Understanding acne: the life cycle of a pimple

Whether it’s just a few spots or a full-on breakout, acne can really affect your confidence. Understanding what causes acne can help you care for your skin and even prevent those breakouts. Let’s start with how a pimple forms.

Your skin’s surface is covered by tiny openings called pores that contain oil glands and hair follicles. A pore’s job is to release oil to keep your skin moisturised. Pimples start when oil glands produce too much oil and dead skin cells start to build up inside your pores, forming a plug that blocks the normal release of oil and causing what’s called microcomedones to develop. This triggers even more build-up to occur, so those microcomedones grow bigger to become comedones – what we would call a whitehead (or pimple) or a blackhead.

We all have a certain type of bacteria that lives on our skin that feeds on the oil in our pores – this is perfectly normal and doesn’t usually cause any problems. However, in people with acne, the excess oil production and pimple formation provides a perfect environment for these bacteria to multiply. As the bacteria grows, it can cause inflammation, triggering an immune response and formation of red, swollen, and pus-filled acne in the surrounding skin – ouch!

What causes acne?

So if pimples and acne are the end result, what triggers all the excess oil production and build-up that clogs pores? And are there things that we do that can make acne worse?

Your hormones

The key driver of acne is changing hormones, with the biggest culprit the production of sex hormones that begins at puberty. This is why hormonal acne is most common in teenagers and young adults – affecting up to 95% of teenage boys and up to 85% of teenage girls. These sex hormones affect the skin’s pores in two ways: first, they cause the oil glands to produce too much oil; second, they cause the cells lining the pores to thicken, so dead skin cells build-up and block the pores, rather than falling away as they normally would.

For many teenage girls and women, hormones strike again to cause a flare-up of acne just before or at the start of their period.

Acne can sometimes run in families (thanks Mum and Dad), because genetics can play a role in how oily your skin is.

What you do to your face

The type of make-up and other skin and hair products you use may be causing acne or making it worse. So it’s best to avoid oil-based or greasy products if you have acne-prone skin.

Did you know that face masks on acne-prone skin can sometimes trigger acne or make acne worse? Yes, face maskne is real! It’s thought to result from a combination of the rubbing, heat, and humidity that develops when you wear a close-fitting mask, which can irritate your pores and increase the acne-causing bacteria on your skin. Given that masks are now just part of everyday life, it’s important to take extra good care of your skin to help manage and prevent face maskne outbreaks. Maintain a good skin care routine by washing your face with a mild, soap-free cleanser every day, and apply a light, oil-free moisturiser to help protect your skin before you pop your mask on. Finding a comfortable mask that fits well – not too tight – can help reduce rubbing and remember to give your face a break from the mask regularly when it is appropriate to do so.

What you eat and drink

Some medications or supplements can cause acne, while smoking and being overweight are also associated with acne.

Your environment

Our environment can also affect our skin, with air pollution in cities as well as heat, humidity, and sun exposure all linked to acne outbreaks or flare-ups.

What about stress acne? Some studies suggest that stress and other emotional upheaval may cause or worsen acne because of changes in hormone levels when we get stressed or anxious.

How to care for skin with acne?

The biggest piece of advice for people with acne is to avoid pimple popping at all costs! Squeezing or picking at pimples can cause irritation and spread bacteria, but also lead to worse scarring in the long run – so resist the urge to pop and squeeze.

Your acne doesn’t define you, so explore the range of ACNE-AID everyday solutions that work effectively to help manage acne problems – allowing you to be your confident self.