barrier that works in two ways: 1) it limits the
amount of water that sinks into our skin, and
2) it prevents us from losing too much water
through our skin. Also, sebum protects the
skin from bacterial and fungal infections. But
you can have too much of a good thing.
Sebum comes from sebaceous glands
located inside hair follicles (not from pores,
which are the openings to sweat glands).
Sebum is composed of lipids, or fats, which
do not dissolve in water, which is why sebum
skin. Sebum contains a variety of different
lipids, but the exact composition of sebum
varies with a person’s age.
When too much sebum is produced, a follicle can become blocked, allowing the oil, along
with dead skin cells, to build up. Add some
P. acnes bacteria to the mix, and you have all
of the ingredients for a slow-growing infection
that will lead to swelling, redness, and inflammation. In other words: a big, nasty zit (Fig. 1).
Pimples can be spotted by that telltale bulge
they create in the skin. Dead skin cells and
oils collect in the opening to the hair follicle,
producing a bump called a comedo. If the
skin over the bump stays closed, the bump
is called a whitehead. When the skin over the
bump opens, exposure to the air causes it to
look black (due to oxidation), and another type
of pimple, called a blackhead, forms. An acne
infection that happens deep within a hair follicle produces the dreaded, painful, and lumpy
pimple called a cyst.
see spots when
they look in the
Days By Joely Johnson Mork
MEGAN TRIED ALL THE POSSIBLE PROD- ucts on the market. She spent lots of time and plenty of money and got only dried-out—but still broken-out—skin in return. Then came what Megan calls the Upper Lip Breakout of 2014. “It was earth-shattering. I mean, my
sister started calling it my ‘zit stache.’ It lasted
almost a whole year.” Megan was desperate.
Hopefully, your breakouts won’t be as bad
as Megan’s. Even minor acne, however, can be
a serious problem. While no one has ever died
of pimples, acne can have such a big impact
on self-esteem and confidence that experts
consider treatment essential.
Unfortunately, 80% to 90% of teenagers
will have to cope with their share of acne. But
they are not the only ones. As unfair as it may
sound, people in their 30s, and even 40s, can
still experience breakouts. More than 17 million U.S. residents see spots when they look
in the mirror.
What causes acne?
In technical terms, pimples are called acne
vulgaris, and Propionibacterium acnes are
the bacteria responsible for stirring up all
that trouble. Interestingly, P. acnes is found
on almost everyone’s skin, whether or not
pimples are visible.
This common, anaerobic organism needs
certain conditions in which to create its signature brand of havoc, and the main requirement
is an excess of oil. (The other contributing
factor is an overgrowth of skin cells.) Our
bodies produce plenty of oil on purpose. Once
this slick substance, called sebum, makes its
way to the surface of our skin, it becomes a Figure 1. Two types of pimples: (a) a whitehead; and (b) a blackhead S H U