What Is Comedonal Acne and How Can It Be Treated?

What Is Comedonal Acne?

Comedones - Acne Breakouts
Mild comedonal acne. Photo (c) A.D.A.M.

Acne doesn't always come with the typically inflamed pimple with a white head. Maybe you just have bumpy skin or blackheads.  Guess what?  That's a type of acne too.  It's called comedonal acne. 

Here's what comedonal acne looks like.

With comedonal acne, you may have a few you may have a few ​inflammatory breakouts here and there, but the vast majority will be non-inflamed blemishes or comedones. What the heck are comedones, you ask?

"Comedone" is just a fancy name for a plug of oil and dead skin cells within the hair follicle or pore. It's a type of acne breakout, just like a pimple, only it isn't red and swollen. (Some people use comedo as the singular of comedones.  As in, you have one comedo, I have many comedones. Comedo, comendone; tomato, tomahto.)       

Just to make things even more interesting, there are different types of comdones -- open and closed.

An open comedone is what we more commonly call a blackhead. The plug of oil becomes trapped within the hair follicle.  The top of the plug is exposed to air and darkens to that dark brown typical of blackheads.

Closed comedones happen when the pore opening is obstructed, and the plug of oil and skin cells is not exposed to air. The plug doesn't turn black. In fact, we mostly just notice a bump on our skin. The bump isn't red, nor inflamed, and it doesn't hurt.  It just looks and feels, well, bumpy.

Comedonal acne can range from mild (with just a few blemishes here and there) to more severe with blemishes happening over larger areas of the face. It can develop on the face, back, neck and chest.  Most commonly, though, comedonal breakouts happen on the forehead and chin or jawline areas.

Here's what causes comedonal acne.

Like most types of acne, comedonal acne is especially common during the preteen and teen years, but it can happen at any age.

Comedonal acne tends to run in families. So if your parents or siblings had it, you're more likely to have it too.  People with oily skin are more prone to comedonal acne. 

Sometimes, comedonal acne is caused or exacerbated by things you are putting on your face or hair: oily skin care products, hair pomades or grease. Oftentimes, though, it's caused by hormonal factors -- like puberty.

Just like other types of acne, comedonal breakouts aren't caused by a lack of hygiene. So, scrubbing at your skin or washing your face more often isn't going to be enough to clear up your skin. 

Comedonal acne can be treated. 

While your typical skin care routine probably isn't going to clear your skin, there are plenty of treatments that will. These articles will get you going in the right direction:

How To Treat Comedonal Acne

How To Get Rid of Blackheads

How To Get Rid of Whiteheads


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Storwick, MD, BSc, MSc, FRCPC, G. S. "Mild Acne: Treating & Diagnosing the First Pimple." Skin Therapy Letter. Skin Therapy Lettter, 6 Aug. 2014. Web. 1 Dec. 2014.

United States. NIAMS. "Questions and Answers About Acne." Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health, 2006.

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