We’ve all had a pimple at some point in our lives. No one likes them, but usually the most serious problems acne causes are annoyance and embarrassment.
But sometimes what we’ve dismissed as a regular zit might actually be another skin condition that could require more than a drug store cream.
Cedars-Sinai dermatologist Dr. Joyce Fox shares some conditions that may look like acne, but actually require different treatment.
Don’t mistake these skin conditions for the common zit:
These small bumps appear when the hair follicle swells up because it’s been infected by yeast or bacteria. These bumps can happen anywhere you have hair on your body, but they’re most common on the neck, legs, armpits, and buttocks. You might also hear these tiny blister clusters referred to as razor bumps, hot tub rash, or barber’s itch.
Mild cases usually clear in a few days with basic self-care. Heat and sweat can cause folliculitis, so be sure to shower after strenuous workouts. If it persists or keeps coming back, you’ll need your doctor’s help, Dr. Fox says. Oral antibiotics are usually prescribed, though sometimes a topical antibiotic or anti-yeast therapy will be tried.
This common condition sometimes appears as redness across the cheeks and nose, but can also be accompanied by red bumps. It tends to run in families. Outbreaks can be triggered by alcohol, smoking, heat, sun, and stress.
Treatments include topical creams, sometimes containing low-dose antibiotics. If you’re prone to rosacea, be sure to wear sunscreen outdoors as exposure to sunlight can aggravate the condition.
Large, painful bumps that look like acne can sometimes be caused by staph bacteria. This bacteria, Staphylococcus aureus, is around us all the time: on our skin, in our noses, on surfaces, and on the ground.
Inflamed skin blemishes are the most common type of staph infection. These infections are usually relatively minor and treatable with antibiotics. If they get into the bloodstream, bones, joints, or organs, the infections become far more serious.
If a blemish is painful or persists, have your doctor check it out. You can prevent these staph infections the same way you avoid cold, flu, and other illnesses: Wash your hands often and avoid touching your face.
Skin cancer can start as small, pink, or red pearly bumps which might have blue, brown, or black areas. Pink growths with raised edges and a lower area in the center are also suspect. Open sores that don’t heal—or heal and then come back—might also be skin cancer.
If you have bumps or lesions like these, don’t brush them off as mere blemishes—see your doctor. Skin cancer can be very treatable if caught at an early stage, but potentially deadly if not detected before it spreads.
Dr. Fox says it’s important to remember that acne isn’t to blame for every red bump on your skin.
Don’t be too quick to brush off a blemish, especially if it’s hurting you. Even if it is a garden-variety pimple, if it’s causing you pain—physical or emotional—there are treatments available.