The last time we discussed acne, I gave you a general overview. This time we will go in depth and tackle the stages of acne and how they result in the two types of acne: inflammatory and non inflammatory.
It’s a little like a butterfly effect with acne. The little things that you think don’t matter, such as harsh cleansing or an inconsistent skin care routine will cause a chain reaction that result in the pesky skin condition. Basically, these little things set the stage for the conditions that result in acne.
The Stages of Acne Formation
- Raging Hormones
Sometimes, as a teenager (or an adult) or due to medication, pregnancy, stress etc, there will be a hormonal change. The hormones – mainly androgens will stimulate the oil (sebaceous) glands and produce excess oil (sebum). Androgens are male hormones which are present in both men and women. In women, an increase in androgen levels results in acne.
As a result of this increase in oil production, the oil ducts become clogged/ blocked with excess oil.
- Abundant dead skin cells
Desquamation is the natural shedding of dead skin cells. As we get older, the ‘adhesive’ that holds these skin cells together becomes denser due to factors like hormones and sun exposure. Aging makes desquamation more difficult, this calls for exfoliation to get rid of dead, damaged cell build up. If you do not exfoliate, not only will your skin be dull and flaky but the dead skin cells will block pores.
When a hair follicle is blocked by dead skin cells, the excess oil can’t get out it. This follicular plug is called a microcomedo. Skin is elastic, so the hair follicle will swell as it gets filled with more oil and dead skin. What was a microcomedo becomes…not micro.
As the plug continues to grow, it results in slightly raised bumps called whiteheads. When the bumps push their way to the surface of the skin, they become visible as black heads. (They are dark because of melanin, the skin color pigment)
So, when a hair follicle gets blocked with dead skin cells and excess oil, it results in non inflammatory acne.
Bacteria can cause non inflammatory acne to quickly turn inflammatory i.e. painful papules, pustules, nodules and cysts.
The acne causing bacteria, Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes), usually resides on the surface of the skin without causing much trouble. However when the dead skin cells and excess oil that clog the pore beckon, the bacteria will thrive in the pore, feasting on the excess oil. This excessive bacterial growth produces lipase, a chemical which breaks down skin lipids and releases fatty acids.
These acids will irritate the skin and cause inflammation. Being part of the body’s defense system, the white blood cells fight the bacteria and try to bring down the inflammation. If this inflammation isn’t brought down, enzymes will break down the walls of the plugged follicle, spilling dead skin cells, oil and bacteria to the nearby skin.
As you can see, the sooner you treat the acne, the better and less painful it will be. What are some of your favorite ways to stop acne in its tracks? Let me know in the comments below.