What Causes Nose Acne and How Can I Treat It?

Medically reviewed by Debra Rose Wilson, PhD, MSN, RN, IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT on August 21, 2017Written by Kristeen Cherney

What to do

Your nose is one of the most common sites of acne. Pores in this area tend to be larger in size, so they can clog more easily. This can result in pimples and red bumps that look like cysts.

Still, not all nose acne is created equal. Before you try to treat nose acne, it’s important to determine the underlying source: acne vulgaris or acne rosacea. Once you identify the exact cause of your nose acne, you’ll be able to use more targeted treatments.

Keep reading to learn how to identify which type of acne you’re dealing with, how to treat it, and more.

Is it acne vulgaris or acne rosacea?

It can be difficult to tell the difference between acne vulgaris and acne rosacea because they have similar symptoms. They can also both occur on the nose. Still, these are two very different conditions.

Acne vulgaris is related to pimples, blackheads, cysts, and other forms of acne, whereas acne rosacea is a type of rosacea. It’s also possible to have both acne vulgaris and acne rosacea at the same time.

You can tell the two conditions apart by assessing your skin. Acne vulgaris tends to involve clogged pores, which can present as:

  • pus-filled bumps
  • blackheads
  • whiteheads

Deeply clogged pores can cause cysts or pustules. These are deeper, sometimes larger bumps that are painful and tender to the touch.

If you have nose acne, you may also have acne on other parts of your face, such as on your chin and forehead. Acne can occur on other parts of the body as well.

By comparison, acne rosacea is primarily characterized by excessive redness and widespread swelling. These symptoms can start on the nose and spread to nearby areas of your face, such as your cheeks. Your nose may look enlarged from inflammation, and pimples may eventually surface on top of flushed-looking skin.

What causes acne to develop on the nose?

Once you identify the type of acne that you’re dealing with, it’s helpful to understand why it may be happening.

What causes acne vulgaris?

Acne vulgaris is caused by clogged pores. Healthy pores are supported with sebaceous glands that produce sebum to help keep your skin healthy and hydrated. However, sometimes your pores produce too much sebum.

When sebum is combined with dead skin, dirt, or bacteria, acne can arise. The nose is especially vulnerable because your pores are usually larger in this area.

The site of acne on your nose can also indicate health conditions. For example, acne on the front tip of your nose could indicate digestive issues. Side-nose acne may be related to hormone fluctuations. Though not as common, acne can also occur inside of the nose from hair removal or nose blowing.

What causes rosacea?

Acne rosacea, on the other hand, is a type of rosacea. Rosacea is caused by enlarged blood vessels that may also become visible. The related inflammation creates redness that won’t clear up on its own. Pimple-like bumps are also possible.

The name “acne rosacea” can be a little misleading because it almost insinuates that acne causes rosacea. Acne rosacea is actually a layman’s term for a subtype of rosacea called papulopustular rosacea, or subtype 2. Although subtype 2 rosacea can cause pimple-like breakouts on your nose, it’s important to realize that this condition isn’t the same thing as traditional acne.

How to treat acne vulgaris

If you’re experiencing acne vulgaris, your treatment options will depend on whether you’re dealing with noninflammatory or inflammatory acne.

Noninflammatory acne

Noninflammatory acne refers to minor pimples, blackheads, and whiteheads. Most cases are easily treated with over-the-counter (OTC) remedies. Medicated toners, creams, and spot-treatments can help break down bacteria, remove excess oil, and get rid of dry skin cells.

Although products containing benzoyl peroxide can offer some benefits, salicylic acid is more effective for this type of acne. Salicylic acid works by removing excess dead skin cells around hair follicles, thereby breaking down and preventing acne. It’s considered to be the most common type of beta hydroxy acid (BHA) exfoliant.

Alpha hydroxy acid exfoliants (AHAs), such as glycolic acid, can unclog pores while also reducing the appearance of age spots. Retinoids may also help by opening clogged pores.

Prescription medications typically aren’t used for noninflammatory acne.

Inflammatory acne

Inflammatory acne is the most severe form of acne. It typically presents as cysts or nodules. One way to tell if you have this type of acne is to assess whether there’s a lot of swelling surrounding the acne on your nose.

Home remedies and OTC products may be beneficial if your inflammatory acne is infrequent.

For example, applied ice can reduce inflammation, and a warm washcloth can help draw out oil and pus from deep beneath the skin.

OTC pimple patches can have similar effects. Benzoyl peroxide-containing spot treatments — such as Neutrogena’s On-the-Spot Acne Treatment — help reduce inflammation while also decreasing acne bumps. OTC retinoids may also help.

For severe, recurring inflammatory nose acne, you may need to see a dermatologist for prescription-strength treatments. For example, antibiotics may temporarily relieve severe pimples and cysts, as well as reduce inflammation.

Prescription retinoids, such as isotretinoin (Accutane), offer maximum relief because of its ability to shrink sebaceous glands. However, isotretinoin can have serious side effects, so you’ll want to discuss the pros and cons thoroughly with your doctor.

How to treat acne rosacea

Rosacea is a delicate skin condition that requires medical treatment. Home remedies and OTC products haven’t been shown to treat rosacea, so schedule an appointment with your dermatologist. They can help develop an appropriate treatment plan.

Medications

Your doctor may recommend brimonidine (Alphagan P) to reduce redness and inflammation. This medication works by constricting your blood vessels. Over time, it may also help improve any pimples that have developed.

Your doctor may also prescribe medications that provide immediate relief from pimples caused by acne rosacea. Antibiotics are typically used for inflammatory acne, and the effects are temporary. Other ingredients, such as metronidazole and azelaic acid, are recommended for long-term use.

If none of these medications work, your doctor may prescribe isotretinoin as a last resort.

Alternative therapies

When used in conjunction with prescription medications, certain therapies may also be useful for rosacea:

How to prevent future breakouts or flare-ups

Developing and maintaining a regular skin care routine is key to getting your skin clean and removing excess oils. At the same time, you’ll want to take some extra steps to prevent acne from creeping up on your nose.

You should

  • Wash your face twice a day with a gentle gel-based cleanser.
  • Use a toner to remove excess dirt and oil. Medicated toners have the added benefit of treating existing acne.
  • Follow up with a moisturizer designed for your skin type. This ensures that your skin is properly hydrated so your sebaceous glands don’t go into overdrive and produce more acne-causing oil.
  • Use a clay mask once or twice per week. This will help get rid of clogged pores on your nose, and may eventually make your pores appear smaller.
  • Wear sunscreen every day. Sun exposure not only increases your risk for skin cancer and wrinkles, but also can dry out your skin and increase oil production in your pores.

Acne rosacea is best managed by treating the underlying rosacea. Prescribed medications, when taken as directed, can help prevent flare-ups that can lead to pimples on the nose. Traditional acne treatments can make rosacea worse, so you won’t want to use these unless directed by a doctor.

If you experience acne vulgaris in addition to acne rosacea, you’ll want to see your dermatologist. They can help you determine the best treatment plan to get rid of pimples without aggravating rosacea.

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