Acne 101

At some point in roughly 85% our lives, we are going to wake up and spot an unwelcome visitor on our skin in the form of a pimple. Whether you feel it coming or it pops up as a complete surprise (pun intended), having a pimple is the symptom of one the most common skin conditions, acne.

People throw around the word acne a lot, but have you ever wondered what exactly is happening on our skin that causes those pesky pimples to arrive? In this article we are going to talk a little bit about what acne is, where it comes from and options there are for treatment.

What is acne? 

The formation of pimples has a lot to do with our pores, which are the tiny holes seen on our skin that connect to oil producing glands deeper in the skin. A gland is a fancy term for an organ in our body that releases certain chemicals/substances for specific uses. The glands connected to our pores, produce an oily substance called sebum that protects and moisturises our skin.


Now, to get the sebum from our glands up to the skin’s surface, the body uses hair follicles as a pathway. Inside our follicles, the sebum oil will also carry dead skin cells to the skin’s surface to be shed off. However, sometimes the hair inside the follicle, dead skin cells, and sebum oil will get stuck together and become plugged up underneath our skin. Then, bacteria grow, which causes the plug to swell and eventually break down. The plug breaking down from all this commotion under our skin is what causes a pimple to develop.


What causes acne?

There are a few factors that can contribute to our bodies having acne breakouts. Three of the four main factors were listed above, which are;

  • hair follicles being clogged by oil and dead skin cells
  • an over-production of oil
  • bacteria growing in our pores.

The last main factor is our hormones – these are chemicals in our body that help with managing behaviour and mood.


Other risk factors for acne include;

  • our family history (genetics)
  • stress, causing hormonal changes and
  • pore clogging creams, makeup and oils

What types of acne are there?

The word pimple is often used as a catchall phrase, but the pimples we experience with acne can actually be categorised by type. The type of acne we have is based on how the plugged-up follicle behaves on or under our skin. Each type is listed below:


  • Whiteheads: the plugged pore is closed and the pimple stays under the surface of the skin
  • Blackheads: the plugged pore is open and the pimple rises to the skin’s surface and appears black
  • Papules: small red or pink bumps that are typically tender
  • Pustules: papules that are red at the bottom and have pus at the top
  • Nodules: solid, large, and painful pimples that are deep within the skin
  • Cysts: deep, painful, pus-filled lumps that are beneath the skin’s surface; typically cause scarring.

In addition, acne is not limited to just showing up on our faces. Pretty much anywhere we have pores is fair game for acne. That stated, acne will typically appear on our face, neck, chest, back, and shoulders.

Acne types

Who can get acne?

Now that you are intimately familiar with what causes acne and how to classify pimples, you may be interested in who is susceptible to acne’s pore plugging agenda. Well, the answer is everyone, even babies!


While acne does not discriminate, teens and young adults are the age group that is most commonly dealing with acne and its symptoms. It is estimated that 80% of people between the age of 11 and 30 will deal with acne breakouts at some point in their lives.


How can acne be treated?

Acne is usually not a cause for serious concern in terms of overall health and there are many products available to help keep breakouts at bay in your local pharmacy.


However, if you find that the over-the-counter treatments are not doing the job, it may be time to reach out to a GP or dermatologist. Dermatologists are medically trained skin specialists who diagnose and treat skin issues. They can work with you to define the severity of your acne and create a treatment plan.


The information presented on this website is for general information and example purposes only, does not contain health advice specific for users and must not be relied on for that purpose.  Please see your GP, dermatologist or other health care professional for specific advice.

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