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Acne vs Molluscum Contagiosum:
What’s the Difference?

How to differentiate acne from molluscum contagiosum,
a viral infection of the skin, also known as water warts

Notice a few red, swollen bumps on your face or anywhere else on your skin? At first glance, it may look like they fit the description of all sorts of skin problems. This may cause some worry on your part, but if you load up on the correct information and enlist the guidance of a dermatologist you can trust, there really won’t be anything you can’t fix!

A woman with a red skin rash on her face
When you suffer form a red skin rash condition, consult with your dermatologist
to determine whether your skin condition is acne or something else. (Image: Pixabay)

Of the skin conditions that produce these red swollen bumps, people confuse these two quite often: acne and molluscum contagiosum. Most people know what acne looks like, and perhaps that is the source of the confusion. The truth is, there are a few skin diseases that produce bumps that look like pimples from a distance but are actually not. One of which is molluscum contagiosum.

If you are interested to know the difference in the risk factors, characteristics, diagnosis, and treatment of molluscum contagiosum versus that of acne, read on.

Basic Definition

Acne

Your pores are the tiny openings on your skin where oil and sweat reach the surface. It’s important to note that the usual usage of “pores” in everyday conversation refers to oil pores – pores that can be large enough to be seen, especially on the face. Acne is a disorder of the pore. Typically, pores can naturally get rid of oil, dead skin cells, and other unwanted particles on your skin. When these don’t get cleared out, they get stuck in the hair follicle, and later, acne develops.

Molluscum Contagiosum

Molluscum contagiosum, on the other hand, is not caused by the build-up of gunk on your pores. It is caused by a virus of the same name. The molluscum contagiosum virus is a poxvirus. Compared to acne, this skin infection is contagious, which is a common occurence in infections caused by poxviruses.

Risk Factors

Acne

The most common risk factor for acne is hormonal changes. As individuals mature into puberty, their bodies have to, ideally, produce a good balance of testosterone and estrogen (this depends on their sex.) But during puberty, these hormonal fluctuations can trigger an increase in the production of sebum, or the natural oil your body produces to keep your skin from becoming too dry. An excess in sebum will lead to pimple formation, and eventually, when that happens chronically, acne. Other periods in life that cause hormonal fluctuations, such as pregnancy or menopause, may also cause acne.

Other risk factors for acne include medication, a diet that includes excessive amounts of sugars and carbohydrates, or even genetics.

Molluscum Contagiosum

If acne is a result of physical processes going awry, molluscum contagiosum is more “external” in its behaviour. It is a result of direct contact with someone who has it or an object that has the virus on its surface.

Children may acquire it by playing with other children. Those who have weak immune systems or suffer from atopic dermatitis may be more susceptible to the virus. Sexually active people may acquire it just by direct skin-to-skin contact (it is not strictly a sexually transmitted disease in the full sense of the term, but sexual acts do allow for it to be transmitted.) Those who participate in sports where skin-to-skin contact is involved can also be infected.

Molluscum contagiosum or water warts skin condition
Molluscum contagiosum skin condition is also called water warts, caused by
poxyviruses, which builds up gunk on your skin pores. (Image by Wiki)

Characteristics

Acne

Acne may appear on the face, chest, and back. It is characterised by:

Comedones: whiteheads or blackheads

Papules: type of pimples that are small, red bumps

Pustules: type of pimples that are pus-filled lesions

Nodules: type of pimples that are large, painful lesions that run deep in the skin

Cysts: type of pimples that are painful, pus-filled lesions that run deep in the skin and later causes acne scars

Molluscum Contagiosum

If you take a closer look, molluscum contagiosum looks significantly different than pimples. Molluscum contagiosum lesions are clusters of pink, round or dome-shaped papules that have a pearly or waxy surface. Some may be umbilicated, meaning they have a depression in the middle that resembles a navel. They are usually 2 to 5 millimeters in diameter. These lesions are not commonly painful, but they can become inflamed or itchy once treatment starts.

Diagnosis

Acne

A dermatologist can easily spot and diagnose acne upon an examination of your skin. Acne can easily be spotted; however, only a professional can confirm the severity of the problem. Mild acne can often be treated at home or through over-the-counter topical medication, while those with moderate to severe cases may need oral medication. Still, it is a good idea to see a doctor, since every situation is unique to the individual, and the last thing you want is for your acne to worsen.

Molluscum Contagiosum

Similarly, a doctor may diagnose molluscum contagiosum just from a simple visual check. Some may take a scraping from the skin surface and run it under the microscope to confirm and possibly rule out other infections.

A woman receiving skin treatment on her face
While molluscum congiosum lesions will disappear on their own, in severe cases
(as is the case with acne), it might require laser or other skin treatment.
(Image by Polina Tankilevitch, via Pexels)

Treatment

Acne

As mentioned above, acne treatment depends on the severity. Mild acne can be managed with topical medication, while severe cases may need medication prescribed by the doctor. Examples are antibiotics, isotretinoin, or even birth control pills. Those who want a higher level of treatment may opt for noninvasive procedures like drainage and extraction, laser therapy, microdermabrasion, and more – of course, these have to be run by your doctor first.

Molluscum Contagiosum

Most of the time, lesions will disappear on their own, so molluscum contagiosum treatment may be unnecessary (except for other possible occurrences like itch, which may require itch relief topical creams or even home remedies like tea tree oil.) The infected person just has to stay at home and avoid contact with others while their body is fighting the virus. In other cases, especially more severe cases, you could avail of cryotherapy, laser therapy, curettage, or topical therapy.

   Acne Causes, Prevention and Treatments
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Acne Laser Treatment
Acne Prevention Tips
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Acne Scars Treatment
Acne Scars Treatment
Acne vs Molluscum Contagiosum
Acne vs Molluscum Contagiosum
Adult Acne Condition
Adult Acne Condition
Adult Acne Effects
Adult Acne Effects
Cause of Acne Breakouts
Cause of Acne Breakouts
Common Acne Myths
Common Acne Myths
How to Treat Acne Scars
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Over the Counter Acne Products
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