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How Do Pimples or Blackheads Form?

By Joanne Marie ; Updated July 18, 2017

Pimples and blackheads may form at any age, although they are most common during the teenage years. They usually form on the face, back, neck, shoulders or chest. The skin condition that produces numerous pimples is called acne. Although there is no known cause of acne, it is associated with hormonal changes at puberty or during pregnancy, according to MedlinePlus. People often blame certain foods for pimples, but MedlinePlus also states this is not supported by any scientific evidence.

Formation of Pimples

Pores in the skin are connected to sebaceous glands that are just under the skin's surface, at the base of hair follicles. Sebaceous glands make an oily substance called sebum that is released into the hair follicles and then onto the skin, along with dead skin cells. Sometimes the sebaceous glands become overactive, producing too much sebum. As a result, the pores can get clogged with oil and skin cells, forming a plug. Bacteria in the plug may multiply, producing an infection and swelling. Eventually, a pimple will form, sometimes containing pus at its tip.

Blackheads

Blackheads are a type of pimple that appear at the very surface of the skin. They have a characteristic dark spot at the center that is due to a plug remaining in the pore. According to MedlinePlus, the clogged pore reflects light irregularly and leads to the dark appearance of a blackhead. The idea that the black spot is due to dirt in the pore is a common misconception.

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Causes of Pimples and Blackheads

Pimples and blackheads form when the pores of the skin become clogged with oil and debris, allowing bacteria to grow and triggering inflammation. Heredity can also determine whether or not a person develops pimples, according to the National Institute for Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Diseases. Hormonal changes may also cause pimples, including the increasing hormone levels that occur during the teenage years and the changes in hormones that accompany pregnancy. Other possible causes are using heavy makeup that clogs pores and taking some types of medicine that may cause pimples.

Treatment

Areas of skin with pimples should be washed twice daily with mild soap to remove buildup of oil and dead skin cells, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Pimples or blackheads should never be squeezed or pinched but should be allowed to heal naturally. Over-the-counter treatments that contain benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid may be applied topically to help heal the affected area.

If the area with pimples or blackheads covers from one-quarter to one-half of the face or other area, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends seeing a dermatologist. The doctor may recommend other treatments such as medications to control infection or vitamin A creams to help with healing and to prevent new pimples.

Skin Care

Skin that has been irritated by pimples or blackheads should be cleaned gently with non-abrasive cleansers. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends washing only with fingertips, not washcloths or sponges, to reduce irritation. Lukewarm water is the best rinse after cleansing the skin, and rinsing should be thorough. Makeup should be oil-free so that pores will not clog and exposure to the sun should be avoided.

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