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Life Cycle of a Pimple

By Lisa Sefcik ; Updated August 14, 2017

Perhaps you wonder what caused that pimple to become reddened and inflamed. The life cycle of a pimple depends on the type of lesion involved and if you take measures to speed along the healing process. Pimples are unavoidable for the most people; the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases notes that around 80 percent of those between the ages of 11 and 30 get pimples at some time during life.

Ingredients for a Pimple

There are three things that factor into pimple formation, notes the Mayo Clinic. These are excess oil (sebum), bacteria that lives on the skin and dead skin cells (keratinocytes) are shed from inside the hair follicle. The brand new influx of hormones called androgens in adolescents make the sebaceous glands larger, which, in turn, causes more oil production, notes the NIAMS. This is why pimples tend to be more common in teenagers.

Where Pimples Form

The NIAMS states that acne is a disease that afflicts the pilosebaceous units (PSUs) on your body, most of which are found on your face, chest and upper back--the very spots where you're most likely to get pimples. A PSU is composed of a sebaceous gland that's connected to a hair follicle. When the glands produce oil, it travels up through the follicle to the surface of your skin through your pores. But if sebum has no easy exit, pimples start to form.

Pimple Beginnings

When sebum and dead skin cells clog the hair follicle, this results in a plugged pore. This unpleasant combination accelerates growth of the bacteria naturally residing on your skin to reproduce and cause swelling, redness, heat and pain. The NIAMS indicates that when the walls of a plugged follicle "break," inflammation spills over into other areas of the skin, resulting in an acne lesion, of which there are many types.

Pimple Types

The American Academy of Dermatology cites numerous different types of pimples, such as comedones (blackheads and whiteheads), papules, pustules and macules. More problematic are deep cysts and nodules, in which inflammation develops deep inside of the hair follicle, resulting in painful, tender lumps. Cysts and nodules take a long time to resolve and are most likely to result in severe scarring if the lesion ruptures.

How Pimples Thrive

Pimples can be exacerbated by a number of factors, notes the NIAMS. Use of oily skin care products and cosmetics, pollution, humidity, stress and scrubbing the skin harshly when washing can make acne worse. Manually picking or squeezing a pimple is never a good idea, warns the AAD; you may force bacteria deeper into the skin and end up with a pimple that's even more inflamed rather than one that heals. Try not to touch your face if you want pimples to go away sooner, advises the Mayo Clinic.

Ending the Life of Your Pimples

Mild acne may resolved by gently washing your face twice a day with a mild cleanser and using an over-the-counter topical medication, notes the Mayo Clinic. But if pimples fail to go away with at-home treatment, dermatologists can provide more aggressive treatments, such as stronger prescription topicals, oral medications, laser and light therapies and various methods of physical and surgical extraction. However, the Mayo Clinic warns that you may not see an improvement in your complexion for up to eight weeks when using prescription acne treatments.

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