Everyone knows what zits and pimples are. We’ve come to an agreement that it’s just a part of puberty and growing up, right? Wrong. Acne, the formal term, has a science behind it and there are several factors that cause the evolution of the dreaded pimple.
What’s the cause?
First off, know that acne blemishes begin approximately 2 weeks before it actually becomes visible. It is a long process that starts in your pores. Our skin is quite regenerative—new cells replace the old ones and that’s how skin maintains itself. However, everyone’s regeneration process is different—you might shed cells evenly or unevenly. Uneven shedding causes dead cells to become sticky clumps, which eventually will form a plug. This plug traps oil and bacteria inside the pore. The pore then begins to swell which causes white blood cells to swarm around it and attack the bacteria. Lo and behold, the dreaded pimple.
There are several categories of acne, as listed below:
- Whiteheads: the small whitish bumps. They are caused by an accumulation of oils that plugs your skin’s follicles, creating lesions. The lesions turn into whiteheads as these clogged areas are not exposed to air.
- Blackheads: the small black bumps, typically on your nose or T-zone. They are caused by too much oil that somehow becomes exposed to air, which turns the bumps black. Blackheads are not caused by dirt, which is a common misconception.
- Papules: a fancy name for an inflamed whitehead. They are small, firm cone-shaped, and pink in color. They don’t contain any pus so you should never try to pop them.
- Pustules: like papules, these are small, round lesions. They are red in color with yellowish or whitish centers, caused by pus. They are usually inflamed, which is a result of chemical irritation from free fatty acids. Most of us are very tempted to pop these types of pimples—but don’t do it! You will most likely end up with a permanent scar. If you have a particularly bothersome pustule, see your dermatologist to have it expressed properly.
- Conglobata: these are uncommon but severe acne that affects your back, buttocks, chest, shoulders, upper arms, thighs, and even face. These are a combination of pustules and nodules, as well as bacterial infections. The cause of these is unknown, but it often develops if there exists acne or dormant acne that suddenly resurfaces.
- Nodules and Cysts: Nodules are very inflamed and painful because they lodge deep within the skin. Cysts are softer, pus-filled lesions that are also deep inside your skin.Both of these forms of acne could last for weeks or even months. Nodular acne can develop into cysts, although not always. If left untreated, they are likely to cause scarring. Nodular and cystic acne is most common in teenage boys and young men, although they can affect anyone. They are often genetically caused.
Treatment & Prevention
The key to successful acne treatment is giving it time to work. There are no overnight cures, and acne doesn’t just go away. There are several types of treatment including benzoyl peroxide, tetracycline, tretinoin (or Retin-A), isotretinoin, laser treatment and herbal remedies. Because your body and skin is unique to you, you need to test several treatments to see what works for you. Don’t be fooled by brand names, but instead, make sure you know what the active ingredients are in each product. Research is very important in identifying and treating acne.
Preventing acne is definitely easier than treating it. As long as you understand your skin and what causes acne, you can easily prevent it from happening. Be consistent in managing good hygiene and take note of outside factors such as the weather, your diet, and stress level. Acne prevention can be a very part of your daily routine.