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  5. Acne Papules - Causes, Symptoms, Treatments

Acne appears in many different forms on your skin. While some are large and pus-filled, the ones that look like small, red bumps are called papules. In this article, we will take a detailed look at acne papules - from why they are formed to how they can be treated and prevented.

What Are Acne Papules?

Acne papules are reddish lesions that appear on the surface of your skin due to clogged pores. They are typically small in size (usually less than 5mm) and are not pus-filled. If they do accumulate pus, they convert into a pustule.

Pustules are nothing but what we typically refer to as a pimple. They have a pus-filled yellow or white head and are usually bigger in size than papules.

Papules are not a serious disease. A number of in-office and home remedies are available to treat acne vulgaris. At times, papules may form clusters, resulting in a rash after starting a new medication. In such a case, consult your doctor.

How Do Acne Papules Form?

A type of bacteria called P. acnes resides on the surface of our skin, beneath which lie the sebaceous glands. These glands produce an oil called sebum that is vital to maintain healthy skin.

Sometimes, these tiny pores get clogged with oil, dirt and bacteria. When the body releases chemicals to fight the bacteria, it causes inflammation. This may result in the formation of a papule, that may, later on, develop into a pustule or your typical pimple.

What Causes Acne Papules?

Pores blocked by dirt, oil and bacteria cause acne papules. Factors that can trigger acne breakouts include:

1. Diet

Studies suggest that a diet rich in carbohydrates can contribute to acne symptoms (1). However, other research says that the link between diet and acne breakouts is not clear.

Woman saying no to sweet in the process of diet

2. Stress

Studies suggest that stress can be a major acne-causing factor. Research suggests that relaxation therapies that reduce stress levels can improve acne symptoms (2).

3. Hormonal Changes

An increase in androgen levels in women can result in excess oil production in your skin. Overproduction of sebum is one of the major acne-causing factors (3).

4. Genes

Genes are a key factor in determining your skin type and issues. If your immediate family members have acne-prone skin, you are likely to have it too (4).

Can You Pop A Papule?

Attempting to pop papules can damage the deeper layers of your skin. This can increase the risk of scarring.

How Can You Treat Acne Papules?

Various in-office and home remedies can help reduce acne breakouts. Topical over-the-counter creams are also available to reduce papule symptoms.

Topical Medication

1. Benzoyl Peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide has been established as one of the safest and most effective topical medications used to treat mild to moderate acne (5). Topical forms of benzoyl peroxide can be used to reduce symptoms of papular acne.

2. Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid is widely used in a number of anti-acne skincare products. It has anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce acne breakouts (6).

3. Topical Retinoids

These are often referred to as the ‘core of topical therapy’. Topical retinoids have anti-inflammatory properties that reduce acne lesions and improve skin texture (7). This helps maintains clear and healthy skin.

Oral Medication

1. Oral Antibiotics

Antibiotics are effective in reducing acne breakouts and improving papular acne symptoms. They work by killing acne-causing bacteria that majorly contribute to acne lesions. They also have anti-inflammatory properties that reduce swelling and redness (8). Antibiotics are used in combination with topical treatments for better results.


Antibiotics cannot be used for months together. Their efficacy reduces after 5-7 days of consumption. If your skin is acne-prone and you consistently experience breakouts, this may not be the best option for you.

2. Birth Control Pills

Certain medically reviewed birth control pills can help reduce acne breakouts. Hormonal changes often contribute to acne breakouts. Some birth control pills are hormone-balancing and can improve papular acne symptoms.

3. Anti-Androgen Pills

Hormonal changes may contribute to an increase in androgen levels in your body. This can result in acne lesions. Anti-androgen pills are effective in reducing acne symptoms.

Note: Consult a physician before consuming oral medication for acne.

Acne Papules vs Acne Nodules

Acne papules are small lesions, usually affecting only the top layers of your skin. If your papule is big in size, almost as big as a pencil eraser, the chances of it being a nodule are higher. Nodules are also painful and affect the deeper layers of the skin, usually leaving a scar.

If you think your papule has developed into a nodule, see your doctor immediately. Although not a serious condition, nodules are likely to cause tissue damage, leaving behind a scar.

Acne Papule Prevention Tips

  • Wash your face with a mild cleanser two times a day.
  • Follow a daily skincare regimen.
  • Use products that suit your skin type.
  • Moisturize daily.
  • Apply sunscreen every day and re-apply every two hours.
  • Follow a healthy diet.
  • Drink at least 2 litres of water every day.
  • Use lukewarm water while washing your face.

What Does A Papule Look Like?

  • Small, red bumps on the surface of your skin.
  • Raised or flat on the top.
  • Red or pink in color.

Are There Any Skin Conditions That Can Cause Papules?

The cause of an acne papule is different from a regular papule. You may notice papules due to the following skin conditions as well:

1. Contact Dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is the result of an allergic reaction when your skin comes in contact with a harsh chemical or substance. This can result in the development of tiny papules in the affected area.

2. Eczema

Eczema or atopic dermatitis is a dry skin condition in which your skin reacts to almost anything it touches. This is due to its extreme sensitivity.

Woman hand with eczema

3. Seborrheic Keratosis

This is a type of skin growth that is not harmful for your skin. However, its appearance may be the reason behind people wanting to treat it. This condition can cause tiny bumps in the affected area.

4. Actinic Keratosis

This is a condition that usually occurs after a certain age. It results in scaly spots on the skin, commonly known as sun or age spots. The condition can cause tiny papules on the surface of the affected area.

5. Cherry Angioma

These are common among middle-aged people. They appear as tiny red moles on the skin. However, it is not a serious condition unless you notice bleeding. Cherry Angioma can result in the formation of tiny bumps or papules around the affected area.

6. Chicken Skin

As the name suggests, chicken skin causes patches of rough bumps to appear on the skin. Their appearance may be the only cause of discomfort. Chicken skin is also called Keratosis Pilaris and is not contagious to the body. Chicken skin may cause tiny bumps or pimples to appear on the affected skin area.

7. Molluscum Contagiosum And Papules

Molluscum contagiosum is a skin disorder that appears as red, painless bumps. These are often confused with papules but their cause is different (9). This infection is caused by a weakened immune system, whereas papules occur due to certain skin conditions.

Acne papules are not a serious skin condition. However, they can convert into pustules and cause scarring if you attempt to pop them. Following a regular skincare routine can help prevent and reduce acne symptoms.

Begin By Knowing Your Skin

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