Subclinical Acne: What Causes it?

  • Subclinical acne refers to clogged pores that are not inflamed.
  • The main causes of subclinical acne are genes and the use of comedogenic products.
  • There are several ways to treat subclinical acne, from OTC products to prescribed medications.

There are several different types of acne — from inflamed zits to cysts to whiteheads. Among these types is subclinical acne. Below, we’ll look at what subclinical ane means, and how to treat them. 

What is subclinical acne?

Board-certified dermatologist Hadley King, M.D., says subclinical acne is not a term used in dermatology and essentially just means congested skin.

While the term may sound like it is a painful and cystic pimple that lives underneath the skin, subclinical acne is a bump that is similar to noninflammatory acne, also referred to as comedonal acne, whiteheads, or sebum plugs.

Ife Rodney, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Eternal Dermatology, says subclinical acne is not painful and usually does not cause a mark or discoloration. These flesh-colored bumps don’t seem to come to a “head,” but can become pimples or pustules when left untreated and inflamed. 

You can get this acne anywhere you have pores, but they are likely to appear on your forehead, chin, and nose (where oil tends to build up), as well as the shoulders, chest, or back.


Several things can cause subclinical acne, including:

  • Comedogenic products: Board-certified dermatologist Jennifer Herrmann, M.D., says heavy products with oils, like skincare, makeup, and haircare, can cause or aggravate this type of acne. 
  • Improper washing: If you’re not properly washing your face, or neglect cleansing certain areas, like around the hairline, the dirt can accumulate in your pores and lead to acne. 
  • Genetics: Rodney says genetics play a big role in subclinical acne. 
  • Lifestyle factors: What you eat can show up on your skin. Likewise, unmanaged stress can raise your levels of cortisol and increase your oil production, which can result in clogged pores. 

How to treat it

Subclinical acne can cause inflammation and other skin issues, so early treatment is essential. 

1. Use salicylic acid. 

According to Rodney, salicylic acid is an oil-soluble BHA, which means it can clean deep into the sebaceous glands (oil glands) and hair follicles before they clog your pores. 

King also says that salicylic acid can help remove clogs that have already formed.

2. Try benzoyl peroxide. 

Benzoyl peroxide can kill bacteria that cause acne and help break up the debris that clogs pores, like dead skin cells. It works both for inflammatory acne and comedonal acne. 

3. Apply retinoids. 

King explains that topical retinoids can prevent and treat clogged pores by increasing skin cell turnover and reducing the clumping together of cells and keratin debris. You can get such products over the counter, or get a prescription from your dermatologist. 

4. Opt for non-comedogenic products. 

Since subclinical acne may be caused by clogged pores, it’s essential to avoid pore-clogging ingredients. Take note that products that may be good for other people may not be good for your skin. 

It may take some research and trial and error to determine which products you should avoid, but make sure to stick to non-comedogenic ingredients.

5. Cleanse your face thoroughly after sweating and wearing makeup. 

Cleanse each night to wash away all the makeup and sweat from the day. Remember to pay attention to your hairline to prevent those pores from getting clogged. 

6. Don’t pick on your acne. 

King warns that picking at your acne can prolong healing time and raise the risk for infection, inflammation, scarring, and discoloration. It also makes the irritated hair follicles look more visible. It’s best to leave the extraction to a trained professional. 

7. See a dermatologist.

A skin professional can help identify your bumps and give you a proper treatment plan. Rodney adds that a derm can prescribe medical-strength treatments, such as chemical peel or microdermabrasion, to help unclog your pores.


Source: Mind Body Green

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