Taking Care of Acne-Prone Skin


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When you're battling acne, your best defense is to know your enemy.


So, what exactly is going on under the surface of the skin when you break out?


At a basic level, acne is a disorder of the oil glands in your skin, and the hair follicles to which they're attached.


When your oil glands are doing their job, they produce enough oil to flow freely through the opening of the hair follicle, providing a protective layer of oil for your skin.


Acne happens when the oil glands become too active, making too much oil for the hair follicle to handle. At the same time, the skin cells that slough off into the opening of the hair follicle get plugged up, making it even more difficult for the oil to reach the surface of the skin.


Acne Inflammation: What Causes Blackheads and Whiteheads?


When the inflammation caused by this clogging stays closed but bulges out from the skin, it becomes what's often called a whitehead.


If the pore clogs up but stays open and gets exposed to air, oxidation of the oil causes the surface to darken, creating what is known as blackheads.


Acne happens when the oil glands become too active, making too much oil for the hair follicle to handle (image courtesy of KidsHealth)"The oil and dead skin cells are basically food for the normal bacteria that live on our skin, and they start to increase in number, stimulating the inflammation we see as acne," explains UW Health Integrative Dermatologist Apple Bodemer.


When there's enough pressure on the hair follicle, it can explode under the skin, leading to even larger and more painful acne nodules, as well as a much higher risk for scarring.


"So the number one thing you shouldn't do with acne is to squeeze or try to 'pop' a pimple – it can be tempting, but it just makes the problem worse," Bodemer says.


"Try to remember: acne will resolve, but scars are permanent."


Tips for Taking Care of Acne-Prone Skin


When you're dealing with acne, Bodemer cautions that it's important to be gentle with your skin.


"It's the oil under the skin that's causing the problem," Bodemer says. "Over-scrubbing or over-drying your skin with toners and astringents will only signal the oil gland to make more oil, making your acne worse."


Bodemer offers the following tips to help care for acne-prone skin:

  • Wash your face with gentle cleansers (examples include Cetaphil, Aquanil, Free & Clear Liquid Cleanser and Dove Beauty Bar)
  • Do not use abrasive scrubs, wash cloths or sponges – when washing your face, just use your fingertips in a gentle, circular motion
  • Limit toners and astringents
  • Use over-the-counter acne medications carefully – they can be helpful, but they can also cause too much drying if over-used. This sends the wrong message to the oil glands, telling them to produce more oil.
  • Make sure any cosmetic you use is labeled non-comedogenic
  • Moisturize if you have dry skin– it may seem counter-intuitive, but using a light moisturizer can actually prevent your skin from going into oil-producing overdrive (some good options include Cetaphil, Vanicream Lite Lotion, CeraVe Moisturizing Lotion, Neutrogena Naturals Multi-Vitamin Nourishing Moisturizer and Olay Active Hydrating Beauty Fluid Lotion)

Bodemer also recommends apricot kernel oil as a natural option for moisturizing your skin.


"This is the lightest of the oils and is a great option as long as your skin isn't too oily," Bodemer says. "It is absorbed really well without blocking the pores."


More acne resources from UW Health:


Date Published: 10/09/2015

News tag(s):  apple a bodemerdermatologyskin carewellness

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