As many as 17 million people in the United States have to cope with acne at some point in their lives, according to the Children's Hospital Boston. Though many people develop acne during puberty, breakouts can happen at any time of hormonal upheaval, and people can even experience acne issues well into their 30s. Understanding the structure of hair follicles and the role they play in the development of acne may help you evaluate acne remedy options.
Each of the pores in your skin is actually an opening to your hair follicle, a tiny tunnel that contains a hair and an oil-producing gland. The oil--called sebum--produced by these glands--called sebaceous glands--helps keep skin moisturized and hydrated.
If the hair follicles become clogged, acne can form. Clogging can occur for several different reasons. If the sebaceous glands produce too much oil, the excess can clog your pores. Dead skin cells can get trapped in hair follicles instead of shedding normally, clogging up follicles. If bacteria gets trapped in hair follicles, it can cause follicles to become inflamed. Sometimes, hair follicles can get so clogged that it causes the wall of the follicle to collapse.
Clogged hair follicles can contribute to the formation of several different types of acne. Whiteheads--raised, white bumps--and blackheads--raised bumps with a dark center--are both caused by the same combination of oil and dead skin cells, but blackheads are clogged on the surface of the skin where exposure to sunlight creates the dark appearance. Pimples and cysts are formed when the follicle wall is damaged. Pimples occur when the follicle wall near the surface breaks down, while cysts are caused by follicle wall damage deep below the surface of the skin.
Though you can't control how much oil your sebaceous glands produce, there are certain factors that can make acne worse, says the American Academy of Family Physicians. Avoid oil-based makeup, sunscreen and skin care products because they can increase the amount of pore-clogging oil in your follicle. Avoid picking at pimples or popping blemishes, which can introduce bacteria into your clogged follicles and increase the longevity of your breakout.
The best treatment for acne depends on the severity of your breakouts, according to the Children's Hospital Boston. Most people require twice-a-day washing with a mild cleanser and occasional exfoliating to keep follicles clean and remove dead skin cells. You can use products with salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide to spot treat existing blemishes--both work by clearing up clogs in the follicle. If your acne doesn't respond to treatment or causes you everyday discomfort, talk with a dermatologist about prescription-strength options for treating clogged follicles.