What is Acne?


First of all, what is acne?

From blackheads and pimples, to cysts and whiteheads — acne is a spectrum. People often think that it’s a normal part of life, especially when you’re a teenager, but acne is actually a chronic disease that happens deep within the pore.

It also goes by the name of Acne Vulgaris, which sounds slightly scarier, but there’s no need to feel intimidated. Below, we’ll walk you through the ins and outs of this condition and where it comes from.

Do you have acne?

Acne is almost always associated with those awkward puberty years. But while they’re certainly the majority, this doesn’t mean that your skin magically clears up once you hit adulthood.

You’d be surprised how acne can continue well into your 20s, 30s, or even 40s. Yes, even when you’re set on creating a solid anti-aging routine, blemishes could still be a serious concern. Some even experience acne for the first time in their adult years — an occurrence called adult-onset acne.

What causes acne?

Acne = Dead skin + oil (sebum) + bacteria + inflammation

Acne begins when pores clog up with dead skin cells. Usually, these cells rise to the surface and shed without a problem. But when a pore gets filled up with excess sebum (the natural oils influenced by hormones), it causes dead skin cells to stick together and accumulate within the pore. This creates the perfect environment for bacteria (P. acnes) to thrive and multiply. When this happens, oil and bacteria leak out into the surrounding tissue, leading to more inflammation and larger breakouts.

Can other factors cause acne?

There really isn’t a single reason to point your fingers at. Rather, acne boils down to a combination of factors, some of them include:

  • Genetics
    While acne isn’t contagious, it can certainly run in the family. If you’ve got a close relative who suffers from acne, then chances are, it might be making you more prone to it. Not much you can do on this front, but you can still control all the other factors and use treatment. (Take that, genetics!)

  • Make-up or skin care products
    Sifting through jargon and ingredients is never fun, but it pays to read the labels on your products. Whatever you’re using on your face or hair should be non-comedogenic and oil-free. That includes your favorite foundation, blush, and concealer! Otherwise, you could develop a type of acne called acne cosmetica. It could take a while to surface, but don’t wait for it to show up. Always clean your make-up brushes and applicators as they can be breeding grounds for bacteria. Also never share your makeup brushes with anyone else!

  • Hormones
    What you do on the daily affects your hormones, triggering a domino effect of body reactions — including acne. For instance, a sudden spike in your sugar level or stress could lead to a breakout. For women, hormone levels tend to fluctuate around the time of their periods, or during pregnancy and menopause that can also cause breakouts. But, ladies, be cautious: acne could be an underlying sign of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). Other PCOS symptoms include irregular periods, weight gain and excessive hair growth. If you think this is you, get checked stat!

  • Friction
    Probably one of the least surprising reasons on this list, a specific type of acne called acne mechanica can be formed when skin is pressed or rubbed against another surface, whether it’s clothes or your own phone. This condition, although more common among active people, can happen in parts of the body where friction, pressure, and sweat come together. Your best bet is to avoid anything that rubs on these areas (don’t touch!), use acne treatments consistently, and always hit the showers right after a sweat sesh!

  • Diet
    It’s not just about what you put on your body, but also what goes in it. Some researchers have found a connection between acne and diet, particularly dairy and high-glycemic food (sugar!). Again, this goes back to hormones. When blood sugar spikes, the body produces more insulin, which triggers more androgens, resulting in more sebum (oil). The same goes for milk! We know, we’re sad about it too. Thankfully, there are lots of alternatives at the grocery so you don’t have to say goodbye to milk or ice cream just yet. Try vegan options or other dairy-free options like soy milk.

  • Stress
    Tension manifests itself in many ways, but one telling sign of stress is acne. When put under distress, our bodies produce more of the androgen hormone. This triggers more oil production which can cause acne. The straightforward solution would be to stop being stressed, but that’s not exactly easy! Try to manage your stress levels in ways that you’re comfortable with, whether that’s going to yoga or baking a cake, and don’t get lazy with your treatments.

Okay, now what?

Remember, acne is a disease. And just like all other diseases, it has to be treated. You wouldn’t tell a nasty fever to go away without doing anything, would you? The safest place to start and take action would be to see a dermatologist, who can help you make sense of your condition. That’s what we’re here for! Together, we can pinpoint the root cause of your acne and find a personal approach that works. Because no matter how frustrating acne might be, there’s always a remedy.

Now that you know where it comes from, get to know the different kinds of acne here.