Related Skin Conditions Misdiagnosed As Acne

If you notice redness or bumps on your complexion, acne is usually the first thing that comes to mind. Acne affects nearly 17 million people in the United States, so that would be a natural conclusion to make.

What you may not know is that there are a number of skin conditions related to acne that present similar symptoms, but result from different causes and skin conditions. Accurate identification of your skin condition is crucial for determining the appropriate treatment.

Here is an overview, including symptoms and treatment, of the more common acne-related skin conditions.


Related Skin Conditions Misdiagnosed As AcneRosacea is probably the most common and well-known of all conditions misdiagnosed as acne. The hallmark feature of rosacea is a chronic flush and persistent redness centered on the middle third of the face across the nose and cheeks, although it can also be found on the neck and chest.

Small red or pus-filled bumps may develop that appear to be acne, but they are accompanied by a burning sensation. Skin appears rough and dry, and there may be redness and swelling in the eyes and eyelids.

In extreme cases, skin on the nose can become thick and bulbous, with blood vessels appearing prominently. The late comedian W.C. Fields is the most frequently cited example of this condition, known as rhynophema.

There is currently no cure for rosacea, but it can be successfully controlled with oral and topical medications. Simple, at-home skin care would include cleaning with a gentle, non-abrasive product and application of sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 15.  Similar to acne, however, each rosacea case is different and should be evaluated by a dermatologist individually.


Folliculitis is caused by a bacterial infection similar to acne that affects hair follicles rather than pores. Red bumps or pus-filled blemishes develop around the follicle and the infection can spread to create non-healing sores. Barber’s itch, caused by ingrown hairs, and razor bumps are common types of folliculitis.

Staph bacteria, the most frequent cause of folliculitis, is always present on your skin but doesn’t create a problem unless it actually enters your skin through an injury or wound. Acne is a risk factor, and scrapes and cuts can create an environment conducive to bacteria and infection.

Folliculitis is relatively benign, but it can cause discomfort. Left untreated, it can recur and result in serious skin damage. Topical creams are the standard treatment, while steroids may be prescribed for certain types of folliculitis.

Keratosis Pilaris

Keratosis PilarisThe name may sound serious, but keratosis pilaris is a common skin condition that can be embarrassing, but causes no discomfort or damaging side effects. The skin condition is caused by a buildup of keratin, which is a protective protein found in the outer layer of skin as well as in hair and nails.

Keratosis pilaris might be mistaken for acne because the primary symptom is small, rough bumps on the cheeks created by excess keratin plugging hair follicles. Skin affected by keratosis pilaris is described as sandpaper-like, but there is no pain or itching associated with the condition.

Children and teens are most often affected by keratosis pilaris, and the condition generally resolves on its own. Dryness is a primary risk factor, so moisturizing skin cleansers can help prevent the condition or reduce symptoms. Over-the-counter products that contain urea or lactic acid are useful for removing extra keratin as well.

Perioral Dermatitis

Perioral Dermatitis

A red, bumpy rash that encircles the mouth characterizes Perioral dermatitis. The affected area is usually flaky and itchy and is often times aggravated by use of traditional acne treatments containing alcohol or benzoyl peroxide.

While there is some evidence pointing to the use of topical steroids, causes of perioral dermatitis have not been clearly identified.  Certain cosmetics and heavy skin creams may also play a role, while fluorinated toothpaste and oral contraceptives are also suspected to be triggers.

Your dermatologist may treat perioral dermatitis with topical or oral antibiotics. You can ease the symptoms by avoiding harsh skin care products as well as acid-producing foods that contribute to imbalance in pH levels and over acidity.

Sebaceous Hyperplasia

As you pass the age of 30, decreasing androgen levels cause a slowdown in the turnover of skin cells. This can result in sebaceous hyperplasia, which is a buildup of the cells that form oil glands.

Sebaceous hyperplasia is manifested in the development of flesh-colored or yellow bumps on the face. Because they are enlargements of oil glands, they cannot be treated or remedied with acne treatment regimens. Treatment methods include electrolysis, cryotherapy and laser removal.

While these guidelines are helpful, they are no substitute for diagnosis and treatment by a trained professional. Your dermatologist will answer any questions about acne and related conditions.

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