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6 skin conditions that look like acne but aren't

"When's Sara's not writing you can find her hanging out with teenagers at her day job as a counselor and with her own son and daughter. With a B.S. in Exercise Science and a M. Ed. in counseling, she enjoys writing about health, wellness...

Turns out, you might not have acne after all

How many times have you woken up, looked in the mirror and thought, “What invaded my face overnight?”

In a desperate attempt to erase any signs of the annoying red spots, you immediately reach for the fast-acting acne treatment and start rubbing away, only to be disappointed when that strange-looking pimple or rash is still staring back at you the next day.

Sound familiar?

There are many skin conditions that mimic acne, but are actually something else. A good indicator that the skin condition you are dealing with is not just acne is if the areas of irritation are still present after several acne treatments.

Trust me, I should know. After growing up with severe acne and trying every treatment available, my skin is now very sensitive to any irritants. There are many mornings I wake up to find strange splotches on my cheeks and neck that resemble acne but are actually an allergic reaction to some kind of product I was exposed to.

And not to mention my daughter, who has unfortunately inherited my sensitive skin. She has dealt with eczema, keratosis pilaris and now psoriasis. It seems like I’m always Googling some kind of picture or symptom in an attempt to diagnose and treat what is ailing her.

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What I’ve come to realize is that it can be very difficult to know for sure what skin condition is lurking. That’s why accurate identification is crucial for helping people decide when they need to seek medical attention for the appropriate diagnosis and treatment.

If you’re wondering what that stubborn rash or cluster of pimples is, read on to find out some of the more common skin conditions that resemble acne.

1. Psoriasis

Psoriasis is a chronic inflammatory disease of the immune system that starts under the skin. It's characterized by skin cells that multiply up to 10 times faster than normal. As underlying cells reach the skin's surface and die, their sheer volume causes raised red patches of skin covered with white scales.

It mostly affects the skin and joints, but it also may affect the fingernails, the toenails, the soft tissues of the genitals and the inside of the mouth. The most common variety of this condition is plaque psoriasis, and it produces lesions on the scalp, knees, elbows and lower back that can be itchy and painful after they bleed and crack.

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2. Rosacea

This is the most common and well-known of all skin conditions misdiagnosed as acne. Rosacea causes small red or pus-filled bumps to develop on the skin and leaves the face with the appearance of a chronic flush and persistent redness across the cheeks, nose, forehead and chin. Those suffering from rosacea also describe a burning sensation associated with the bumps and redness and swelling in the eyes and eyelids.

3. Allergic reaction

Skin allergies to external irritants can also cause spots, but are not actually acne. Allergic reactions to things such as foods, medications and skin products can produce a pimple-like rash that can easily be confused for acne. The most telling sign that what you are experiencing is not acne, but rather allergies, is severe itching that usually accompanies red scaly patches.

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4. Ingrown hairs

Ingrown hairs are hairs that have curled around and grown back into your skin instead of rising up from it. They are easily mistaken for common acne because they form like a pimple and can have pus inside of them, but unlike acne, they are itchy and tend to go away without any treatment (unless it becomes infected).

5. Folliculitis

When ingrown hairs become infected or inflamed, the condition turns into folliculitis, which may be caused by bacteria, yeast or other types of fungus. Folliculitis usually looks like red pimples with a hair in the center of each one. The pimples may have pus in them, and they may itch or burn. When the pimples break open, they may drain pus, blood or both.

6. Basal cell carcinoma

Basal cell carcinomas are abnormal, uncontrolled growths or lesions that arise in the skin’s basal cells, which line the deepest layer of the epidermis (the outermost layer of the skin). It often looks like open sores, red patches, pink growths, shiny bumps or scars and are usually caused by sun exposure.

Taking a wait-and-see approach with this type of bump or sore is not a good idea. If you have a big pimple that has not responded to OTC treatments and refuses to go away, it is best to see your physician as soon as possible.

Turns out, you might not have acne after all
Image: Tiffany Egbert/SheKnows

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