No, It's Not Acne: 5 Things That Might Be Wrong with Your Skin

It's time to treat the real problem.

Girl laying on her back with sweater pulled up over her nose.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Can't seem to get your breakouts and redness to go away? Have you tried *everything* to get rid of your acne problem? You could be on the losing end of the battle—confusing another skin condition for an acne breakout. "A lot of these skin issues get confused with acne. A good clue that these skin conditions are not just acne is if they are still present after acne treatments," says celebrity dermatologist and acne expert, Dr. Whitney Bowe. "If it is acne it most likely will clear up if you're regularly using an anti-inflammatory treatment like Dapsone Gel (AKA Aczone), but it won't do the trick when it comes to imposters."

Perioral Dermatitis

"This can look like acne bumps, but they usually occur around the eyes, the nose, and the mouth," warns Dr. Bowe. The biggest indicator that this is your problem is that while you'll feel bumps, you won't ever see any whiteheads or blackheads. "The exact cause is unknown, but there are cases linked to use of steroids on the face," says Dr. Bowe. "So try not to use steroid creams (like cortisone) on the face for more than three days at a time. If you use these creams for longer than that, then the likelihood of developing perioral dermatitis goes up significantly! Once you get these bumps they last for months." If this is your problem, see a dermatologist for treatment.


Basically, rosacea is a condition that causes redness and often small, red, pus-filled bumps on the face. These can show up on your cheeks chin and nose and one of the main issues is a breakdown in skin barrier function. Skin may no longer be able to trap moisture, leading to dryness and itchiness. Cool, skin. Cool. To treat, avoid rosacea "triggers" like hot baths and spicy foods, and see a dermatologist to prescribe a daily regimen to combat the flare-ups.

Pityrosporum Folliculitis

"This condition resembles acne bumps on the chest and back and happens when yeast living on the skin gets down into the hair follicles—the catch is you may see pustules, but you won't see any blackheads," says Dr. Bowe. "It can be especially itchy. A biopsy would show fungus or yeast on the skin, and an anti-fungal cream will work well. Selenium sulfied (AKA Selsum Blue Shampoo) can also be very helpful."

Tinea Versicolor

Do you get patches of skin that look darker or lighter? Do you think it's a breakout thanks to your swimsuit because it seems to only happen in summer months? Congrats, you probably have tinea versicolor, another condition that can be credited to yeast overload. "You'll notice it more in the summer because the affected skin can't tan," says Dr. Bowe. She recommends treating with Head & Shoulders shampoo or Selsum Blue—but if that doesn't work, you need to see a derm.

Xerosis Cutis

If you're a fan of super hot showers or baths, or tend to over-scrub, you could be a sufferer of this condition, which is essentially over-dry skin. "It often affects those living in drier climates or that have less natural oil production," Arizona-based dermatologist and Mohs surgeon Dr. Jennifer Linder says. "Some symptoms include cracking, itchy, and dry skin that can be raised or flaky." To treat, moisturizers with lactic acid can be quite effective. (Try: PCA Skin Body Therapy, $56)

Samantha Leal
Samantha Leal

I'm Sam, the senior editor at I love shining a light on awesome people doing things that matter, cool products and hacks for everyday life, and advice you'll actually use. I'm pretty much always looking for the perfect GIF for any situation. When I'm not trolling the internet, I can be found dancing like a weirdo or napping like it's my job. Right now, I'm probably eating or drinking something filled with sugar or booze. (Sorry, mom.)