Clogged pores and the science of acne ‘breakouts’

The word “acne” comes from the Greek meaning “facial eruption.” It is a common skin condition, particularly among teenagers, in part due to rapid hormonal changes as well an increase in production of Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes), a bacteria that grows on the skin within one to three years of sexual maturity. The bacteria thrive on sebum, the oil that is formed in the pores (microscopic hair follicles), which leads to excessive bacterial growth and clogging of the pores. Clogged pores and the body’s own response to the bacteria cause acne outbreaks in the form of whiteheads, blackheads, pustules (pimples), nodules (large, solid pimples), and cystic lesions.

While acne is more prevalent among teenagers, it can affect men and women at any age. Diet, genetics, stress, and exposure to irritants and oils, all play a part in determining who gets acne and how severe it is.

When to get help for acne

For many people, having mild, occasional acne is an annoyance more than a medical concern. For people who have moderate to severe acne, however, the condition may cause emotional and psychological distress (depression and low self-esteem are more common in people with severe acne) as well as permanent scarring and discoloration of the skin.

Numerous over-the-counter acne treatments exist, such as products containing benzoyl peroxide, an ingredient that has a drying effect on the acne breakout but can also lead to excessive drying, and therefore greater vulnerability and exposure of the skin.

If you have been unsuccessful in treating acne on your own, you may want to talk to your primary care provider about additional treatment options and combinations that may include medication as well as a benzoyl peroxide- or retinol-based treatment. Depending on your condition, your primary care provider may also recommend you to a dermatologist, a skin doctor who can fully evaluate your skin health history and condition.

To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (1.866.225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.