Acne is a word that most of us, if not all, are familiar with. We must've had this skin condition at one point.
Statistics even has it that 90% of the world's population is affected by acne at some point in life. Those people part of the 10% are certainly lucky!
If you're like me who wasn't fortunate enough to be one of the lucky few, then acne is no stranger.
Acne is often associated with puberty. But as you may already know, it can actually happen at any stage of life.
Some may get acne as a teen and have it completely disappear when they enter their late 20s.
Meanwhile, others may see no sign of it as a teen but become frustrated with the condition as they go into their adult years. Dermatologists refer to this as "adult-onset acne."
Dealing with this skin condition varies for everyone.
Some might have mild acne—just a few bumps, with the rare pus-filled ones, that go away after a while.
Some may have severe acne—from small pus-filled ones to large painful bumps called nodules and cysts.
Whatever acne's manifestation may be on your skin, it's definitely something we want to be rid of. We all want to have glowing and healthy skin, and pimples definitely do not fit this vision.
To help you with your skin care journey, we are going to learn about acne in today's post.
You'll learn what acne is by definition and what the most common acne causes are. So, you can take better care of your skin.
After all, to win the battle, you must first know your enemy. Read on beauty-soldier!
What is Acne?
Acne, specifically acne vulgaris, is a skin condition that causes pimples to develop.
It is a common, chronic, inflammatory disease of the glands that produce sebum, called sebaceous follicles or sebaceous glands.
Sebaceous follicles can be found abundantly in the face, neck, chest, upper back, and upper arms.
When these follicles get clogged, acne appears. The clog begins with dead skin cells. Typically, these cells rise to the surface above the follicles. The body then sheds the dead cells.
However, as we produce excess sebum or oil, which gives our skin its natural moisture, dead skin cells fail to surface and instead stick together to form a plug in the follicle.
With the mixture of sebum and dead skin cells, the follicles become a nice, warm, and moist place for bacteria to grow.
A usually harmless inhabitant of our skin, Cutibacterium acnes (Propionibacterium acnes) or C. acnes, especially likes this environment, multiplying very quickly.
Dead skin cells and sebum plug plus the multitude of bacteria causes the follicles to become inflamed—the red and swollen bumps on our skin characteristic of acne.
Excess Sebum + Dead Skin Cells + Acne Bacteria (C.acnes) = Acne Blemishes
Types of Acne Blemishes
To achieve brighter skin, knowing what type of blemish you are faced with help immensely. Here are the different types of blemishes from acne:
- Blackheads (open comedones) - pores are filled with debris but stays open; the air oxidizes the sebum, causing it to turn black in color, appearing as dark spots on the skin;
- Whiteheads (closed comedones) - pores are clogged but closes up; they appear as tiny bumps that appear white or flesh-colored;
- Papules (early pimples) - the medical term for the small, red, hard bumps produced by the debris clogging the pores pushing deeper into the skin;
- Pustules (pus-filled pimples) - the medical term for papule-looking blemishes containing a yellowish fluid; these appear on the skin as papules with a yellow or white colored center;
- Nodules and cysts - these are blemishes penetrating deep into the skin that leave permanent acne scars when they heal.
These types of blemishes help in categorizing the severity of acne a person may have:
- Mild Acne - You only have blackheads and whiteheads out of the five blemishes.
- Moderate Acne - Along with blackheads and whiteheads, you find yourself dealing with a sizeable number of papules and pustules.
- Severe Acne - Not only are you dealing with all of the above. You also find papules and pustules developing into into nodules and cysts.
From these categories, we have an idea which are easy to handle and which can be a challenge that is best left for professionals.
Some are destined to have acne based on genetics. As sad as that may sound, it is the truth. Genetics play a large part in acne.
Remember that acne forms as a combination of excess sebum, dead skin cells buildup, and acne bacteria.
Genetics come into play by influencing the first two items in the equation: excess sebum and dead skin cells buildup.
People can inherit several factors that affect sebum production: the amount of oil we produce; the size of our oil glands; and, the number of oil glands we have.
So, you can genetically produce excess sebum when you inherit more and bigger oil glands (sebaceous glands).
As for dead skin cells buildup, an inherited genetic condition called retention hyperkeratosis makes it so our dead skin cells fail to shed normally from the skin.
If you are still in your teenage years, hormonal activity is at its liveliest.
Sex hormones called androgens cause follicle glands to increase in size and produce more sebum. Overproduction of sebum contributes to the formation of acne.
Apart from androgens, several other hormones have been linked to acne formation.
Suffice to say, research has long found and stated that an imbalance in hormone levels could lead to acne breakouts.
As adults, women are the ones often experiencing fluctuation of hormones: during periods, pregnancy, transition into menopause, during menopause, and after discontinuing/starting birth control pills.
Less commonly, women's hormone levels may be affected by a medical problem known as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
A hormone levels test can help you assess if hormonal changes are the root of your acne.
From what we know so far, it's undeniable how overproducing sebum contributes to acne. If your skin tends to be somewhat oily, keeping all the sebum in check is a must.
Doing nothing and allowing sebum to overflow won't do your skin any favors. The sooner you can get your sebum at a balanced level, the better.
If you suspect you have oily skin, but have no idea how to handle it, check out this post. I used to have uncontrollably oily skin. Hopefully, the tips and tricks that worked for me will work for you!
Several studies have concluded that our diet impacts our skin. Our skin can benefit from or be harmed by the nutrients we get from the food we eat.
For example, a high glycemic-load diet can have varying degrees of effect on acne severity.
This type of diet involves eating food loaded with sugar, causing more frequent and severe acne.
Along with this, milk and other insulinotropic dairy products have acne-promoting effects that we must be wary of.
For better skin and overall better health, it is best practice to monitor your diet. Keep a diet journal so you can notice if pimples appear every time you consume a particular food or beverage.
External contact on our skin, whether intentional or unintentional, can contribute to acne development.
Oils in cosmetics and hair products can worsen the severity of acne as they are more likely to clog pores and irritate the skin.
Water-based or "non-comedogenic" products are less likely to worsen acne.
Overuse of soaps and astringents can also worsen acne. We think that these types of products help as they seem to control our skin's oiliness.
But in reality, these products only remove sebum from the skin surface; they do not decrease sebum production. Frequent use and aggressive scrubbing with these products will only worsen acne.
So, it's best if you observe the things you apply on your face.
Are you incorporating a new product into your skin care or makeup routine? Put it on a trial period to see if it will trigger acne breakouts.
For soaps and astringents, you're better off avoiding bar soaps in general while astringents are beneficial if used in moderation.
Dead skin cell build-up along with overproduction of sebum causes acne.
Though it's only natural for our body to shed dead skin cells, sometimes these cells can be stubborn. They cling to our skin surface and become part of the debris that fills our pores.
To promote faster skin cell turn-over, regularly exfoliating is highly recommended. This skin care step gets rid of the stubborn dead skin cells so new ones can take their place.
If you don't do this regularly and the right way, blackheads and whiteheads are just around the corner.
Check out my post on exfoliation to better understand this crucial step.
With so many things going on in our life, it is quite difficult to avoid stress. Unfortunately, researchers have found a relationship between stress and acne flare-ups.
Our bodies produce more androgens (the sex hormone mentioned above) as a response to stress.
As we've found out above, hormones and acne don't really mix peacefully. These hormones stimulate the sebaceous glands in the skin, which can lead to acne.
So, acne can be an ongoing problem when we find ourselves under constant stress.
To remedy this, avoiding stressors or learning how to deal with upcoming stress can help.
Accepting that it's okay to be stressed—it's normal and not a sign of weakness—is the first step you need to take to decrease your stress levels.
Activities that make us relaxed can vary a lot from person to person.
Internal Health Issues
Our body is smart and warns us when something isn't working the way it is supposed to.
Sometimes, stubborn skin problems could be giving you a sign that some of your organs are not functioning as they are supposed to.
When you find yourself frustrated in all your efforts and your acne getting worse by the second, it is best to consult a dermatologist. Doing so will help you avoid lasting damage to your skin.
What Can You Do About Acne?
Acne is a condition that we all have to battle with at some point in our lives.
If you find yourself at a certain point where acne is your enemy, always remember: to win the battle, you must first know your enemy.
With how prevalent acne is in the world population, you will find it difficult to run out of sources of information on how to battle this crafty condition.
The good news is that the widespread existence of acne is expected to decline in the coming years until 2026.
While it's still here for us to combat, let's help each other out. Do you know of other common acne causes not mentioned in this post? Tell us in the comments below.
Do you have friends that will benefit from knowing all this information on acne? Don't forget to share this post with them.
Stay tuned and take skin care