Blemishes on your record? It happens to most all of us, and for many, zits, pimples, breakouts, or whatever else you call them continue to appear well beyond our teen years. And their causes are many. Here's more (perhaps more than you may ever have wanted to know) about blemishes.
Blemishes are small, inflamed bumps that can appear anywhere on skin but are most common on the face, back and chest. You might call them zits, pimples, blackheads, whiteheads and so on. Common and not serious, blemishes can leave scars, however, so it's important to know how to treat your skin, and what not to do when you're having a breakout. (We'll get to that below!)
Yeah, but, how do zits happen?
We have pores everywhere on our bodies. These tiny openings release sweat as well as an oily, waxy substance called sebum. Sebum is made by sebaceous glands. Though these microscopic glands are found in most areas of the body, the face and scalp have the highest concentration.
Sebum is a good thing—it forms a protective barrier that keeps the hydration that's naturally in your skin from evaporating and it fights brittleness in the hair. (Side note about sebum: if your skin is oily, what you're feeling is partly sebum but also, sweat, dead skin cells and anything else that landed there, like particles of dust and dirt.) Sebum keeps your skin from feeling dry and some scientists believe it helps keep bacteria and fungi away. But when we produce excess sebum, it can clog pores and that's how we get blemishes.
But I thought breakouts were a teenage thing. I'm well into adulthood. What gives?
Clogged pores do tend to be more common around puberty and into young adulthood. During this time, hormones stimulate sebaceous glands and many people get blemishes. Hormonal changes during pregnancy and in midlife, particularly during menopause, can also bring on pimples. But there are other factors that could lead to being more prone to breakouts. Certain medications, genetics, underlying pituitary, adrenal, ovarian and testicular conditions could affect the amount of sebum you produce.
Can anything prevent breakouts? Or lessen them?
It was once believed that eating chocolate and greasy foods made skin more prone to breakouts. Science has ruled out these theories but some studies point to diets that are high in carbohydrates (like chips, breads and bagels) leading to more breakouts. If you have any food sensitivities, these may also be a factor.
Stress is something to try to mitigate for so many reasons but according to the Mayo Clinic, stress doesn't cause breakouts. However, if your skin is acne-prone, stress could make the condition worse. So keep on with your habits that help you manage it.
There are a few more things to avoid that can in turn help you prevent breakouts: friction or pressure caused by a helmet or a cap that has a tight band, a collar, headband or backpack straps that rub against your skin; and droplets of cooking oil that land on your skin if you work in a kitchen.
Why do some zits look so different from others? And what are the terms for them?
Though clogged pores are the cause of all of them, some breakouts are inflammatory (bacterial) and others are noninflammatory (nonbacterial).
Whiteheads: Named for the light-colored area of the blemish that is filled with hardened oil and skin cells, not pus. You see the white "head" because the clogged pore has stayed closed.
Blackheads: When the clogged pore is open, air hits it and melanin (the natural pigment found in skin) oxidizes, which makes the pore look black. Here, too, the substance is oil and skin cells, not pus.
Papules: These are red bumps that can feel tender. You can tell that papules are caused by inflammation, the body's natural response to infection, because they look raw and well, inflamed. Papules tend to appear in groups, often on the forehead or cheeks.
Pustules: Papules that contain pus are pustules. Pus has oil and dead skin cells like the substance found in blackheads and whiteheads but pus also contains bacteria, which causes infection. As the body fights the infection, redness and swelling occur.
Nodules: Rather than staying in a single pore, bacteria and oil can spread when the walls of a hair follicle break down. When it happens, multiple pores can be affected and the substance can get deeper into the skin. Nodules are the result and can lead to scarring.
Cysts: Like nodules, cysts occur more deeply but unlike nodules, a membrane forms around the area. Often painful, they are caused by a severe inflammatory reaction.
So how can I care for my skin when I'm experiencing breakouts?
- Go easy: When you wash your face, don't scrub excessively but do wash twice a day with a gentle, clarifying cleanser. Getting rid of dead skin cells and pollutants can help keep pores from clogging.
- Hands off: If you have a habit of touching your face, try to break it. And definitely don't pick at, scratch, rub or otherwise disturb any breakouts. It won't speed up the healing process and could lead to scarring and hyperpigmentation (dark spots).
- Moisturize: It may seem counterintuitive to hydrate skin but dryness can contribute to clogged pores. Go figure.
- Sun protection: Wear sunscreen every day. Always. Regardless of how often you break out.
- Clean anything that touches your face: This is especially important if you have inflammatory breakouts. Clean your phone, eyeglasses, sunglasses, pillowcase and anything else that comes in contact with your skin regularly.
What about makeup? Should I skip it?
You can use makeup. Look for the word "non-comedogenic," which means "won't clog pores" on the label. Just be sure to wash your face before you go to bed.
Skincare That Can Help With Blemishes
Look for skincare that addresses your concerns. AllWell Beauty products are clinically proven to get results, some of which target blemishes and issues related to them.
Botanical Radiance Face + Body Mask
Our mask's mild exfoliation helps remove dead cells from skin's surface, so they don't clog pores. Also nice: you can use it anywhere on your body where your skin needs some attention.
Have hyperpigmentation from old blemishes? In our clinical study:
- 75% of participants who used the mask 3x weekly for 4 weeks experienced a visual improvement of hyperpigmentation.
- 100% reported their faces looked more bright, radiant and smooth
- 97% noticed a more even skin tone
- 84% experienced improvement in skin tone clarity
Daily Glow AOX Serum
This serum supports smoother skin texture, a brighter complexion and helps improve the look of dark spots.
In our clinical study:
- 87% of participants who used the serum 2x daily for 8 weeks showed less visible dark spots
Botanical Hydrating Moisturizer
Hydrating acne-prone skin is important but you may need a moisturizer that works for oily skin. BHM is a winner! In our clinical study, participants who used the moisturizer 2x daily for 2 weeks showed:
- 93% improvement in skin hydration throughout the day and immediate hydration upon application
- 76% noticed their faces looked visibly less shiny