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by Dr.Ying-Chin Wu

All-in-one solution to acnes, pimples, and widened pores! Specialist's take on the cause and the right way to cure pimples

Acnes and pimples are perhaps the most troubling skincare problems to people of all ages and genders! There is usually more than one cause to the problem, and they tend to accompany each other like best pals. A widened pore creates environment for acne, and a cluster of acnes induce inflammation, creating pimples that, if mishandled, leave scars. Without learning the pathology, we can easily waste efforts in the wrong place! In this article, we will take a look at the science behind acnes, pimples, and pores, as well as the right treatments for the problems. 

First, which skin condition gives rise to pimples and acnes?

Many people do not know the difference between acne and pimple, and simply put, acne is a "precursor" to pimple. It all begins with acne growing inside a pore, to the point that it clogs up the pore and pushes into surrounding tissues, causing inflammation. Meanwhile, an anaerobic bacterium called propionibacterium acnes grows within the closed environment, infecting the acne and eventually turning it into pimple. If your skin meets any of the following conditions, there is a high chance for acnes to develop: 
1. Overactive sebaceous glands and over-secretion of sebum, most commonly due to temperature. Studies have shown that a 1℃ increase in temperature would increase sebum secretion by 10%, which is why pimples and acnes are especially common in summer. Other common causes include hormonal change (particularly on days before and after monthly cycle, and puberty), anxiety, stress, lack of sleep, incorrect skincare, spicy or sweet food etc.
 
2. Poor cell turnover that results in the buildup of dead skin cells to clog up pores, or incomprehensive cleaning or makeup removal that leaves impurities behind to clog up pores. The mixture of dead skin cells, body waste, and sebum then develops into acne over time.
 
Acnes can be distinguished between "open acne" and "closed acne" depending on whether there is an opening. The infamous blackhead is an open acne; it appears black as a result of oxidation after coming into contact with air. Closed acne, on the other hand, generally exists deep inside the follicle, and although there is no opening, we can feel a slight bump in our skin. If acnes are left untreated, they may cause inflammation and be infected with bacteria to give rise to irritating pimples. 

Why do pores widen?

Now that we have a basic understanding to the cause of acne and pimple, have you noticed that they both occur inside the same space? Yes, the pores. As acne forms, it expands and enlarges the pore it occupies, and any excess sebum would further highlight the presence of widened pores. Another cause of widened pore is aging. As people age or are exposed to UV ray, they lose collagen in the skin, and without collagen, the "scaffolds" that support the pore interior become weak, which causes pores to collapse and lose tightness.

So what is the best way to reduce acnes and pimples?
Answer: choose the right skincare approach with acid-based solution

Instead of healing one acne and pimple at a time, what you really want to do is to address the root causes, which are "over-secretion of sebum" and "poor cell turnover." The former can be achieved by reducing skin temperature, maintaining healthy diet, getting enough sleep, and voiding stress and anxiety, whereas the latter requires more mild cleaning, hydration, and use of acid-based solutions in daily skincare to promote cell turnover, and thereby keeping pores free of obstruction.

Mandelic acid is undoubtedly the most popular ingredient used in clinical pimple treatments today. Due to its fat-soluble nature, mandelic acid binds with sebum at the stratum corneum and is therefore less irritative to the skin. Mandelic acid also has larger molecules that prolong the time it takes for the solution to reach the basal layer, and therefore promotes gentle renewal of excess dead skin cells, breaks down acne, and clears and tightens pores. It even works well on closed acne, which considered one of the toughest conditions to handle! Unlike mud masks and face masks that only clean the skin surface, mandelic acid actually speeds up breakdown of acne and promotes renewal of dead skin cells to restore the skin's normal function.

Specialists debunk skincare myths: removing acne incorrectly makes things worse!

Acnes tend to stick out like a sore thumb when growing on the face, which is why many people would go too far extremes to get rid of them. However, most methods only work temporarily:

 

1. Squeezing:
Squeezing should be avoided, whether or not an acne has an opening. Squeezing incorrectly could damage the skin, and may even escalate inflammation already caused by acne. 

 

2. Dead cell physical removers: pore strips, face mask, face scrubs
Pore strips and masks commonly sold in pharmacy stores all work in a similar manner: by forming a film over the skin that sticks to the acne beneath surface, and pulling it out. However, despite going through all the trouble, the skin will continue to secrete sebum and build up dead skin cells. Most of the time, this method can only remove sebaceous filament, which is the sebum normally secreted by the follicle, leaving the acne mostly intact. Furthermore, they do nothing to prevent acne from forming at the root, and ripping off strips incorrectly, repeatedly, or violently may even cause damage to the pores.
The same things can be said for face scrubs, as they merely remove dead skin cells at the skin surface and do not address acne at the root. In addition, uneven force or extensive rubbing may damage the skin's protective barrier and increase risk of irritation.

 

3. Deep-cleansing mud masks
Most mud masks sold in stores contain substances such as kaolinite and volcanic clay that help pick up excess sebum and impurities to achieve deep cleansing. However, they are only effective at "cleansing" and "clearing" dead skin cells at the shallow depth, and do not work deep enough into the pore to promote cell turnover or suppress bacteria. Mud masks are also very effective at removing grease that excessive use of which may cause irritation to the stratum corneum.

Due to the complexity of acne formation, treatments have to be adopted for multiple root causes at once in order to rid acnes for good. Once again, we remind everyone to begin by making lifestyle changes followed by proper skincare routines, and seek help from a specialist when in need.