pimples are a symptom of this disease.

What is Acne?

Acne is a condition that affects the hair follicles and oil glands in your skin. Each pore is connected to an oil gland by a canal called a follicle, and out of each follicle grows a hair that protrudes to the skin’s surface. The oil glands produce a substance called sebum, When sebum and dead skin cells clump together, they clog the follicle. The bacteria trapped in the follicle causes inflammation, which creates pimples.


While scientists have not been able to identify an exact cause of acne, there are certain triggers that can make it worse:

  • Hormonal changes (puberty, menstrual cycle, pregnancy)
  • Irritation or pressure from things like hats, collars, and backpack straps
  • Humidity
  • Picking at or squeezing existing pimples
  • Certain hair and skin products (sunscreen, oil-based products)
  • Certain medications (corticosteroids, anabolic steroids)
  • Scrubbing or washing your skin too harshly

Contrary to popular belief, the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases found that stress, “dirty” skin, greasy foods, and chocolate don’t actually cause acne in the majority of people.

We offer the leading technology in skin and laser treatments to help our patients achieve smoother, more even skin.

Schedule an appointment with our aesthetic experts to learn which treatments for acne will give you the best results.


There are many different types of acne, each producing different symptoms, or for this article’s sake, different types of pimples:

  • Blackheads: open, clogged pores on the surface
  • Whiteheads: closed, clogged pores under the surface
  • Nodules: painful, large lumps deep under the skin’s surface
  • Cysts: painful, pus-filled lumps under the skin’s surface
  • Papules: small, sensitive red or pink bumps
  • Pustules: papules with pus in them

What can I do about it?

There are many different treatment options and preventative methods you can use to eliminate or minimize acne.


The best way to make sure you are getting the appropriate treatment for your individual case of acne is to see a dermatologist. Dr. Rachel Ness is a board-certified dermatologist and the owner of Fargo Center for Dermatology in North Dakota.

Learn more about Dr. Ness and Fargo Center for Dermatology.

Dr. Ness typically prescribes a topical retinoid to treat acne, such as tretinoin or adapalene, but additional treatments are prescribed based on which type of acne the patient has.

Over-the-counter (OTC) acne medications are also sometimes recommended, such as:

  • Benzoyl peroxide
  • Differin (adapalene 0.1%)
  • Salicylic acid (occasionally recommended for acne treatment)

Dr. Ness will also prescribe other prescription topical medications as needed in addition to topical retinoids, such as:

  • Azelaic acid
  • Antibiotics (topical clindamycin)

Prescription oral medications are also commonly used to treat acne:

  • Combination oral contraceptives
  • Anti-androgen agents (spironolactone)
  • Isotretinoin
  • Antibiotics (doxycycline)

Dr. Ness might also recommend certain therapies for acne, such as:

You can purchase many of these medical skincare products on the Fargo Website.


In addition to treatment, there are also many self-care methods that can help prevent acne:

  • Maintain a healthy diet (avoid skim milk and foods with a high glycemic index).
  • Avoid picking at and squeezing existing pimples.
  • Avoid touching your face (including with your phone or hair).
  • Use non-comedogenic hair and skin products, available here.
  • Wash your face with a gentle facial cleanser and warm water.

Get Professional Help

If you are struggling with acne, Dr. Ness and her team would love to help. Schedule a consultation today to begin your journey toward looking and feeling your best.