Setting the record straight about acne

There is likely no skincare topic that&rsquo;s talked about more than acne. Both painful and unpleasant, most everyone has experienced some form of acne in their life &mdash; some are more acquainted with it than others. Despite acne being so widespread, there is a plethora of old wives&rsquo; tales and misinformation spread about what acne is, what causes it, and how to treat it. Let&rsquo;s set the record straight.</p>

To do that, let’s go back to the anatomy of our skin. Acne occurs when the hair follicles — the shaft inside your skin that houses the part of your hair strand that is still alive — become blocked. Hair follicles go deep into your skin, deeper than the epidermis. They are housed in the dermis. Attached to them, you’ll find sweat glands and sebaceous glands.

Sebaceous glands produce an oily liquid, called sebum, which coat the hair and the skin. This sebum travels up the length of the hair follicle to the top of your skin and is deposited there. Fun fact, the common term for hair follicles on your face are pores. Less fun fact, there’s no proven way to make them smaller. 

Usually pores have a way of cleaning themselves out. When that process is inhibited, say by an overproduction of oil or an excess of dead skin cells on your stratum corneum, there is a blockage of the pore. Sebum will continue to be produced and will push into the blockage. This provides an ideal environment for bacteria to reproduce, which the immune system will then attack creating an area filled with pus. 

There are many different names for the manifestations of acne. Blackheads (open comedones), whiteheads (closed comedones), papules, pustules (supersized papules), and cysts are all different manifestations of acne.

Blackheads are raised pimples with a black tip, and this black tip is the clogged portion of the pore oxidizing. Whiteheads typically are not swollen or red, but are hard and white. Papules are more or less the regular type of pimple: swollen, red, and painful, and they feature a white top that spouts out pus. Pustules are papules, but on a larger scale. Cysts are in their own league, and don’t tend to look like the other forms of acne, yet the inflammation is rooted deeper in the sebaceous gland as opposed to simply on the surface.

Try not to pop these pimples, as the bacteria-filled pus can spread and infect other hair follicles.

Fortunately, there are many skincare ingredients that can be useful in combatting acne without popping pimples.

Salicylic acid

Salicylic acid is a chemical exfoliant that works by seeping into hair follicles and essentially ungluing the cells around the hair that can cause blockages. Salicylic acid also has the benefit of being anti-inflammatory. Aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) can be metabolized by the body into salicylic acid. For this reason, consult a doctor before using salicylic acid should you have an allergy to Aspirin.  Salicylic acid is often found in concentrations between 0.5 per cent and two per cent and is most effective at a pH of three to four. Products with salicylic acid work best when they stay on your skin for longer periods of time, so having it in a cleanser is not as effective.

Benzoyl peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide functions as a bacteria killer. It is often found in concentrations between 2.5 per cent and 10 per cent. It can irritate skin and may also bleach towels and clothes.

Tea tree oil

Tea tree oil has been a popular ingredient in skincare lately. Tea tree oil is said to work as an antimicrobial agent similar to benzoyl peroxide. A study in the Medical Journal of Australia found that a five per cent concentrate of tea tree oil was as effective as a five per cent concentrate of benzoyl peroxide. Finding a product with this five per cent concentrate might be challenging. Like all essential oils, however, tea tree oil must not be applied to skin in its undiluted form, as it can be poisonous, especially when swallowed.

Hydrocolloid bandages

These bandages draw out liquid from the skin they are applied to and are often used on wounds. Often these bandages are targeted towards blister care. Certain brands make smaller versions for acne. Try applying these spot bandages to acne pimples that are already spurting out pus. They have the added benefit of stopping you from picking at your pimples.


Please note that this article does not constitute medical advice. Consult a medical doctor for healthcare issues.


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