Quick Guide to Understanding Acne

What is Acne?

Acne is a very common skin condition. It can affect the face, neck, chest, back, and body. Acne is typically a treatable skin condition. However, if you have acne, you need to be very consistent with your treatment plan for an extended period of time to see results.

Treatment plans for acne can vastly differ depending on the grade of acne you’re experiencing.

What causes acne?

Without getting into too much detail, acne is mostly caused by sebum (oil) and dead skin cells clogging the pores. Mix that with some bacteria and that’s what causes infection and severe acne (grade 4 aka as cystic acne). Learn more about that below.

Additionally, any kind of hormonal changes can also be a culprit because they cause the skin to produce more oil. This is why acne can creep up at any age.

Acne is not contagious, but it can be hereditary. 

Some other common causes of acne are:

1. Diet/Allergies/Food Sensitivities: Most of us don’t know, but many of us are affected by food sensitivities. Sensitivities to foods are often subtle, but also can be very damaging to our bodies and love to cause problems with our skin. 

Although most people don’t walk around thinking about it, our skin is the largest organ in our body! It is affected by everything we ingest. Some of the most common culprits of food sensitivities are milk, dairy, gluten, sugar, soy, caffeine and eggs, which most people eat on a daily basis.

If you have a true allergy to food, you would likely notice as allergic reactions are often severe. Even if you don’t have a true food sensitivity, an off balance diet can cause many skin conditions, including acne.

Get allergy tested if you're interested in finding out more! If you live in the area, I highly recommend AIANE.

2. Not drinking enough water: Even though most people think they’re drinking enough, they’re usually not. According to the CDC, in 2005-2010, U.S. youth drank an average of 15 ounces of water and in 2011-2014, U.S. adults drank an average of 39 ounces of water on a given day.

According to the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, the recommended plain water intake is 2.7L per day for women & 3.7L per day for men. If you want to get really specific and "science-y", you can use their conversion tactics here (page 86).

Not drinking enough water causes toxin build up and those toxins get released through your skin causing skin conditions like acne.

3. Other Health Issues: Health issues like thyroid dysfunction, PCOS, digestive issues, diabetes and more can also cause or worsen acne. Talk to your doctor if you think this could be an issue for you.

4. Makeup:  Makeup is a huge culprit of acne. There are often lots of pore-clogging and/or skin irritating ingredients in makeup. Covering up your acne with makeup is not a good idea.

5. Poor Cell Turnover Rate : Exfoliating your skin is important. Especially as you age and your skin cells slow down. If dead skin cells don't shed quickly enough, they will contribute to acne. I prefer glycolic or azelaic as exfoliants because they do a great job of getting rid of excess dead skin and they’re less harsh on skin making them simultaneously anti-aging.

6. Damaged Skin Barrier: When your barrier is damaged, your skin becomes irritated, flaky, dry, itchy or stingy. Your skin’s barrier protects you from all kinds of free radicals, environmental and external toxins, the sun and more.  A damaged skin barrier is more vulnerable to bacteria from inside and outside the skin making it more susceptible to acne and other skin conditions.

How Acne Progresses: A summary

Acne typically begins with initial blackheads, closed comedones, bumpiness and papules with maybe a pustule here or there.

A bacterium called Propionibacterium acne (aka p. acne), which is normally found in the skin, multiplies easily when trapped in sebum. This causes inflammation, making the surrounding skin red and fills any initial acneic lesions with pus. These are called pustules.

Pustules near one another can get larger and form nodules and cysts. These inflamed spots can heal with time, but oftentimes cause hyperpigmentation (discolored areas) and scars. 

When it comes to cysts and nodules, no one should attempt to pop these. They can cause much damage to your skin and possible serious infection. If you have true cystic acne, you should see a dermatologist for help.

A deep dive into the stages of acne

Acne is often referred to as 4 different grades. The grades are based on the severity of the acneic lesions.

When you understand more about which grade you have, you are more likely to be able to choose the best route for treatment. The grade of acne can change due to the seasons, hormonal changes, stress levels or any of the other causes mentioned above. It’s important to use the correct acne treatments to ensure the most effective results.

Check out more about each Grade of Acne below

Grade 1 aka Mild Acne

Grade 2 aka Moderate Acne

Grade 3 aka Severe Acne

Grade 4 aka Cystic Acne

Any acne, especially severe cystic acne, can reappear and can cause long-term challenges. This has been known to cause depression. Please know you are not alone and be sure to immediately seek help if you’re ever experiencing feelings of depression.

Learn more here about what to avoid and for ways on how to prevent acne.

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