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What Causes Acne and How Can it be Treated?

What Causes Acne and How Can it be Treated?

Posted by Dr. Hannah Sivak with Brendan Leonard on Jun 15th 2021

Bummed Out By Acne

Acne is a bummer, let’s face it.

We could talk about how it’s a teenage problem that you age out of, that it’s a rite of passage, but we all know that’s just not true.

Acne is an incredibly prevalent skin concern that affects almost everyone at some point in their lives. But when it affects someone and to what degree, is distributed unevenly, and it can be a challenge that leaves scars on both the body, mind and heart of the person that must endure it.

Now, we don’t want to get too melodramatic here, but anyone who's been snickered at in the hallway, called names by peers, had a meltdown before a job interview or spent a date wondering if their face was visible behind a huge-feeling pimple knows what we are talking about. The point is that this is a problem that is incredibly common and so it’s important to address and understand this challenge for everyone.

So why does acne happen? And when it does happen, what can we do about it?

The Root Causes of Acne

When we say, “root causes” it’s not supposed to be a pun, but it ends up being one, sort of.

Acne starts when dead skin cells and excess oil collect in an open pore and become trapped. 

Your skin sheds dead cells, all day, every day. Dead cells slough off, undetected by you and let’s face it, they have to go somewhere. These microscopic particles move across the top of your skin and sometimes fall into an open pore where they will influence present hair follicles and sebaceous glands. This is just a fact of life, and for the most part it is happening without you really noticing it.

The same is true of oil production. Oil production is actually a good thing, your skin needs oil to be healthy, flexible and strong. There may be this idea of “normal” oil production as a way to describe “not too much” oil production, but the fact of it is that the oil production that is normal to you, may be different from what the person standing next to you experiences, and will most definitely change many times over the course of your life.

When you are a teenager, your body over-produces oil and this can lead to problems with acne. But When you are older, your skin will start to become dryer and more brittle, and you may just live to see the day when you miss the natural oil production of your skin. 

The dead skin cells and oil production combine, perhaps with external pollutants as common as dirt and carbon vapors to clog pores. Sometimes bacteria subsequently enters the clogged pore and begins to feed on this somewhat revolting blend. The most common bacteria is propionibacterium acnes, or P. acnes for short.

The common result of this bacteria growing in your pores is: redness, sensations of irritation and pain, swelling and the production of pus that forms a whitehead, or a pimple as we call it. Pus, as gross as it is to behold, is created as a natural response by the body to the presence of the bacteria. This is what we call an infection.

That uneven, uncomfortable, red blemish is now a pimple, a zit, acne or whatever you want to call it. Whatever it is, it’s a problem, and it carries a lot of social stigma. Let’s explore further.

Common Acne Triggers

So, outside of being a teenager, what are some of the common triggers of acne?

Hormonal Changes - Really, this is why teenagers suffer from acne to begin with. But your hormones don’t stop changing after you turn twenty. The process of hormone change will continue as you age, sometimes leading to periods when you have more acne than others. 

Medications - Some medications will cause acne flare ups, especially those that, surprise, affect your hormonal balance, particularly testosterone. As with all warnings on this page, please listen to your doctor’s advice about your ongoing health. Don’t discontinue medications due to an acne flare-up without first consulting your primary care physician.

Food Groups - Some studies suggest that eating an abundance of carbohydrate-dense foods may trigger acne. Foods such as bread, bagels and snack chips have all all been cited, but this information is under continual review and cannot yet be considered “hard science” for the purposes of acne prevention.

Stress - Stress sits on the border between acne fact and acne myth. While stress does not trigger acne, stress can definitely increase the occurrence of acne. This is because stressors divert immune system energies to other areas of the body, leaving the relatively low-priority and small infections of acne cysts to flourish. 

Acne Myths 

Myths about the source, and ways to treat, acne are very common. They make their rounds when we are very young and impressionable and the “facts” that we learn at these young ages can stick with us and influence our behavior well into our adult lives. Let’s debunk some of these classic myths together.

Chocolate - This super-common myth probably segues pretty well with the fact/myth of stress. Here’s the thing: there is no scientific link between chocolate and acne, and there’s no scientific link between sugar and acne. There is a link between stress and acne, and what do we do when we are stressed out? Well, many of us have the bad habit of eating our emotions. So it’s very easy to find a false correlation between the consumption of chocolate (or sweets) and acne. But it’s just not there. Enjoy your reasonable, moderate, guilt free, chocolate consumption. And also try not to eat your feelings, that’s not good for you either.

Greasy Food - Much like chocolate, this is another folk tale that gets passed around from older brother to younger, from mother to daughter, friend to friend. Grease, as we will see below does have a role to play in exacerbating acne, that’s for reals, but just eating greasy food isn’t going to give you pimples if you don’t have them, or give you more if you already do. The warning against burying our feelings under junk food stands here too.

Cosmetics - This is one of those myth/fact fence sitters. You can definitely cause some acne with make-up and you can certainly worsen it. But you don’t have to. This all comes down to how you take care of your pores and our old friend, oil. Oil based products are going to cause more problems than others and of course, keeping your pores clear and cleansed is the key.

Repercussions of Acne

Acne is not just kid stuff. The experiences that acne molds can last a lifetime.

Social Stigma - Acne hits most people at a time in their lives when they are trying to figure stuff out. For people who suffer from severe or very severe acne during this time, the social stigma can be devastating. Constant instagram-manicured-selfie-culture hasn’t done any wonders for people’s expectations of themselves or what they should look or feel like, and it’s a poverty all around. A lot of people who struggle with acne later in life can feel held back by what is perceived as a “kid’s problem”. No matter how you cut it, on top of making your skin uncomfortable, acne makes the problem of feeling yourself uncomfortable.

Scarring - The stronger the acne, the more potential for scars. As diligent as you might be in taking care of your breakouts, if the lesions are large enough, or run deep enough, you can carry the scars of your brush with acne for the rest of your life. This can lead to problems with scarred skin later in life, but it also means that you have to do your best at prevention before problems start. It’s a thorny path, but Skin Actives Scientific has ways to help.

Hyperpigmentation - The bugbear of scarring overshadows it’s cousin, hyperpigmentation. When acne recedes it can leave a ghostly imprint of where it was found. This can be unsightly, and even though others will probably overlook it, when you look in the mirror, you won’t. 

Additional Behaviors in the Proliferation of Acne 

If that was all we had to worry about, it would be plenty. But still there is more. We’ve spent some time talking about myths and unavoidable realities, but what are some behaviors that can exacerbate acne?

External Grease - Okay, this point is about grease that is different from what you consume or the oil on your face. When we described how acne works, it should be very clear that it takes a physical obstruction and food that bacteria can feed on. Now grease that comes from outside sources and gets into your pores can do the trick. This is why maybe greasy food is not 100% in the clear, so to speak. The grease that gets around the corners of your mouth, or that you inadvertently wipe across your face, can lead to more acne, so beware of that. But again, washing your hands, washing your face, and keeping clear of oils on your hands and skin will go a long way toward prevention.

Skin Agitation - External pressure rubbing against your skin over the course of the day can lead to an increase in acne. If you think about it, and where this most commonly occurs, it’s a no-brainer. Hats on foreheads, masks on faces and racerback tanks across the upper back are all places where acne is trying to form naturally anyway. With the pressure of cloth disrupting dead skin cells and pressing down for a prolonged period of time into sweat and oil, you’re going to see more acne there. But you should avoid agitating any part of your skin that is struggling with acne, whether you are wearing a cute accessory there or not because you don’t want to encourage the clogging of pores.

Skin Actives and Acne

In the struggle against acne, Skin Actives is always looking to help you.

This week we’re happy to present our brand new Ultra Clarifying Blemish Oil. This overnight spot treatment is designed to confront acne where it begins: in your pores.

Why Oil?

We just spent an entire article talking about oil control, why oil?

  • Our oil works by simultaneously discouraging the growth of bacteria and killing bacteria that is already there with Rosehip Seed Oil and Linseed Oil
  • Salicylic Acid helps keep pores open and breathing, preventing the blockages that provide the fertile ground for bacterial infection to feed and grow. 
  • The Bisabolol in Ultra Clarifying Blemish Oil helps to reduce inflammation which is good for your pore health. 
  • Meanwhile, Vitamin A protects the skin barrier, perfect for sensitive skin.
  • FINALLY, a blend of great antioxidants keep whatever lipids that are in your pores from oxidizing and creating a blockage.

Use Ultra Clarifying Blemish Oil in the evening after you’ve cleansed before bed. A small dab of oil on the affected area is all you need to reduce inflammation and battle bacteria while you sleep. You can use a small amount of Ultra Clarifying Blemish Oil every day, or as a quick treatment when you feel like you need it.

A couple things you should be aware of: 

The presence of Vitamin A in the formulation increases photosensitivity so it must be used exclusively at night. Wearing a nice, light SPF face cream or sunscreen during the day is also recommended.

Additionally, if you have an allergy to aspirin, you should not use Ultra Clarifying Blemish Oil.

We hope that you’ll give our brand new oil a try and see some success, Skin Actives Family! Try one today and if you see change in a positive direction, leave us a positive review! Check out our Flawless Line of blemish control products for even more solutions to your skin care challenges.