Acne happens when oil (sebaceous) glands are activated at puberty, under the effect of male hormones from the adrenal glands in both boys and girls. Sebum, or oil, is a natural substance that serves to lubricate and protect the skin. Under certain circumstances, cells that are close to the surface of the skin multiply and block the openings of sebaceous glands, resulting in a buildup of oil underneath. This oil attracts bacteria (bacteria that normally inhabit the skin surface and is harmless under normal conditions) which will grow and multiply in these zones, so the surrounding tissues become inflamed.
If the inflammation is right near the surface, a pustule forms; if it's deeper, a papule (pimple); deeper still and it's a cyst. If the oil breaks through to the surface, the result is a "whitehead." If the oil gets oxidized (that is, acted on by oxygen in the air), the oil changes from white to black, and the result is a "blackhead."
The following factors have been found to play a role in the formation and worsening of acne:
• Heredity: the majority of the population does not have a hereditary acne problem, except for cases of severe acne.
• Food: While junk food is not beneficial for overall health, no direct link has been established between junk food and acne. Studies show dairy products and high glycemic foods, however, can trigger acne.
There are certain foods that can cause acne. These foods include soft drinks, sugary snacks and white bread. Research has revealed that a diet high in refined, processed foods creates perfect conditions for pimples to form. These high-GI foods raise blood sugar levels quickly and cause insulin levels to rise sharply. With time, high insulin levels can render skin drier, thicker, and flakes of dry skin will lead to blockage of pores. It can also increase levels of free androgens (male hormones) in males and females, making the skin's sebaceous glands produce more oil and triggering acne.
• Dirt: "blackheads" are oxidized oil, not dirt. Sweat does not cause acne. On the other hand, excessive washing can dry and irritate the skin, which increases the likelihood for acne to appear.
• Cosmetics: Most cosmetic and skin care products are not pore-clogging (“comedogenic.”) “Water-based” or “oil-free” (non-comedogenic) productsare a better choice.