The entire human body is covered in follicles or pores (with the exception of certain parts of your hands, feet and lips). From time to time these follicles may produce an excess of cells and become blocked. Because of the block, the sebum oil produced inside the follicles will not be able to drain to the surface and bacteria will begin to grow in the pores. There is often a buildup of skin cells as well; this is known as a microcomedone.
Acne (also known as acne vulgaris or cystic acne) is most common on the face and back, but there is no reason it shouldn’t occur in other places. Most people think of pimples in regards to acne, however, there are many types as well as many causes and treatments. What is presented here is a simple explanation of different types of acne.
- Blackheads: If the top of the pore stays open on the surface of the skin then the kind of acne which develops will be an open comedone (blackhead). If the pore stays open then the sebum oil is able to oxidize and then becomes a blackish/brown color. Sebum oil contains the skin pigment melanin so it is especially visible when it changes color.
- Whiteheads: When sebum oil and skin cells accumulate they are compressed into a thick substance. If the pore has a narrow or closed opening to the skin then it becomes a closed comedone (whitehead). Normally these pores will not be infected; however, it is possible for bacteria to infect the cells surrounding the pore.
Both blackheads and whiteheads can result in a ruptured follicle wall which in turn causes inflamed acne. Whilst there is no sure way to prevent the rupture, it can be caused by picking at the skin so it is advisable to avoid touching any skin suffering from acne.
Inflammatory acne is often far more distressing and when severe can leave scars. However, there are treatments and medications available which are extremely effective.
Inflammatory acne occurs in four varieties; papules, pustules, nodules and cysts.
When follicles are blocked by sebum oil and skin cells the wall is placed under pressure. If the pressure is great enough then the follicle wall will break and the substances which are causing the blockage will spread to the surrounding skin. Due to the bacteria which is present in the blockage the skin will often become infected and inflamed, this results in a red bump on the skin called a papule.
The main difference between a pustule and a papule is the presence of white blood cells. When the immune system fights the bacteria present in the ruptured follicle it is possible for white blood cells to build up. This will cause pus to form in the pore and result in what is known as a pimple, zit or spot.
Should an inflamed follicle completely collapse then the sebaceous material (collection of sebum oil and skin cells) and any bacteria it contains will spread to the surrounding skin. If the buildup was large enough then it is possible for the surrounding follicles to be engulfed which will result in nodules or cysts. A nodule occurs when the bottom of the follicle gives way; it will result in a large inflamed bump on the skin which is sore to the touch. A cyst is a far more extreme reaction and large pus filled lesions will form.
While acne is unpleasant, there are no lasting side effects or damage except perhaps some scarring. Acne treatment is more advanced than ever before and there are many ways of dealing with it and through understanding and appropriate treatment it is possible to clear your skin fairly quickly.