When you first start battling breakouts, you head to the drug store and pick up some over-the-counter treatments in the health and beauty aisle. Unfortunately, those products don’t fix the problem. So you order advanced acne treatment from an infomercial because a celebrity said it works wonders.

And it does…if dry, flaky red skin counts as “wonders.” At this point, you’re frustrated and desperate for a real solution. That’s when you make an appointment with a dermatologist.

The doctor spends less than five minutes “examining” you from across the room. After answering a couple of generic questions about your skin, you’re handed a prescription and scheduled for a follow up in six weeks.

If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Many acne sufferers have never really been educated about their skin condition, except on a superficial level that leads them to pour money into quick fixes that often don’t work.

It’s time to get educated about what acne really is.

Understanding the science of acne

There are three primary medical terms to describe the skin conditions that are grouped under the “acne” umbrella:

  • Retention Hyperkeratosis
  • Acne Cosmetica
  • Acne Mechanica

At a basic level, acne is the buildup of too many dead skin cells inside your pores. Healthy skin sheds one layer of dead skin cells daily; acne-prone skin can shed up to five times that amount. Your skin can’t regulate the excess dead skin cells, which is why breakouts happen.

Retention Hyperkeratosis

This medical terminology simply means that your skin is retaining too many dead skin cells. As a result, your pores don’t function the way they are supposed to. Although there are many contributing factors to acne, a major cause is genetic predisposition. In other words, you can thank mom and dad for your less-than-perfect complexion.

Acne Cosmetica

Sometimes, mom and dad aren’t to blame. The culprit for your pimply skin could be your makeup. Acne Cosmetica breakouts are happen when your cosmetics are comedogenic, meaning they cause “comedones”–skin clogging bits of oil and makeup that leads to breakouts. Some cosmetics companies incorrectly put “non-comedogenic” on their product labels, which can trick people into unwittingly causing their own skin problems.

Acne Mechanica

If genetics or makeup aren’t the cause of your acne, it could be Acne Mechanica. This type of acne is usually caused by workouts. Friction between your clothes or equipment traps moisture on your skin. The irritation from the friction triggers your pores to create additional oils and also leads to an increase in dead skin cells.

The root cause of the friction could be any number of things, such as:

  • Sports bra or other tight-fitting workout clothes
  • Backpack (think mountain climbers, hikers, military)
  • Shoulder pads, chin straps and other athletic gear (think football players)

Understanding the evolution of acne

Acne begins when your skin sheds more dead skin cells than your body can get rid of on its own. On top of that, the cells and oil produced by acne-prone skin are stickier than healthy skin cells and oil. The sticky combination mixes inside your pores and causes a plug.

The plug is called a microcomedone. This is the beginning of the dreaded pimple. All breakouts start out this way: as a microcomedone. Your body determines what happens next and what type of breakout you’ll experience. There are four possibilities:

  1. Blackhead
  2. Whitehead (non-inflamed)
  3. Pustule
  4. Cyst (inflamed)

Most people experience a combination of these symptoms–a mix of inflamed and non-inflamed acne.

The evolution of acne from a microscopic comedone to a full-fledged breakout can take as long as two to three months. That’s because the microcomedone settles in at the base of the pore. It takes weeks to mature and become large enough to be seen or felt under the skin. That’s why quick-fix acne treatments don’t work, whether you get them from a drug store or a dermatologist.

When you start acne treatment, your skin will be at many levels in the acne process simultaneously. You can get rid of visible breakouts, but still have microcomedones hiding under the surface. As a result, you may need a minimum of three months of treatments to see clear skin. Severe acne cases may take as many as six months to see lasting results.

If you’ve tried all the conventional acne treatments to no avail, you may need the help of an acne specialist. The team of licensed estheticians at Atlanta Acne Specialists is here to help you understand your condition and teach you the steps to getting clear skin at last. Schedule an appointment with us today.