Acne Terms A-Z - Acne Wipeout

Acne Terms A-Z

Confused by all the terms used to describe acne? Here are the important words and definitions you should know, plus key ingredients and scientific procedures used to treat it.




An irritating (in more ways than one) skin problem caused when pores get plugged with sebum, which is skin’s natural oil. Acne bacteria love to multiply in these conditions, creating more and more debris inside the pore, until skin gets inflamed and acne breaks out. Acne bacteria is part of the skin’s microbiome, so it’s always lurking in and around our pores. Beware.


Acne Mechanica


A type of acne caused by pressure and friction from gear worn and used during physical activity. Tight workout clothes, helmets, backpacks, sport bras, hats, and anything else that’s up against your skin while you exercise can trigger it.




AKA toner, this liquid cosmetic is used to cleanse the skin and contract the pores.



Benzalkonium Chloride


An organic salt with antibacterial powers used in many skincare products.





A small, black-tipped plug of sebum, bacteria and dead skin cells clogging a pore. Blackheads only partially plug the pore, so air can still get in, and the air oxidizes the plug, turning the tip black.





A dome-shaped lump deep under the skin filled with pus, is usually inflamed and painful, and can become infected and cause scarring. And is no fun to have.


Comedonal Acne


A thickened secretion consisting of a clogged pore with a flesh-toned bump (whitehead) or a flat, rounded or slightly raised pore with dark stuff in it (blackhead).




Surface skin cells.





The dense inner layer of skin beneath epidermis. It’s composed of connective tissue, blood and lymph vessels, sweat glands and hair follicles. It’s a key player in many important skin functions, including healing up wounds.




A doctor who specializes in the treatment of diseases of the skin.


Dead Skin Cells


Cells that build up on the skin’s surface and act as a barrier so skin can’t absorb moisture from nourishing creams and lotions. They also block sweat glands, which can result in whiteheads, blackheads or acne.





The process of removing dead skin cells from the surface of the skin. This can be done using topical skincare medications, chemicals, scrubs or medical instruments.




This outer, non-sensitive layer of the skin has many jobs, but its most important one is to protect your skin’s deeper layers  against harmful environmental factors.



Gorgonian Extract


A botanical ingredient derived from the gorgonian plant (also known as sea whip), known to help minimize redness and inflammation in the skin.




Hair Follicle


A little canal in the epidermis where a strand of hair begins its life.




Chemical substances that circulate through the body and regulate cell and bodily functions.




Discoloration of the skin. In acne, it usually appears at the site of a pimple, and it can last for …well, quite a while.



Inflammatory Acne


An red, inflamed, angry pimple with white or yellow pus in the center. It can be slightly raised and tender to the touch.




A pore that’s been damaged or undergone some abnormal structural change.




A lesion that’s a different color from the surrounding skin as a result of old acne.



A darker-colored spot left on the skin after a pimple finally goes away. (Gone but not forgotten, right?)



This is what gives your skin color. Any  shade of black, dark brown, reddish-brown or yellow pigments in the skin.




A small, abnormal node, mass or lump lodged deep down in the skin. It’ll usually show up with severe acne and may appear as an inflamed, deep red bump that's larger than a pimple. It can be painful and lead to scarring.


Nodulocystic Acne

The really severe acne with all the nodules and/or cysts. The lesions are inflamed, they’re painful, they’re large, they’re full of pus, and they’re looking for an opportunity to leave a scar.


Non-Inflammatory Lesion

A lesion that isn’t red or inflamed, like blackheads and whiteheads. The ones that go kind of easy on you.




The formal name for an inflamed lesion that usually starts as a small, pink bump on the skin, maybe a bit tender to the touch. It’s different from a pustule because it doesn’t have pus in the middle of the bump. Feel free to just call them pimples or zits.  



Pimple is the typical name for a papule or pustule (see above and below.) These raised, reddish, tender spots tell you that a hair follicle is either inflamed or infected.  




A small, inflamed, bump topped by a white or yellow pus-filled lesion that may be red at the base. Unlike a papule, pus is hanging out in the center of this lesion. It too is also commonly known as a pimple or zit.




Retinoids are a group of vitamin A derivatives that boost cell turnover, helping smooth skin, even out tone, and unclog pores. Retinol, Retinaldehyde and Adapalene are all retinoids, either synthetic or naturally derived from Vitamin A. The American Academy of Dermatology says retinoids are like, really solid topical treatments for acne (we’re paraphrasing).



Spot Treatment

Skin care medication used to treat individual acne lesions. Spots—get it?


Sebaceous Glands

The glands that produce sebum. They secrete the oil to hair follicles, to lubricate the hair and skin. Most of your sebaceous glands are on your  face, neck, chest, shoulders, upper arms and back (no surprise to backne sufferers.)



The fatty oil that comes out of sebaceous glands to lubricate the hair and skin. It reaches the surface of your skin through your pores, unless too much of the stuff has clogged the pores up. Result: acne.





Salicylic Acid

An acid found in a lot of over-the-counter acne treatment products which unclogs pores by dissolving dead skin cells inside hair follicles. It can also be used to stop new clogged pores (and subsequent zits) from forming.



The action of removing dead skin cells (basically the same as exfoliation.)




A topical product people use on acne prone or oily skin to give pores an extra cleaning, since clean pores can look tighter and less noticeable. Also called astringent.





What a pore makes when it’s completely blocked with dead skin cells and sebum. Since no air can get into a completely plugged pore, it won't get dark like a blackhead.





What the cool kids call a small, inflamed lesion when they’re not calling it a pimple, a spot, an imperfection, or one of those names our proofreaders make us spell like this: @#$%*