A dermatologist definition of what acne is…and isn’t.
Acne breakouts are a daily skin care concern for many people, both teenagers and adults. Acne isn’t limited by age, ethnicity or gender—it’s an equal opportunity skin condition. In addition to causing physical discomfort, acne and the lack of self-confidence caused by breakouts can also impact a person mentally and emotionally. The first step to treating and getting rid of acne breakouts, however, is to actually understand what acne is. After all, you wouldn’t try to treat a cold when it may actually be the flu. Different types of acne breakouts need to be treated differently. This section of the Murad Acne Resource Center will explain what acne technically is so that you’ll better understand the skin condition that you’re ultimately trying to remedy.
How Does Acne Form on Your Face and Body?
No matter what type of acne you have, all blemishes and acne breakouts form from the same process below the skin. It begins inside of a hair follicle and results in the clogging of the follicle’s pore. The follicle, for an unknown reason that could be related to hormones, stress or even diet, overproduces skin cells, which ultimately clog the pore. However, clogged pores can also occur as a result of not exfoliating your top layer of skin or not removing oil and dirt from the surface of your skin. When that happens, the resulting dry skin and dirt can be sucked down into a pore by sebum (skin oil) and result in a blackhead or blemish. Clogged pores can happen anywhere. Most typically, clogged pores and acne breakouts occur on your face,
but they can also occur on your back and body.
Once your pores are blocked, the sebum (oil) in your skin becomes trapped in your pores. If you have excessively oily skin, this can be an even greater problem and lead to more intensive breakouts. The trapped oil causes bacteria to begin to grow in your blocked pores, ultimately causing an infection, which is the blemish or acne breakout that results.
The best acne treatments will help prevent your pores from becoming blocked while also fighting the bacteria that cause breakouts. If you’re only treating the oil and not addressing the source of your clogged pores, you’ll continue to experience breakouts.
Though the same physiological process causes each type of blemish, there are two different types of acne that you may be experiencing.
Acne Type One: Non-Inflammatory Acne (Blackheads and Whiteheads)
Non-inflammatory acne breakouts, which in medical terms are referred to as comedones, are a type of acne that doesn’t create an inflamed, wound-like blemish. The two types of comedones (and the types of acne you’re probably most familiar with) are blackheads and whiteheads.
This lack of inflammation is because a comedone can release its contents to the surface of the skin and heal without growing into a larger infection. However, when a pore or follicle that hosts an acne infection ruptures, inflammatory acne can result. (See below.)
Whitehead blemishes may show up as tiny white spots or bumps, but they may also be so small that they’re invisible to the naked eye. A whitehead blemish forms when the trapped sebum and bacteria remain below the skin’s surface.
Blackhead blemishes, on the other hand, form when a pore opens up to the surface. Then the sebum, which contains the skin pigment melanin, is exposed to oxygen. The oxidation process of the sebum turns it to a brown or black color. Though blackheads may appear to simply be spots of dirt, they can’t be easily washed away. They may also last for a longer period of time, because the contents of the pore or follicle drain to the skin’s surface slowly.
While many people are tempted to treat whiteheads and blackheads by squeezing or popping them, that type of skin irritation can lead to inflammatory acne. Finding a proper acne treatment product regimen and treating the causes of acne rather than the symptoms of acne should be the focus of your acne treatment plan.
Acne Type Two: Inflammatory Acne (Papules, Pustules, Nodules and Cysts)
When follicles or pores erupt or explode, the result is inflammatory acne. This type of acne looks more prominent and severe and can cause extreme physical discomfort if left untreated.
Papules and pustules are the more common and less severe types of inflammatory acne. A papule is formed when the follicle or pore wall breaks from the buildup of bacteria inside. When that happens, white blood cells rush into the pore and the pore becomes inflamed. Several days later, the papule will turn into a pustule. A pustule forms when the white blood cells have made their way to the surface of the skin. You probably know a pustule by its more common name—a zit or pimple!
Nodules and cysts are the most severe forms of acne. These acne breakouts are so large that they may begin to encompass and infect surrounding pores and follicles. A nodule occurs when the pressure of the infection causes a rupture along the bottom of the follicle or pore. When this happens, the pore or follicle may completely collapse, causing a large, inflamed bump that hurts to touch.
Cysts, or cystic acne, develop as a result of a severe inflammatory reaction that can cause extremely large, puss-filled legions on the face or body.
Though papules, pustules, nodules and cystic acne are more severe forms of acne, the best approach for the treatment of breakouts and blemishes is to make the skin healthy overall while also preventing bacteria and clogged pores.
So, What is Acne? It Could be Many Things.
If the above explanation seemed like a lot of technical dermatological terms to you, that’s because it was. Explaining what acne is can be done much more simply. Here we go!
Acne is a skin condition caused when an overproduction of skin cells or excess dirt and oil clog your pores. The clogged pores result in a build up of sebum (oil) which allows bacteria to form. Clogged pores that do not develop an infection create blackheads and whiteheads. Clogged pores with an infection from the bacteria results in a zit or blemish.
Ready to learn more? Next we’ll discuss the causes of acne.
Or, if you feel like you’ve got enough of an understanding of acne, you can skip directly to information on getting rid of acne or acne treatments.
What Did You Just Learn About Acne?
In this section of the Murad Acne Resource Guide, you should have learned the following key points:
- Acne occurs when pores and hair follicles become clogged with dead skin cells, dirt or oil, trapping oil and causing a buildup of bacteria.
- Non-inflammatory acne includes whiteheads and blackheads. Whiteheads, which may be invisible to the naked eye, happen when the infected sebum stays beneath the skin’s surface. Blackheads occur as a result of the infected sebum coming to the skin’s surface and being exposed to oxygen, which alters its color.
- Inflammatory acne has two types. The first and least severe type includes papules and pustules. Papules are inflamed bumps beneath the skin, and pustules are inflamed bumps that have made it to the skin’s surface. Pustules are commonly referred to as zits or pimples.
- Nodules and cystic acne are more severe forms of inflammatory acne that can be physically painful. They are the result of follicles and pores that have burst from the acne infection inside of them and appear as large, infected bumps on the skin’s surface.
Product Resources for Acne Treatment
While your acne treatment solution will depend on the cause of your acne and should be part of an overall skin care program for optimal skin health, the following Murad Acne Products can help improve your skin and reduce acne breakouts, regardless of your skin type or the cause of your acne.
Murad Acne Complex® Kit
Murad’s proven and popular complete acne treatment solution. 92% of users saw a reduction in breakouts in just three days.* Address all your acne treatment needs, from reducing clogged pores to fighting acne-causing bacteria.