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So, just what is acne?

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Your acne 101: the 6 stages of the spot

Zits, spots, pimples... call them what you may, acne affects most teens and a good chunk of the adult population too. This much-maligned condition causes different types of spot to appear on the face, back or chest, but just what causes acne and how does it all work?

The biology behind the blemish

Step 1:

Acne is a skin condition that occurs due to changes in our hormone levels, particularly at puberty and throughout your teenage years. Hormones known as androgens communicate with the glands that secrete sebum into little openings in skin called follicles.


In essence, acne is a malfunctioning of this sebaceous gland-follicle combo. Normally, sebum protects skin with a waterproof layer, but hormonal changes cause secretion to go into overdrive, making skin much oilier.

Step 2:

changes occur in the cells at the skin's surface as well as in the lining of the follicles. Skin's top layer becomes thicker and stickier under the influence of the very same hormones. Result?

Step 3!

Follicles get clogged with a sticky mixture of cells and sebum. Blackheads form, where this mixture darkens in contact with the air, or whiteheads, where it's sealed beneath the surface.

Ready for step 4?

This is where a pesky bacterium called P.Acnes gets involved. It multiplies in airless environments like blocked pores and causes inflammation. The consequences: raised red spots, pustules or even deeper, hard lesions called nodules and cysts.

Step 5

is the clean-up operation. Mega waste-disposal cells called macrophages move in, eliminating the damaged tissues and stimulating skin to finally start repairing the damage. This takes days to weeks, depending on the severity.

Step 6

is special. This is where you regain control. With the right treatment, you can short-circuit any one of the above stages. Don't go it alone: seek professional advice from your pharmacist or doctor.

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