What Is Mild Acne?

How To Identify Mild Acne and How You Can Treat It

Young woman with mild acne.
Photo: Dawn Poland / Getty Images

Although there isn't a uniform way to categorize acne, most people (including dermatologists) classify acne as mild, moderate, or severe. It's nice to have a basic idea of where your acne falls on this scale, because it will give you a good idea on where to start with treatment.

What Is Mild Acne?

Mild acne is the most minor form of acne. You'll have some bumps and blackheads. You may get the occasional papule or pustule, but they're not widespread or very inflamed.

Mild acne is also identified by what you don't have on your skin. You won't have deep-seated blemishes, so no nodules or cysts.

Not all people with mild acne get those "typical" pimples either. Some people are surprised to learn that the non-inflamed, skin-colored bumpiness they have on their face or back is actually a mild form of acne called comedonal acne.

Mild acne can occur across all ages, in all skin types and ethnicities. Nearly every teen has acne; younger tweens too.

And many adults are shocked to learn that the acne they thought they outgrew... it's back. Yes, mild acne is common in adults as well. Even newborn babies can have cases of mild acne (baby acne)!

This type of acne isn't just limited to the face. You can get mild acne breakouts on the back, chest, neck, and shoulders too. And don't be alarmed if you find blackheads in your ears or even on the earlobe. Mild acne breakouts can happen there as well.

How Can You Tell if Your Acne is Mild?

Do the following statements describe your skin? If they do, you probably have acne and it's probably mild.

  • Most of my breakouts are non-inflamed whiteheads and blackheads.
  • I sometimes get red pimples, but not very many of them and they're not very big.
  • The blemishes I do get are on the surface of the skin. They don't feel "deep."

If this doesn't sound like your skin, then your acne might more accurately be described as moderate or severe. in that case, take a look at these articles and see if it sounds more like your skin: What is Moderate Acne? and What is Severe Acne?

Moderate and severe types of acne are treated differently, and need a physician's help to get under control.

There are some skin conditions that cause minor bumps and breakouts on the skin as well, and some of them look very similar to acne. If you're at all unsure, it wouldn't be a bad idea to have a dermatologist give your skin a once-over.

How To Treat Mild Acne

For some people, acne will always stay relatively mild. But for others, those insignificant bumps and blemishes can progress to something more serious in a hurry.

It's always best to treat acne at this stage, when it is mild. Too often, people take the "wait and see" approach, waiting to see if acne will just go away on its own.

Unfortunately, it usually doesn't. Very often the acne gets worse, and progresses to a more severe case.

This is especially true with teen acne. Lots of kids will start getting superficial breakouts early on, sometimes as young as eight or nine years old.

They're really easy to overlook at this point.

But as time goes on, those little bumps become bigger, inflamed pimples. Once acne really takes hold, it gets tougher to treat, not to mention the risk of scarring that comes with more serious acne.

No matter what your age, you'll want to start treating acne right away, when it's still mild. You'll get better results, much more quickly.

To treat mild acne, you can start with over-the-counter acne products.  Use these consistently for 10 to 12 weeks.  If you're not getting the results you're looking for, the next step is to see a dermatologist. 

A Word from Verywell

Mild acne is so incredibly common.

But even these mild breakouts can be annoying and, in some cases, very upsetting (this is especially true for teens!)

Don't fret, though, because mild acne is the easiest type of acne to control. Would you like a step-by-step breakdown to treating your breakouts? We've got you covered here: Treatment Options for Mild Acne.

And, because we know how confusing it can be to try and choose an acne treatment product off the shelf (seriously, just how many acne cleansers are there?) this article is here to walk you through it: How To Choose an OTC Acne Treatment.

Sources:

Feldman S, Careccia RE, Barham KL, Hancox J. "Diagnosis and Treatment of Acne." Am Fam Physician. 2004 May 1; 69(9):2123-2130.

"Treating Mild Acne." AcneNet. American Academy of Dermatology, 2011. Web.

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

Zaenglein AL, Pathy AL, Schlosser BJ, Alikhan A, Baldwin HE, et. al. "Guidelines of Care for the Management of Acne Vulgaris." Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 74.5 (2016): 945-73.

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