Have you ever wondered what pimples actually are? How about how to prevent them? If you’re within the 85% of people who has had acne at some point, then you have probably asked yourself those questions as well.
First, here are some answers to common questions people may have about acne:
What are pimples/whiteheads/blackheads, anyway?
Although they have some pretty distasteful names, thankfully, the explanations behind pimples, whiteheads, and blackheads aren’t actually too gross.
First of all, I don’t think I can accurately describe this without talking about hair. People are actually covered in hair—even all over your face! In fact, humans have the same number of hairs as apes, but our hair is typically much finer.
You’ve probably heard the term pore….
but may not have learned that a pore is basically a little hole where a hair follicle grows, and also where sebaceous glands reside—glands which release sebum, a substance travels up hair follicles and out through your pores, where it lubricates and protects your hair and skin. If you’re thinking it’s weird that humans are basically covered in hair and little holes, I agree (just think about that the next time you’re feeling intimidated by your crush!).
Additionally, your body is constantly shedding dead skin cells. Sometimes your body produces too much sebum and dead skin cells, and those join together to block your pore. Once the pore is blocked, the gland continues to produce sebum, in which bacteria grows. Your immune system responds to the bacteria with its typical responses: inflammation, swelling and pus. And the result of all of that is what you’re looking at when you see a pimple!
A “whitehead” is just a term for a clogged hair follicle that gets closed off from air. Basically, for reasons more complicated than we need to get into, the “stuff” trapped into the follicle turns white.
When that stuff clogged up in your pores is exposed to air, it turns a dark color, which is what a “blackhead” actually is.
See! Not too gross, right? Ok, maybe a little…
What causes it?
The exact causes of acne are actually unknown. Although things like greasy food, chocolate, dirt, stress, etc. have been blamed, for the most part what it seems to come down to is a mix of genetics and hormones.
Great, then what can I do about it?
Although you may be more prone to pimples than others (and I am definitely one of those people), don’t despair—there are things you can do.
- Try not to irritate your skin. Things that could irritate it include rubbing, scratching, over-drying, sunburn, shaving your skin with an irritating razor, etc.
- Use products that have been proven to help such as anything with benzoyl peroxide (that has been proven to be the most effective), salicylic acid, glycolic acid, or lactic acid. However, do not wash your face more than twice per day, as that could actually do more harm than good.
- Use non-comedogenic makeup. Non-comedogenic just means that it won’t clog your pores. If you use regular makeup, then just try not to use too much of it.
- Try not to touch your face. Your hands are actually a breeding ground for bacteria.
- If these over-the-counter tips don’t help, you can see a doctor. Scheduling an appointment at campus health is a great place to start! UNC also has a dermatology clinic if need be.
And for the curious, here is a YouTube video that illustrates exactly how pimples are formed.