subclinical acne

What is that rough patch on your face? You may have subclinical acne.

Quick Notes:

  • Subclinical acne is not a sign of bad hygiene

  • Chronic subclinical acne can be treated by a dermatologist

Subclinical acne may be unsightly, but it is not a sign of bad hygiene or a skin infection. Although it can be a precursor to regular acne, this pesky form of acne is common in people of all ages. Fortunately, it is extremely treatable with home remedies or medication.

What is subclinical acne?

Subclinical acne does not cause visible red pimples above the surface of the skin or pain, but it can cause blackheads. This type of acne is noticeable because it causes bumps underneath the surface of the skin.

The palpable bumps appear to be the same color as the rest of the skin, and they can appear as individual bumps or patches. These visible bumps make the skin look rough, and some of the bumps form into blackheads.


Subclinical acne is caused by pores beneath the surface of the skin clogged by dirt and oil. When a pore is clogged, it swells and pokes into the layer of skin above. Although the pore swells, it is not infected or inflamed.

If there is enough oil and dirt in a pore, a blackhead will rise above the surface of the skin. Blackheads are simply oil that has been exposed to the air. If left untreated for a long period, subclinical acne can become infected and progress to more common forms of acne that result in painful pimples above the surface of the skin.

How to treat it

Excess oil underneath the skin is the main culprit for this type of acne, so long-term treatment and prevention can be as simple as removing oil from the skin. There are some factors that predispose a person to have oily skin, making them more susceptible to subclinical acne.

During puberty, hormones lead to oilier skin on the face of a teenager. Subclinical acne is the reason that many teenagers who formerly had smooth skin start to develop a very rough appearance on their faces. Genetics also make some people’s faces excessively oily, and these people are likely to struggle with subclinical acne.

Subclinical acne is an oil buildup beneath the skin, so, contrary to popular belief, it has nothing to do with the frequency with which someone washes his or her face. Washing a face will not get rid of a current flare up of subclinical acne, but a regular routine of washing one’s face can be helpful in prevention. If there is less oil and dirt sitting on the surface of the skin, it is less likely that dirt will be absorbed into the pores.

A person who frequently struggles with subclinical acne would benefit to consider the oiliness of the cleansers and creams that are used on the face. Sometimes people use heavy body lotions to moisturize their faces, but gentle, more watery facial lotions should be used. Beyond taking a few common-sense measures, there is very little a person can do at home to treat subclinical acne.

Try over-the-counter subclinical acne mediations. These can be found in any drug store. If these medications do not work, consider visiting a licensed dermatologist. The dermatologist will be able to determine the specific reasons why a person continues to get subclinical acne and can prescribe effective prescription medication.

Visiting a licensed esthetician to perform facial extractions can get rid of subclinical acne in the short term. The esthetician will identify clogged pores and use an extraction tool to put pressure on the surface of the skin causing all of the oily matter that is clogging the pore to pop up onto the surface of the skin. Although the pressure can be felt, this process is not painful.

It is important to go to a professional, licensed esthetician who follows cleanliness standards. Dirty tools, dirty hands, or a dirty office can lead to further infections.

Subclinical acne is very normal and very treatable. It does not hurt, and it can be effectively managed.

A deeper dive — Related reading from the 101:

5 Skin Infections You Can Pick Up At The Gym- And How To Avoid Them | Living 101

Protect yourself from the infection breeding ground we lovingly call the gym.

These Unlikely Habits Are Causing Your Skin To Suffer | Living 101

Could your hygiene routine be hurting your skin?