Expert reveals the six pimple types and how to treat them

What type of spots do YOU have? Expert reveals the six different kinds of pimple and how to treat them (and squeezing IS allowed)

  • There are six types of pimples and each have their own distinct features 
  • Celebrity cosmetic doctor Dr Ginni Mansberg decodes pimple profiles 
  • Reveals top tips to treat them, from topical products to cold compresses 
  • You can squeeze pimples that don’t meet with too much resistance 

Many of us get the odd pimple here and there, whatever our age and skin type, with 95 per cent of people aged 11 to 30 affected by acne to some extent, according to the NHS.

So if you’re fed up with a few pimples, or really struggling with acne, it might be helpful to know that not all breakouts are equal, and therefore require different treatment to get rid of them. 

Celebrity Cosmetic Doctor, Dr Ginni Mansberg, who is best known as the resident doctor on Sunrise, Australia’s leading breakfast show, explains that there are six types of pimples.

She explains that identifying your pimples correctly is vital to seeking appropriate treatment.

Here, Femail reveals the six pimple types and shares Dr Mansberg’s advice about how to tackle them:


Superficial pimples are the most common type of blemish and often resolve themselves in a matter of days. You can however try a mild skin cleanser  (stock image)

Dr Ginni Mansberg says that these are the most common and ‘many of us will only ever have these kinds of pimples’. ‘

They often resolve in a matter of days, disappearing without a scar and usually don’t throb,’ she adds.

How to treat them:

‘Cleanse with a mild skin cleanser,’ she advised. ‘Look for a pH-balanced, soap free cleanser and cleanse twice daily to remove sebum, dirt, and microorganisms. 

‘Alpha hydroxy acids will break the bonds between clumped skin cells allowing them to be effectively but gently removed.

‘Vitamin B3 AKA Niacinamide is another ingredient that has evidence for its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial effects, as well as reduced sebum or oil production. 

‘It can also improve that all important skin barrier function by preventing water loss through the epidermis (the outer skin layer). Given that many people with acne have dry skin underlying their overproduction of oil, this too can be helpful for acne.’


Open comedones are blackheads. The colour is due to surface pigmentation not dirt. Whiteheads appear when the follicle is completely blocked and skin has grown over the top (stock image)

‘Open comedones are blackheads where the top of the pimple is black because of surface pigmentation (not dirt!),’ explained Dr Mansberg.

‘Closed comedones are whiteheads where the follicle is completely blocked and skin has grown over the top.’

How to treat them:

‘Vitamin A (retinoids) are the absolute best topicals for treating acne and preventing breakouts. Retinoids help increase skin cell turnover, to prevent excessive build-up of dead skin cells. They are comedolytic (pimple busting) plus they are anti-inflammatory. 

‘Of the over the counter retinoids, retinal (AKA retinaldehyde) is the most effective and the least irritating form of Vitamin A. Prescription retinoids often cause irritation, redness, dryness and even peeling.’


Pauples are tender red bumps without any visible pus. You can try Vitamin A, salicylic acid to treat them because it is an exfoliator, with antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and anti-comedogenic properties  (stock image)

According to Dr Ginni Mansberg, papules are ‘small, tender red bumps without obvious visible pus.’

How to treat them:

‘Alongside Vitamin A, Salicylic acid can be a helpful addition too,’ she said.

‘It’s an exfoliator, with antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-comedogenic  properties which all give it a really good role when tackling acne.’


Pustules are pimples that do have pus in them. You can squeeze them if you’re careful, but if it doesn’t work straight away, stop (stock image)

In contrast to papules, ‘pustules are pimples that do have pus in them,’ explained Dr Mansberg.

How to treat them:

‘If your blackhead, whitehead or pustule is not hurting or inflamed, you CAN squeeze them. But be careful. 

‘Thoroughly wash and dry your hands and use a blackhead extractor, gently. If it doesn’t work straight away, abandon ship!’ she warned.


Deeper pimples are often more severe acne and sit in skin that is already affected by superficial pimples  (stock image)

These signify more severe acne and often sit in skin already affected by superficial pimples. 

‘If you look at them under a microscope, they extend beyond the dermis into the subcutaneous layer below the dermis,’ explains Dr Ginni Mansberg. ‘They last for weeks, often leaving a scar.’

How to treat them:  

‘Treatment for modular cystic acne is oral vitamin A known as Accutane. You need to be on it for at least five months, often much longer.

‘For a big cyst or nodule a doctor can drain it using a needle and inject some steroid into the lump to reduce the inflammation and pain.’


Nodules are deeper and tend to be harder and more painful than typical pimples. You can try a leave-on mask, but many will need intervention from a dermatologist (stock image)

‘Nodules are deeper pimples that may involve more than one follicle. They feel harder, are painful and red,’ says Dr Ginni. 

‘They tend to come packaged up with cysts which are large fluid (pus) containing nodules, and are usually great than 5mm in diameter- although the 2 terms tend to be used interchangeable.’

Every single pimple forms from the same issue where you get a build up of oil plus excessive skin and debris that blocks the pore and causes inflammation. This makes a perfect breeding ground for bad actor bacteria like Cutebacterium Acnes (or C. Acnes)

How to treat them:

‘For a throbbing nodule or cyst, do not squeeze. Some ice or a cold compress might help reduce pain, redness and swelling for some symptom relief. Ice can be wrapped in a cloth and used for 30 seconds at a time onto clean skin. 

‘You can try a topical Salicylic Acid leave-on mask, such as the Hydroxy Overnight Mask or a dissolving microneedle patch, like Spotless but most will need medical intervention,’ explained Dr Mansberg.

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