Everything You Need To Know About Acne Papules

Written by Arshiya Syeda

Acne is one of the most widespread skin conditions that affect people regardless of age or gender. When left untreated, this skin condition may worsen and result in the formation of papules. Acne papules can be unsightly as they are very noticeable. They can be caused by many factors, which makes it difficult to combat them. Let us take a look at everything you need to know about acne papules, and most importantly, how to get rid of them. Keep reading!

 What Are Acne Papules?

Acne papules are small, red, bumpy blemishes that appear on the skin’s surface. Such papules caused by acne typically measure between 5 mm and 1 cm. While they are not a major cause of concern, their high visibility can be damaging to your self-confidence. Furthermore, they affect your skin’s appearance and texture permanently or semi-permanently.

It is worth mentioning here that acne papules and pustules are not the same, and we will be elaborating on their differences in a later section. On that note, let us take a look at how you can recognize papules caused by acne.

 How To Recognize Acne Papules

To effectively recognize them, you need to first understand what papules look like.

Acne papules are small, red lesions that are less than 1 cm in size, i.e., approximately the width of your fingernail.

You may normally find these acne papules on your face, especially on the chin and cheeks, and upper back. On rare occasions, you may discover them on your chest, neck, and shoulders.

Typically, these papules are accompanied by redness around the eruption, bumpy skin texture, flat tops, and itching.

Many people get confused between acne papules, nodules, and pustules. Let us take a look at the differences between them below.​

Differences Between Acne Papules And Acne Nodules

While papules represent a minor to a mild form of acne, nodules are a clear indication of severe acne. As a result, nodules are larger, more swollen, and extremely painful. Additionally, acne nodules are generally more angry-looking. They form deeper inside the skin and are more prone to scarring. So, consult a dermatologist to get your nodules treated.

​ Differences Between Acne Papules And Pustules

Acne pustules contain pus. As a result, they may look like papules but have a white, yellow, or red-brown spot at the center of the bump. Apart from this visual pustule vs. papule difference, it is also worth noting that papules can develop into pustules. This transformation occurs when the immune cells present in the papules die while fighting the bacterial infection, causing pus formation.

Wondering what causes acne papules to form? Find out in the next section.

​ What Are The Causes Of Acne Papules?

Like every other skin lesion caused by acne, papules start developing when dead skin cells, natural oils, or sebum clog the pores or hair follicles. This sealing of pores causes the formation of micro comedones. Microcomedones are tiny, raised pimples present beneath the skin’s surface. These microcomedones offer a fertile ground for acne-causing bacteria that feed on excess oil and dead skin. As the bacteria begin to reproduce, they trigger inflammation of the skin surrounding the clogged pores. Papule pimples are the red bumps caused by this infection.

The common culprits of acne papules causes could be:

1. Hormones

Male sex hormones or androgens stimulate the production of sebum. At the same time, they also play a role in regulating the body’s immune response to the inflammation caused by acne. Hence, the secretion of androgens serves as a prelude for acne papules.

​ 2. Stress

Stress is one of the leading causes of acne. In fact, a study discovered that stress levels are directly linked to the severity of acne breakouts. It is speculated that the hormones released in response to stress (corticotropin-releasing hormone) trigger the secretion of sebum which, in turn, causes acne and acne papules.

​ 3. Diet

While scientists continue to debate the role of diet in acne breakouts, it is still speculated that there may be a correlation between pimple formation and dietary preferences. For instance, people have noticed that a high-sugar, high-fat diet causes them to break out. Clinical studies support this claim as they have discovered that food items like chocolate and dairy can worsen acne. A similar trend is seen in high glycemic diets, which reportedly aggravate acne, leading to the formation of acne papules and pustules. ​

4. Hygiene

While it is not supported by scientific research, it is a commonly held belief that poor hygiene can cause acne and aggravate it. This is based on the belief that poorly cared-for skin is more susceptible to clogging and bacterial infections. Not washing your face regularly or touching it too much may cause papules on the face. A study partially verifies this claim as it discovered that cleansing your skin at least twice a day reduces the number and severity of acne papules and lesions.

Now that you know what causes them, let’s talk about how to treat acne papules.

​ How To Get Rid Of Acne Papules

It is time to explore the possible papular acne treatments. If you are wondering how to get rid of papules, here are a few options that you can try out:​

1. Topical Treatments

Topical creams and products specifically formulated for treating acne and reducing its appearance are among the most common papule acne treatments.

While picking up any over-the-counter (OTC) treatment from your local pharmacy, look for products that contain ingredients such as salicylic acid (SA), glycolic acid, or benzoyl peroxide. These ingredients are said to be effective in sloughing off dead skin and removing excess sebum from the skin’s surface. As a result, they not only clear the existing acne papules but also prevent their reoccurrence in the future. According to various studies, salicylic acid, glycolic acid, and benzoyl peroxide are effective mild acne papule treatments.

If you have inflammatory papules, your dermatologist may prescribe retinoids or retinoid-like drugs that contain adapalene, tretinoin, and tazarotene. These topical applications address the primary cause of acne formation – like clogged pores – while also reducing inflammation. You may complement this papular acne treatment with a prescription of antibiotics to kill the acne-causing bacteria.

However, bear in mind that while topical treatments can be one of the best ways to treat acne papules, they cause some amount of skin dryness and mild irritation. The trick is to hydrate your skin with a water-based moisturizer.

​ 2. Oral Medication

Oral medication is another option to treat papules caused by acne. Your dermatologist may prescribe antibiotics that can reduce swelling and redness. Their efficacy increases when used in combination with topical creams. However, use antibiotics only for the short term as it loses efficacy after 5-7 days.

Apart from antibiotics, women can opt for oral contraceptives or hormone pills to regulate acne. Certain birth control pills, for instance, have been proven to reduce breakouts. These birth control pills trigger a hormone balancing effect that can mitigate acne formation and intensity. Similarly, your dermatologist may also prescribe androgen receptor blockers (anti-androgen pills) to regulate the levels of male sex hormones or block their effects on your oil glands.

3. Skin Care Products

Following a strict skin care routine can help you mitigate acne and acne papules. Maintain a reliable skin care routine that involves cleansing and moisturizing your skin, followed by sunscreen.

It would be best to pick skincare products that contain salicylic acid, glycolic acid, or benzoyl peroxide as they are proven to treat acne papules. Further, these products must be formulated specifically for acne-prone skin. Additionally, you can also use chemical peels containing salicylic acid and mandelic acid as they are said to be highly effective in unclogging pores and reducing acne papules.

​ 4. Natural Remedies

Here are a few effective remedies that can help with getting rid of papules:

  •  Apple Cider Vinegar: Apply a solution of one part water and one part apple cider vinegar onto the skin’s surface. It is believed that the organic acids present in it can kill the acne-causing bacteria and reduce acne. However, there is not enough scientific evidence to prove the same.
  •  Lemon Juice: Gently press a wedge of lemon against your acne papules to get rid of them. The citric acid will kill the acne-causing bacteria. However, there is not enough scientific evidence to prove the same.
  •  Green Tea: Apply a used green tea bag on your acne papule. Many skin care enthusiasts believe that green tea can fight off acne-causing bacteria. It has also been scientifically proven to reduce inflammation (redness and swelling), which is usually associated with acne papules.
  •  Honey: Dab some honey directly on your acne pimples. The antibacterial effect of honey may ward off the bacteria that is causing your acne.
  •  Ice: Wrap a few ice cubes in a clean cloth and press the pack against your acne papules. Hold it for a few seconds, then release it. This method can soothe the inflammation and itchiness that worsen papule formation.

Find out how to prevent acne papules before they form in the next section.

​ Tips For Preventing Acne Papule Formation

Listed below are a few things that you can do to prevent acne papules from forming in the first place:

  •  Wash your face with a mild cleanser and lukewarm water at least twice a day.
  •  Use skin care products that suit your skin type and incorporate them into your daily skin care regimen.
  •  Hydrate your skin with water-based (for dry skin) or gel-based (for oily skin) moisturizers.
  •  Follow a healthy diet and cut down on your sugar consumption.
  •  Take a shower after working out and after doing any intense activities.
  •  Use oil-free, non-comedogenic products.
  •  Avoiding picking at or popping your acne pimples.
  •  Apply sunscreen daily, especially when you are out in the sun for long.
  •  Drink a minimum of two liters of water daily.
  •  Do not self-medicate, and only use products and medications in their recommended doses.
  •  Practice meditation or self-care activities that help you de-stress.

Lastly, let’s talk about when your acne papules need medical intervention.

 When Should You See A Doctor For Your Acne Papules?

For all it is worth, acne papules do not cause scarring. They also self-heal over time.

As such, they are not a major cause for alarm. However, you may consider seeing a dermatologist for inflammatory papules that are oozing pus or forming cysts. Papules that are rapidly growing in number could also be concerning. Further, you may also seek medical help if the acne papules are turning into pustules or nodules.

​ Conclusion

Acne papules are essentially an inflammatory response accompanying acne breakouts and pimple formation. They must not be confused with pustules or nodules that are more severe. Generally, papular acne treatment is the same as the usual treatments and remedies for acne. However, you may have to use antibacterial and anti-inflammatory ingredients to get clear skin. Consult a dermatologist if you experience excessive discomfort caused by acne papules.


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  1. Sex hormones and acne
  2. Study of psychological stress sebum production and acne vulgaris in adolescents
  3. Corticotropin-releasing hormone: An autocrine hormone that promotes lipogenesis in human sebocytes
  4. Double-blind Placebo-controlled Study Assessing the Effect of Chocolate Consumption in Subjects with a History of Acne Vulgaris
  5. Dairy Intake and Acne Vulgaris: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of 78 529 Children Adolescents and Young Adults
  6. Significance of diet in treated and untreated acne vulgaris
  7. A single-blinded randomized controlled clinical trial evaluating the effect of face washing on acne vulgaris
  8. Over-the-counter Acne Treatments
  9. The use of oral antibiotics in treating acne vulgaris: a new approach
  10. Effect of birth control pills on acne in women
  11. Hormonal Treatment of Acne in Women
  12. Anti-inflammatory Action of Green Tea
  13. Honey: its medicinal property and antibacterial activity

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Arshiya Syeda is an editor and certified counselor. Ever the lover of the written word, she served on the editorial boards of her school and college newsletters. Writing articles on hairstyles, hair care, and nutrition helped her combine her love for reading, writing, and research. As an editor, she helps her team members deliver polished and meticulously researched content. Arshiya is fluent in English, Urdu, and Hindi and aims to become a multilinguist by learning German and teaching herself American Sign Language (ASL).