What Is Comedonal Acne and How Can It Be Treated?

Blackheads and bumpy skin are signs of comedonal acne

Skin Pores
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You may be most familiar with inflamed pimples and whiteheads, but there's also another type of acne. If you notice that your skin is bumpy or you have blackheads, this is known as comedonal acne. It's rather common for teenagers, though adults can get it too. While it may worry you at first, know that there are ways that you can treat it.

What Is Comedonal Acne?

With comedonal acne, you may have a few inflammatory breakouts here and there.

The vast majority, however, will be non-inflamed blemishes or comedones. "Comedone" is 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.

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

Open and Closed Comedones

Comedones may be opened or closed and each type determines whether you develop a blackhead or just bumps.

An open comedone  is what we more commonly call a blackhead. It occurs when the plug of oil becomes trapped within the hair follicle. The top of the plug is exposed to air and darkens to the dark brown color 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, instead we mostly just notice a bump on the skin. The bump isn't red, nor inflamed, and it doesn't hurt. It just looks and feels bumpy.

Causes

Like most types of acne, comedonal acne is especially common during the preteen and teen years.

However, it can occur to anyone at any age.

Comedonal acne tends to run in families. 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 as well. 

Sometimes, comedonal acne is caused or exacerbated by things you are putting on your face or hair. Items such as oily skin care products and hair pomades or grease can cause or accentuate this type of acne. Oftentimes, though, it's caused by hormonal factors like puberty.

Treatment

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

While your typical skin care routine probably isn't going to clear your skin, there are plenty of treatments that will. If your acne is mild, you may be able to treat it with over-the-counter treatments. For more severe and persistent acne, it's a good idea to see your doctor to discuss treatment options. 

Common acne treatments such as a good cleaner and topicals are recommended for comedonal acne. Topical acne treatments include medicated gels and lotions that are applied to the skin and not washed away like cleaners.

Look for products containing benzoyl peroxide and retinoids, as these are the most effective.

With any of these treatments, it may take up to eight weeks to see an improvement. Stick with it, even if you don't notice any immediate signs that it's working.

A Word From Verywell

While comedonal acne may not be as apparent or bothersome as other types of acne, you may still be concerned about it. That's completely understandable and why it's best to try and get it under control while it's still a mild case. If left untreated, it can develop into a more severe breakout and become more difficult to manage.

It will take time to notice the benefits of new treatments, so be patient and talk to your doctor if you have any concerns or questions.

Sources:

Golnick HP, et al. A Consensus-Based Practical and Daily Guide for the Treatment of Acne Patients. J Eur Acad Dermatol Vnereol. 2016; Sep;30(9):1480-90. doi: 10.1111/jdv.13675.

Storwick GS. Mild Acne: Treating & Diagnosing the First PimpleSkin Therapy Letter. 2014 Aug.