What causes acne?
The skin-care scenario: Before bed, you remove your makeup, cleanse your face, apply your skincare regimen of serums, toners, and creams, and snuggle up between the sheets to get your 8 hours of precious beauty sleep.
The next morning, you hop out of bed to discover the beginnings of a monster zit. What gives? How did that sucker pop up? It wasn’t there the night before!
Herewith I’m trying to debunk common myths about what causes blemishes, discover where whiteheads come from, and provide tips on acne solutions.
A Hairy Situation
Acne is actually a common disease of the hair follicles of the face (or chest, back, other affected body part). There is no single cause; hence, there is no universal solution. Acne can present itself as red, irritated zits, occluded pores (also referred to as “comedones”), cysts, or even boils.
The Secret Life of a Pimple
The life of a pimple begins around 2-3 weeks before it appears on the surface of the skin. It starts in your sebaceous hair follicles or pores. Deep within each follicle, your sebaceous glands work to produce sebum, the oil that keeps your skin moist and supple.
As your skin renews itself, old skin cells die and shed. Normally, these cells shed gradually, making room for fresh new skin cells. But if cells are shed unevenly, they clump together with the skin’s natural oil to form a plug within the pore-like a cork in a bottle.
This plug, or comedo, traps oil and bacteria inside the follicle and begins to swell as your skin continues its normal oil production process.
That’s when your body’s immune system kicks in, producing white blood cells to attack the bacteria – the end result is a pimple.
When it comes to zits, there is no one “cause” but many factors at play which are beyond our control, such as: How often you shed skin cells which can change throughout your life.
The amount of sebum that your skin produces which is affected by your hormone balance, which is often in flux — especially for women.
Each of these factors can vary dramatically between individuals and while you can’t control them, understanding these factors can help you find the most effective solution.
Many experts agree that there is a hereditary component to acne. Take a good look at one (or both) of your parents, and chances are, you have similar skin issues. Genetics can play a big part in the development and persistence of spots.
This is the biggest offender! For most blemish sufferers, skin problems start at puberty, when the body begins to produce hormones called androgens. These hormones cause the sebaceous glands to enlarge, which is a natural part of the body’s development. In blemish sufferers, however, the sebaceous glands are overstimulated by androgens, which can sometimes persist well into adulthood. Androgens are also responsible for flare-ups during the menstrual cycle and, for some people during pregnancy.
When the sebaceous gland is stimulated by androgens, it produces extra sebum (oil). As the sebum makes its way up the follicle towards the skin’s surface, it mixes with common skin bacteria and dead skin cells that have been shed from the lining of the follicle. While this process is normal, the presence of extra sebum in the follicle increases the chances of clogging which can cause pimples.
Dead skin cells within the follicle usually shed gradually and are dislodged onto the skin’s surface. In people with overactive sebaceous glands — (including almost everyone during puberty) — these cells are shed more rapidly. When this happens, the dead skin cells mix with the excess sebum and form a plug in the follicle, preventing the skin from finishing its natural process of renewal.
The bacteria exists in all skin types; it’s part of the skin’s natural sebum maintenance system. Once a follicle is plugged, however, acne bacteria multiply rapidly, creating the chemical reaction that results in inflammation in the follicle and surrounding skin.
When your body comes in contact with unwanted bacteria, it sends an army of white blood cells to attack the intruders. This process is called chemotaxis; or, the inflammatory response. This response is what makes pimples red, swollen and painful. The inflammatory response is different for everyone.