By Tabitha Barrett

Trying to tell the difference between acne and an abscess can be confusing, especially when the dermatologist uses the words interchangeably. However, differences and similarities do exist between the two.

Boy popping pimple
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An abscess is a general term for any lump or swelling filled with pus, and it can occur anywhere on the body. Acne is a specific type of abscess that most often occurs on the face, shoulders, chest and back.


Pain, swelling, redness and even a fever can accompany an abscess. Acne can be as mild as a few red dots, or it can be as severe as red, swollen cysts.

Common Causes

Abscesses are commonly caused by a bacterial infection or an insect bite. Acne is caused by an excess production of sebum, or facial oil, which then combines with dirt and dead skin cells to form plugs that get stuck under the skin. The pus in an acne abscess is formed by white blood cells that come to attack the plug that has invaded the skin.

Abscess Treatments

An abscess can be treated with antibiotics and pain medications. Sometimes surgical drainage is necessary, where a surgeon needs to cut into the abscess to drain the pus to relieve the swelling, pressure and pain.

Acne Treatments

Acne can be treated with topical solutions, oral antibiotics and homeopathic remedies. Draining the pus in an acne abscess, however, can cause scarring and further infection.