Acne Education #2 - What Acne Is & Why We Get It


I have been dreading writing this post; sometimes I just don't like talking about acne, especially when I'm having a bad skin day. But I decided to get it done so we can move on to more "exciting" conversations about it. Today, we will look at what acne is and why we get it.

What is acne?

A large part of treating acne involves understanding what acne is. If you already know what it is, feel free to skip this part. If not, keep on reading. Please note that when I use the term "acne", I'm referring to all terms that come under the acne umbrella, such as pimples, zits, and blemishes, and will use these terms interchangeably.

So, I'm sure you've established that acne occurs on the skin. It can occur pretty much anywhere on the body where there are hair follicles/pores, including the chest, neck, back, shoulders, and of course, the face. To greater and lesser extents, we all have an oil, known as sebum, on our faces because of sebaceous glands. It is commonly thought that sebum is the cause of zits: this is true to an extent but it is not the primary cause. The first stage of a pimple involves the pore becoming blocked due to an overproduction of cells. Sebum then gets trapped under this, rather than making it to the skin's surface, and attracts bacteria.

The six types of pimples
Whitehead - trapped sebum and bacteria remain under the skin, a tiny white bump is formed
Blackhead - an open clogged pore where sebum oxidises and turns brown or black, the colour is not caused by dirt
Papules - a small pink bump as the result of a ruptured pore
Pustule - white blood cells make their way to the surface of the skin, pus forms at the top
Cyst - a large pus-filled spot, can be extremely painful and may cause scarring
Nodule - caused by breakage at the bottom of the follicle, they are large and painful

Whiteheads can turn into papules and subsequently pastules. Blackheads, cysts and nodules are not the result of whiteheads or other types of pimples. I categorise having whiteheads and blackheads as mild acne, papules and pustules as moderate acne, and cysts and nodules as severe acne.

Why do we get acne?
These have not been confirmed as causes, but are factors that I and others believe can influence a person's proneness to acne.
I believe that 99 per cent of acne cases are the result of hormones. I mean, why else do we get it in our teens when we're going through all these bodily changes? Sure, there are a lot of adults with acne too. But I'm certain that hormones are still the cause in such cases. "Androgens", a male hormone which females also carry, can be responsible for causing acne. If this is the cause of your acne (you can undergo a test to find it), anti-androgenic medications will help treat your acne.
I'm still a bit undecided as to whether or not diet has an influence. I do think that eating healthily will have more benefits for the overall appearance of the skin but I'm not yet convinced that it helps treat or prevent acne. You can read more about the debate here.
If your mum or dad have or had acne, you can probably thank them for passing it on to you.
And not just any bacteria: bad bacteria. It has recently been discovered that only certain strains of bacteria cause an acne eruption and that "good" bacteria could be used in future to to counteract the bad bacteria in order to treat or minimise acne.

In the next post, we're going to look at different skin types, an important component in deciding on the best treatment for your acne.

Part 1 - My Acne Journey

NB: I am not a dermatologist or skin specialist. I do not claim to know everything about acne. This information is derived from websites, books and my own knowledge/experience with acne.