Acne happens when your follicles (better known as pores) become blocked. The oil (sebum) that your sebaceous glands produce is what keeps your skin flexible and moist. As your skin sheds dead skin cells, they might get bunched up and form a blockage in the follicle.
Behind the blockage (comedo), bacteria (Propionibacterium acnes) and oil build up. The follicle will s w e l l because normal oil production is still going on. In the meantime, your body is sending white blood cells to fend off the bacteria and this is what causes pimples to become red, tender and swollen.
There are many factors that contribute to the acne condition, and a lot of those are out of your control, so don't feel bad. Your dead skin cell-shedding schedule (whoa – a new tongue-twister!) can change many different times during your life. Thank your relatives, too! Genetics plays a major part in the development of acne, and how little or how much it will affect you. Prescription medications have also been known to list it as a side effect.
Those darn oil glands
The rate at which your sebaceous glands manufacture sebum depends on your hormone balance (or imbalance!) which can be all over the place — especially for women. Hormones produced during puberty (androgens) enlarge the sebaceous glands and this is totally normal. In people with acne, though, the glands are overstimulated by those hormones, and they are also responsible for flare-ups during PMS and even pregnancy.
Do not pop or squeeze your pimples. This could lead to the spread of bacteria, scarring and enlarged pores. Also, by touching your face in this way, you'll force bacteria deeper into your pores. This is also why you should never prop your face up with your hands, or rest your chin in your hands.
Don't wash your face too often (no more than twice per day) because it can stimulate oil production and cause pores to become irritated and clogged. Avoid using a washcloth too, it can add even more irritation if you're prone to acne. This is when it's OK to use your hands on your face. Wash your face gently with your bare hands.
Hate to Exfoliate?
If exfoliation is part of your skincare routine, don't use a scrub that contains harsh ingredients. There are many gentle exfoliators on the market which won't aggravate your pimples. If you use a skincare toner, find one that doesn't have a lot of alcohol in it. That ingredient will just dry out your skin and cause it to produce more oil – and maybe more blemishes! You can try some witch hazel instead.
To avoid “backne” (or "bacne") - the slang term used when blemishes covre your back, shower off immediately after you exercise. Otherwise, the heat and moisture from your workout remains on your skin and provides a breeding ground for bacteria.
Sun exposure is beneficial because of the necessary Vitamin D it provides us with, and it may initially seem to improve acne, but don’t be fooled! Too much sun exposure will dry your skin, and that signals your sebaceous glands to kick in and produce more oil. Also, dried-out skin has to shed dead skin cells more often. That, combined with the extra oil is the ideal environment for – you guessed it - blocked pores. Another good reason to wear your sunscreen!
While you're out there shopping for sunscreen, keep an eye on the skincare products and cosmetics you buy and make sure they are non-comedogenic. That means they won't clog pores or irritate the follicles. Items marked “fragrance-free” and “hypo-allergenic” should help as well. Avoid sparkle and shimmery skincare and cosmetic products because the ingredients that give off the sparkly look often will irritate and/or clog the follicles. This goes for lip glosses, lipstick and lip balms too, if you are experiencing breakouts in that area.
Lastly, don't let your hair-DO become a hair-DON'T. Make sure to cover your skin when you're applying product to your hair so that the product doesn't get on your skin and cause problems. Hair products contain all the ingredients that can potentially irritate the skin and clog pores.
The above information should not be considered medical advice, and is not intended to replace consultation(s) with a qualified dermatology professional.