By Karen Espig

Most of us have had that moment when a pimple mysteriously appears front-and-centre on our faces. Often on the day of that extra-special event when photos will most definitely be taken. Or right before that nerve-wracking job interview. 

Let’s try and figure out why and hopefully stop the next outbreak in its tracks. Acne is almost always the result of blocked pores, and four main factors usually create this issue:

Hormonal Changes

These account for most breakouts during puberty and can similarly affect women during menstrual cycles, pregnancy, nursing, and menopause. Hormones directly affect the microscopic sebaceous glands in the skin that produce a waxy, oily substance (sebum) that keeps your skin moist and protected

When there is excess sebum, the pores become blocked, resulting in a pimple or blackhead.

Very Oily Skin

Your skin type is a factor. You cannot change your genetics, but if you have oily or combination skin, you should choose your face cleanser accordingly. You will want one that cleanses effectively without stripping your skin of moisture and necessary oil. 

Also, be sure to wash your hair regularly, especially along the hairline, to keep scalp oil from reaching the more sensitive skin on the face.

Inflammation Due To Bacteria

Sometimes breakouts are caused by inflammation resulting from the interaction of bacteria, ph levels, oxygen supply, and enzymes on the skin. 

There is some indication now that this also has a genetic component because everyone has the Cutibacterium acnes bacteria, but not everyone has an issue with acne.

Dead Skin Cells Clumping 

Sticky cells are also a major player in acne flare-ups; this too tends to be genetic. Pores are supposed to shed one layer of skin per day; however, acne-prone skin sheds up to five layers which is more than your skin can keep up with. 

Pimples result when the follicle becomes blocked with dead skin cells and sebum.

In addition to these four factors, another potential trigger for that breakout is medications, such as corticosteroids, anabolic steroids, oral contraceptives, and lithium. 

How Should You Treat Your Breakout?

The path to rid yourself of blemishes depends on what type of breakout you are experiencing. Try to stick to one treatment routine long enough to see if it is effective because changing too quickly can irritate your skin.

Whiteheads are closed clogged pores, and blackheads are open clogged pores. Both are effectively treated with retinoids, such as adapalene, and cleaning using benzoyl peroxide.

If you have papules (small red, tender bumps under the skin surface) or pustules (papules with pus), an acne face wash containing benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid may be helpful. Treatment should be followed for six to eight weeks.

If your acne includes painful lumps under the skin, such as nodules or cystic lesions, you should see a dermatologist for a treatment plan. These blemishes may cause severe scarring or even infection.

What About Diet?

There is no clear evidence that changes to diet will prevent or lessen outbreaks. Then again, there is no evidence that it doesn’t. It is thought that diet can affect hormones, one of the factors triggering acne. 

It is also known that some foods trigger inflammation in the body; however, no direct link to acne has been established.

What Not To Do

There are many don’ts when it comes to acne skin care. Number one is: do not pick at or pop blemishes; you are more likely to push bacteria deeper into the skin, causing inflammation. 

If you are using a medicated cream, don’t just apply it to the blemish; instead, spread a thin layer over the whole area. Be sure to follow a good skincare routine, clean your skin by washing off make-up before bed, and use a clean towel to wipe your face after a workout.

When To Seek Medical Advice

If your acne is not responding to over-the-counter treatments or you are having additional reactions to them, it is best to refer to the experts. Here is a quick checklist to help you determine if it is time for professional help to clear up your acne.

It is important to note that a sudden breakout could also be a symptom of an underlying health condition, such as polycystic ovarian disease or endocrine imbalances. A visit to the doctor is always prudent if you are unsure of the cause of a sudden outbreak or any other mysterious symptoms.

So as it turns out, many of the causes of acne are outside of your control and, therefore, hard to avoid. The good news is there are many easily-accessible treatment options to quicken healing. And while the jury is still out on the influence of diet, eating healthily and keeping yourself hydrated never hurts.