A blemish is the term for any mark on the skin. There are many different types of blemish, including acne, papules, and changes in pigmentation.
Most blemishes are harmless, but some people may wish to treat them for cosmetic reasons.
Certain blemishes may indicate an underlying condition, such as skin cancer, which requires prompt medical treatment.
In this article, we outline the different types of blemish that people may have and the treatment options available in each case.
There are many different types of skin blemish. Some examples include those below.
Acne is a skin condition that occurs as a result of the skin producing too much oil. Different factors can cause excess oil production, including:
- overactive oil glands
- hormonal changes during puberty, menstruation, or the menopause
- stress, anxiety, or depression, which can also affect hormones
There are several different types of acne, which vary in their appearance. Some examples include:
Blackheads are small, dark spots on the surface of the skin. They resemble trapped dirt but actually consist of oil that has become stuck inside the pore. When this oil reacts with air, it becomes black.
Whiteheads are small, round blemishes that are white or skin-colored. They develop as a result of oil and dead skin cells blocking the pores.
Papules are small, hard, red bumps on the skin. These develop when excess oil, bacteria, and dead skin cells travel deeper into the skin, causing inflammation.
When lots of papules cluster together, this can give the skin a rough, sandpaper-like texture.
Pustules are raised, red spots that contain yellow or white pus. They occur when oil, bacteria, and dead skin cells collect under the skin, causing infection.
Nodules are large skin blemishes that develop when a pore becomes clogged. Oils mix with dead skin cells and bacteria that then become trapped deep in the skin. The excess oil and bacteria lead to infection and inflammation inside the skin.
This type of skin blemish can cause acne scarring.
A break in the lining of a pore can cause oil and bacteria to spread to the surrounding skin. An acne cyst is a membrane that has formed around the infected area.
Cysts appear as large, swollen, red blemishes. They may be very painful to the touch.
Like nodules, cysts can cause permanent acne scarring.
Hyperpigmentation is a type of blemish that appears darker than other areas of skin. It is common and usually harmless.
Hyperpigmentation can occur as a result of genetic factors, sun damage, or acne scarring.
Freckles are a type of hyperpigmentation that a person can inherit the tendency to develop. They are small, flat spots that may be red, brown, tan, or black. They can appear anywhere on the body.
Sunspots or “age spots” are another type of hyperpigmentation. These small spots or patches can develop on areas of the skin that get a lot of sun exposure.
Acne scarring can also cause dark spots to remain on the skin once the acne has cleared.
Melasma is a type of hyperpigmentation that can develop during pregnancy or when a person takes birth control pills.
The hormonal changes that take place lead to an increase in melanin. Melanin is the pigment that gives skin its coloring. The overproduction of melanin can make the skin darker.
Sometimes, hairs can curl back on themselves or grow sideways into the skin, which can result in red, itchy bumps forming. Doctors refer to these skin blemishes as ingrown hairs.
Hair removal techniques, such as waxing, shaving, or plucking, can all cause ingrown hairs.
Birthmarks are blemishes that appear on the skin of a newborn baby. They can appear either at birth or shortly afterward. Some birthmarks disappear over time, while others may be permanent.
Experts are still not sure what causes birthmarks to form. However, these skin blemishes can sometimes develop as a result of:
- blood vessels not forming properly
- skin pigment cells clumping together, creating moles or patches of darker skin
- an overgrowth of skin that creates raised patches of thickened skin
A birthmark will look different than the skin surrounding it. These types of skin blemish can be any size and may vary greatly in appearance. They may be:
- flat or raised
- similar to a bruise or stain
- any color, including pink, red, brown, or tan
Birthmarks are generally harmless, but some marks that appear on a baby’s skin can signal an underlying condition. It is best to have a dermatologist check any birthmarks just to be sure.
Some harmless birthmarks can also get larger quickly, which can be alarming. Talking with a dermatologist can help people know what to expect regarding birthmark growth.
Cold sores are painful, red, fluid-filled blisters that form on the lips or around the mouth. They occur as a result of infection with the herpes simplex virus.
Cold sores are highly contagious, so people should avoid intimate contact with others until the sores have healed to avoid passing the virus on.
Some types of blemish can be a sign of skin cancer. Being aware of the signs to look out for can help people spot skin cancer early.
Some potential signs of skin cancer include:
- a new mole or mark that grows quickly
- a mole or mark that bleeds or itches
- a blemish that changes in shape, size, or color
- a mole that is asymmetrical or has rough, irregular edges
- a mole that is larger than 6 millimeters
A person should see a doctor if they develop a new or unusual skin blemish that has any of the above characteristics.
Although many types of skin blemish do not require treatment, some people may wish to treat them for cosmetic reasons. The type of skin blemish will determine the treatment options.
People may be able to treat acne blemishes with topical creams, such as benzoyl peroxide.
These products can help dry out the skin and get rid of acne-causing bacteria.
Washing the face twice daily with a cleanser containing benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid can help treat certain types of acne. In addition, medications called retinoids may help unclog the pores.
Acne treatments can take time to have a noticeable effect. People may need to wait 6–8 weeks for them to work.
For persistent acne, a dermatologist may suggest a topical or oral prescription medication. Some prescription treatments for acne and hyperpigmentation can cause side effects.
People should discuss any potential side effects with their dermatologist before starting treatment.
Some people may also find that certain dietary and lifestyle changes can help reduce stress levels and balance hormones.
Hyperpigmentation and melasma treatment
The following treatments may help reduce hyperpigmentation and melasma:
- prescription medicine containing hydroquinone, which works by lightening darker patches of skin. Hydroquinone is only available as a prescription through your doctor. Previously it had been available over the counter but the status was changed in 2021 following a ruling by the FDA
- prescription cortisone or tretinoin cream
- laser treatment
In some cases, melasma disappears after a woman has given birth or is no longer taking hormonal contraception.
Ingrown hair treatment
Some tips for preventing ingrown hairs include:
- shaving only in the direction of hair growth
- using a shaving gel
- using only clean, sharp razors
For existing ingrown hairs, an exfoliating scrub can help release trapped hairs from under the skin.
If people want to treat a birthmark, they may consider the following options:
- laser therapy
- medications, such as propranolol, timolol, or corticosteroids, which can shrink certain birthmarks
- surgery to remove a birthmark that may be harmful
People may also use makeup to cover any blemishes or discolored skin that they wish to disguise.
Cold sore treatment
Cold sores tend to clear up on their own within 2 weeks. A dermatologist may also prescribe an oral or topical antiviral medicine to treat cold sores.
Skin cancer treatment
Skin cancer is very treatable if a person begins treatment in the early stages of the disease. The treatment that a person receives will depend on the type of skin cancer. Some possible treatment options include:
- surgical removal of cancerous cells
- topical medication to kill cancerous cells
- radiation therapy
Some people may choose to see a dermatologist if they wish to treat a blemish for cosmetic reasons or if the blemish is causing them psychological distress.
A person should see their dermatologist immediately if they have a skin blemish that takes on any of the following characteristics:
- grows quickly
- changes in size, shape, or color
- bleeds or itches
These could be signs of skin cancer or another serious skin condition that requires immediate treatment.
A blemish is any type of mark on the skin. Most blemishes are harmless, but people may choose to treat them for cosmetic reasons.
Certain types of skin blemish may be more serious. People should see a doctor or dermatologist if they develop a blemish that has any of the characteristic signs of skin cancer. This type of cancer is highly treatable if a person begins treatment during the early stages of the disease.
People should see a doctor or dermatologist if they have any concerns about a skin blemish or skin condition. These healthcare professionals can diagnose the condition and then recommend appropriate treatments.