How to Treat Mild Acne

Identifying and Treating Mild Acne

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

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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 and in all skin types. Nearly every teen has acne; younger tweens too. And many adults are shocked to learn that the acne they thought they outgrew is back. Even newborn babies can get mild 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 pimples on your butt or blackheads in your ears or on the earlobe. Mild acne breakouts can happen there as well.

How Can You Tell if Your Acne Is Mild?

See if the following statements describe your skin.

  • Most of my breakouts are non-inflamed whiteheads and/or 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."
  • I don't get cysts or nodular breakouts (very inflamed, hard, painful blemishes).
  • My breakouts are not causing scars.

If this doesn't sound like your skin, then your acne might more accurately be described as moderate or severe:

Moderate and severe types of acne are treated differently, and you'll need a physician's help to get them 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.

Don't Ignore Minor Breakouts

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 8 or 9 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 there is a risk of scarring that comes with 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.

How to Treat Mild Acne

Mild acne is the easiest type of acne to control, and you have many treatment options for mild acne.

You can start with over-the-counter acne products from your local drug store. Look for one that contains benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, or OTC Differin. These are the best OTC acne treatment ingredients.

Follow the usage directions on your product, and use it consistently for 10 to 12 weeks. It can take this long before you start seeing improvement.

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.)

The good news is, many cases of mild acne respond well to drugstore products. You don't need the most expensive brands either. Even generic store brands can be effective, as long as they contain proven acne-fighting ingredients.

If you need help choosing an OTC acne treatment, or you have questions about your skin, don't hesitate to give your physician a call.

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. United States. NIAMS. Questions and answers about acne. Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health, 2006.

  2. Zaenglein AL, Pathy AL, Schlosser BJ, et al. Guidelines of care for the management of Acne Vulgaris. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 2016 May;74(5):945-73. doi:10.1016/j.jaad.2015.12.037

By Angela Palmer
Angela Palmer is a licensed esthetician specializing in acne treatment.