In writing a post recently, I realized that I didn’t have a good post that explained the basics of pimples, how they start and how the typical over the counter ingredients work to treat it. There’s a reason you see the same active ingredients over and over in over the counter treatment products. There are many ways to target acne, but only a few key ingredients to do that.
First, a brief look at how acne forms. There are obviously many more things involved in this process (and really, no one really understands the entire process. If we did we’d have a magic treatment to prevent all acne). But, to understand how treatments work on acne, you first need to understand the basics of how those blemishes are formed.
1. First, when you have a typical hair follicle, you’ll find a small oil gland off of it. The normal cell cycle is for skin cells to slough off (aka- just basically fall off), and for new cells to be created underneath to replace them.
2. For some reason, within the hair follicle some of these cells will start to accumulate and clump together, rather than just going out as they usually do. As this happens, the oil production will increase some, the cells will clump together more, and the sides of the hair follicle will start to have inflammation. The inflammation contributes to more skin cells sloughing, clumping, more oil, etc. It basically becomes a downward spiral. The hair follicle starts to get clogged with oil and clumped skin cells.
3. As the hair follicle gets clogged with debris, you’ll notice that rather than just having the walls of the hair follicle with inflammation, some of those cells will start to move into the debris as well. These are various types of white blood cells, and when they accumulate together you probably know them better as pus. Around this time you’ll also have bacteria entering the mix. Typically this is p. acnes, which is usually just found around on your skin and such. It loves to eat oil, so this environment is perfect for it to thrive.
4. As the process spirals more and more out of control that hair shaft just fills up with everything. It will get big and swollen as it fills with sloughed skin cells, inflammation, bacteria and more sebum. You may even have the shaft rupture, allowing everything to infiltrate into the surrounding skin. That’s not so bueno. If it is severe enough you might even see scarring later on down the road.