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Skin School  >   Acne Basics

3 Reasons Why Your Skin Is Breaking Out

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Why do you get breakouts when you're already using a million different skincare products? Acne is a skin condition faced by over 60 million Americans, so you're not alone in this struggle. But before we get into treatment, we need to understand how our skin works. 


Everything that you think causes acne, are actually just contributors to the actual causes of acne. There are three main reasons why you may be seeing clogged pores and oily skin. First, let's dive into a pimple! 


Magnified view with propionibacterium acnes


How does acne develop?

All pimples begin with the blockage of a hair follicle, aka a clogged pore. There are three major contributors to clogged pores:


1. Sebum

Sebum is naturally produced by our sebaceous glands to keep the skin and hair moisturized. The skin has thousands of sebaceous glands per square inch because sebum also maintains the skin’s flexibility and acts as a barrier, protecting it from infections. Sebum production is controlled by hormones, such as androgens like testosterone. During puberty, teenagers often experience hormonal fluctuations, causing sebaceous glands to enlarge and produce more sebum. This overproduction of sebum can cause breakouts or oily skin.


2. Dead skin cells

During another natural process, desquamation (or cell turnover as it’s more commonly known), dead skin cells are replaced with new skin cells. The skin renews itself every 28 to 40 days, shedding the uppermost (or oldest) layer and revealing fresh new skin that originates from the deepest layer of the epidermis. New skin cells travel up to the skin’s surface and push off the old layers, but sometimes, they don’t complete their mission. That’s how we end up with dry patches, flaky skin and clogged pores -- the dead skin cells are still hanging on! 


3. Bacteria

Propionibacterium acnes Aka P. acnes, is a naturally occurring bacteria that lives at the base of the hair follicle. It survives by eating away the sebum and cellular debris around the hair follicle and it’s typically harmless. However, when hormone levels rise, the overproduction of sebum leads to an oversupply of P. acnes. And this increase of activity causes irritation and inflammation of the surrounding tissue. 

Woman with back acne


Where Else Can Acne Appear?

If you’re dealing with acne on your face, it’s probably lurking elsewhere on your body too - perhaps it’s your neck, chest, upper arms, back or even on your butt! But don’t despair, you’re not alone. It could be mild or severe, but almost everyone suffers from body acne at some point.

Body breakouts are caused by the same reasons as breakouts on the face: excess sebum, dead skin cells and too much bacteria. We have more sebaceous glands on our  upper body, which is why we sweat more from our chest, neck, and back than from our legs. Those areas produce more sebum, and since they are often hot and slightly moist, there are more bacteria and debris to clog the follicles.

Now that you know a bit more about why you break out, you’re probably wondering what you can do to unclog pores and prevent breakouts? 

Read the next part of the Pimple Problems series:

Could You Be Washing Your Face the Wrong Way?

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