Breakouts and blemishes are something which needs little introduction. First rearing their ugly head in puberty as something many of us naively assume will go away once we ‘grow up’, breakouts can continue to wreak havoc on your skin for decades to come. Whether you’re a teenager, a busy professional or an empty-nester, skin congestion isn’t fun. Let’s take a look at the varieties of blemishes, some of the causes and what you can do about it.
What causes breakouts?
The causes of your breakouts and blemishes will vary depending on a number of factors including the type (more on these below) and your age.
Those first teenage breakouts are generally related to raising levels of hormones known as androgens, courtesy of puberty. As the body begins to create more of these hormones, it also sets off an increase in the production of sebum in the skin. When this excess oil combines with dead cells the skin has shed, and even the hair in the follicle, it leads to blockages in the pore.
Androgens don’t just bring extra oil to the equation though; they can also lead to the pore becoming overrun with the P. acnes bacteria, which loves to feed on sebum. While this bacterium is a perfectly normal part of our skin’s flora, more sebum to eat can mean more of these bacteria, and when it gets out of hand, this can lead to inflammation and infection; say hello to inflammatory breakouts.
Once we exit puberty, many people find their hormonal breakouts will begin to calm down, though women in particular will often continue to experience these breakouts thanks to hormonal spikes associated with their cycle. Further hormonal changes during both pregnancy and menopause can once again cause all kinds of issues.
In our late 20s, a new issue arises as our natural skin cell turnover begins to slow. Where younger skins are able to do this efficiently, once this process slows, we can be left with a scary amount of dead skin cells stuck to the outer layers of our skin. When these dead cells become caught in the pore and mix with sebum, they cause breakouts. Generally, these will be what’s called noninflammatory breakouts.
Environmental elements like pollution, dirt and grime can also cause blockages in the pore leading to breakouts.
It doesn’t end there though; the ingredients in your skincare products can also lead to breakouts.
It is commonplace for those suffering from breakouts to use products which aim to strip the oil from the skin. Unfortunately, this approach can actually make your breakouts worse. Your skin’s protective barrier is made of several things, including both sebum and water. If you strip this barrier away, then the water within your skin is able to escape (this is known as trans epidermal water loss or TEWL) which leaves your skin dehydrated and open to attack from the outside. In order to try and counter this, your skin produces extra oil to try and make up the difference. And guess what we do to that oil? It’s a vicious cycle. Read more on why your skin needs oil here.
The breakout types
As you may have already picked up on, breakouts can be grouped into two main categories; noninflammatory and inflammatory.
Blackheads and whiteheads are both types of noninflammatory breakouts. While they look different, both are a result of pores which have become clogged.
Blackheads get their dark colouring because the head of the clogged pore remains open and the air it is exposed to has oxidised the ‘gunk’ that’s stuck inside, making it turn black.
Whiteheads, on the other hand, are within a pore which is not open, thus trapping the ‘gunk’ inside.
Papules, pustules, cysts and nodules are all types of inflammatory breakouts.
If you have upraised bumps on the surface of the skin which are filled with puss and have redness and swelling around them, these are papules or pustules, and they are normally caused by the proliferation of that pesky P. acnes bacteria.
Nodulocystic acne, which includes both cysts and nodules, is the most severe form of skin congestion and is also categorised as inflammatory.
Nodules occur when a clogged pore ruptures deep in the skin, dispersing all the gunk which had been contained in the pore into the surrounding tissue. The result is a large, enflamed and solid red bumps on the skin.
Cysts occur when only a small portion of the wall of the pore has ruptured. Instead of the gunk from inside dispersing into the tissue, the body instead creates a pouch of sorts to contain it. It is important to not squeeze the cyst as this will increase the likelihood of infection spreading through the deeper tissues.
If you are suffering cystic acne it is important to keep in mind that severe forms of cystic acne may require consultation with a doctor or dermatologist and subsequently require treatment other than skincare.
How can I treat my breakouts?
This type of blemish is best treated with active ingredients such as Salicylic Acid which are designed to work beneath the skin’s surface to assist in decongesting cystic lesions. Glycolic Acid and topical Vitamin A may also be useful.
For inflammatory breakouts which can be linked to hormones, excess oil and bacteria, our Clear Skin range is ideal.
Featuring ingredients such a Salicylic Acid, Tea Tree, Eucalyptus, Thyme and Seboclear MP, this genius range may help to break down the gunk from within the pore while also controlling the bacteria on the surface and both respecting and nurturing your skin’s natural barrier.