What’s the Deal with Acne?

Hate to break it to you teenagers, but acne
can last well into your 40s. While there’s no cure to make them instantly
go away, we have a few tips to help minimize the amount of pimples that pop up. When it comes to acne there’s three main
players: bacteria, oil, and skin. P. acnes is the bacteria most commonly blamed
for causing acne. It lurks deep within our hair follicles and
pores, even when we don’t have a breakout. Now sebum is the oil that limits the amount
of water that gets in and out of our skin. It’s produced in the sebaceous gland that
lives inside hair follicles and is made up of different lipids, or fats and oils. This lipid composition changes as you get
older, which is one factor why aging means fewer pimples. Sure, getting older slows down your metabolism,
and your skin starts to sag but hey–at least you won’t have zits. Anyway, occasionally you’ll produce too
much sebum and when that happens, follicles can become blocked. This leads to oil and dead skin cells building
up, which feeds the growth and replication of P. acnes. This overload of P. acnes, sebum and dead
skin disrupts follicle cells, triggering your handy dandy immune system. Blood rushes to the site, turning your jaunty
infection bright red. But it doesn’t stop there! White blood cells are sent in to destroy the
bacteria buildup, but they die below the surface of the skin. So you now have a growing collection of dead
skin cells, bacteria and white blood cells at the surface of your skin. This bacterial graveyard leaves you with a
big festering pus-filled pimple. Ew. But why does your body produce excess sebum? It actually comes down to hormones, specifically
androgens like testosterone. Sebaceous glands are stimulated by androgens
to produce more sebum. Teenagers are the most likely candidates for
breakouts since they’re going through puberty and experience hormonal changes, which can
triggers excess sebum to be produced. Women have higher androgen levels before and
during menstruation than any other time of the month, which is why acne breakouts sometimes
occur before their periods. But what about that age old tale that sugary
foods like chocolate and soda cause breakouts? Well as it turns out, recent research HAS
established a link between carb-filled foods and acne. However, they’re still working out why carbohydrates
can lead to acne. One study showed that carbs might cause more
pimples by increasing a compound called insulin-like growth factor-1, which can increase sebum
production. More evidence is needed, but avoiding refined
carbohydrates COULD help with acne. To prevent sebum and dead skin build up, look
for face washes and products that are cleansers or scrubs. Benzoyl peroxide is an antimicrobial agent
that decreases P. acnes by preventing them from reproducing. In addition, benzoyl peroxide dissolves oil,
so you can just wash away that excess sebum on your skin. Salicylic acid is another acne prevention
agent. Instead of killing the bacteria, this guy
loosens and removes the outermost layer of your skin and unclogs hair follicles, disrupting
those perfect storm conditions that lead to pimples. If your acne is severe and you need stronger
measures, talk to your doctor about antibiotics. The most common prescription medications include
retinoids, which are a class of chemical compounds related to vitamin A. They work as an exfoliator,
cleaning off dead skin, and have anti-inflammatory effects. Retinoids can take a few weeks to work, and
may make your acne worse before it gets better. For women, birth control pills can also help
with acne by regulating hormone levels. Today there are more ways than ever to remove
pimples. Which works best for you? Wearing less oily makeup? Cutting back on cookies? Let us know in the comments. Simply getting older worked for me. For more information on acne, check out the
ChemMatters article link below and if you like what you see check out ChemMatters. For more of their science articles be sure
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