What Is Acne and How Do I Treat It?

What is acne? Why does it exist?!

We know, it's no fun, but it's very, very normal.  Did you know that 90% of the population has experienced acne at some point in their lives and adult acne rivals teen acne for frequency and severity.  You're not alone!

How Acne Forms: 

1 - When hair, sebum (natural facial oil) and skin cells clump together, it forms a plug that clogs the pore. 

2 - Skin bacteria present in everyone, called P.acnes, form in the plug and cause swelling underneath the skin – this is ACNE. 

3 - As the the plug starts to break down and comes up to the top of the skin, this is how a “white head” is formed.  Some plugs are very deep and painful and they push upward forming a large pimple that never forms a head. 

What Causes Acne? 

MANY things cause acne!

+ Natural changes in hormone levels

+ Improper diet or dietary sensitivities

+ Excess dirt on the skin

+ Some medicines

+ Improper skin care

+ Hereditary

+ Stress

+ Poor sleep

+ Pore-clogging makeup and skin products 

TIP: Do your best to not touch your face! The bacteria on your hands can seep into your pores and create and/or worsen the existing acne.

Types of Acne:

Acne Vulgaris

Result of dirt, oil and dead skin cells on the skin and improper cleansing

Causes blackheads, whiteheads, comedones, and pustules

Treatable with a good and consistent skincare routine

Microcystic Acne

Result of p. Acne bacteria, internal issues

Causes deep rooted acne

Not treatable with skincare

Must be addressed internally (what foods/drinks are you consuming), or with professional care

Skin Melanin 

ALL skin contains melanin, a natural skin pigment.  Your skin, hair and eye color depend on the type and amount of melanin you have.  Everyone has the same number of melanocytes, but some people make more melanin than others:

+ A little bit of melanin = your hair, skin and the iris of your eyes can be very light.  

+ More melanin = your hair, skin, and eyes will be darker. 

Those with more melanin tend to have a bit more skin sensitivity, and oily/combination skin. Though having more melanin can help protect from severe sun damage, you can still get sunburn, but you are a little less prone to wrinkles.  

You are also more prone to dark marks or discoloration and hyperpigmentation. Most common is post inflammatory hyperpigmentation which occurs as a reaction from acne, a cut or a burn and takes a bit longer to fade. 

Skin care can help reduce dark marks and hyperpigmentation!   

The Skin-Diet Connection

Dairy and Acne

New research has found acne can be connected to dairy consumption, specifically skim milk has a stronger connection than other types of dairy.  The hormones in dairy products were found to increase production of acne.

What Can You Do?

1.Try taking a break from dairy or cutting back to see if it makes a difference in your acne.
2.Try dairy-free alternatives like nut milks.


High vs Low Glycemic Load Diet

Foods with a high glycemic index are rapidly absorbed, which lead to higher serum glucose levels and elevated insulin levels which have been shown to increase sebum production and stimulate androgen synthesis, both of which can cause of acne.

Foods with High Glycemic Index – 


- sugar, sugary drinks

- white bread

- potatoes

- white rice

Foods with Low Glycemic Index –


- multigrain breads

- lentils/beans

- most fruits and vegetables

Diets containing low glycemic foods over 12-week durations have shown to improve acne, decrease inflammation and reduce the size of sebaceous glands.

Your Skincare Routine

When should you begin a skincare routine?  ASAP! 

Skin needs the same basic steps at every age:


= Balance oils, treat concerns (like acne), protect skin's barrier 

What products do you need?

1. Gentle Facial Cleanser – washes away dirt and excess oil without stripping

2. Treatment Product (serum, spot treatment, etc.) – delivers more potent active ingredients

3. Moisturizer – hydrates, seals in treatment products used prior, protects skin’s natural barrier

How To Build Your Skincare Routine


Determine skin type (dry, normal, combination, oily).

Determine concerns (acne, texture, dryness, blackheads, etc.) 


Research products that address those concerns (e.g. to address texture, find an exfoliant, to address dryness, find a hydrating serum or cream).

If possible, visit an esthetician to get product recommendations


Build routine based on your gathered information

Stay consistent with your routine to see the best results

Typically takes 4 weeks to see results from a skincare product

Adjust routine according to how your skin feels/reacts to products

TIP: When adding new products to your routine, add 1-2 products at a time to better understand how your skin reacts to it and in case of an adverse reaction. This makes it easier to narrow down which product is potentially causing a reaction.

When Skincare Isn't Enough

How will you know? 

NOTHING IS WORKING! You shouldn’t have to try every single salicylic acid acne treatment in Target to see results, but if you have, and you don’t see an improvement, there’s a problem. 

YOUR SKIN IS SCARRING!  Your acne is leaving divots in the skin or dark spots that don’t fade.

YOUR ACNE IS VERY PAINFUL. This is often a sign of infection.  

IT’S AFFECTING A LARGE AREA OF YOUR FACE.  Your acne is no longer just from a clogged pore or two, or it’s on most of your face, it’s probably an internal issue.

WHAT ONCE WORKED DOESN’T WORK ANYMORE. The skin can get “used to” a treatment, and it can no longer influence the skin to clear acne.

Where To Seek Extra Help

DON’T WORRY!  There is an answer to your acne!  Seek out help from any of these experts:

DERMATOLOGIST – a doctor specializing in skin health; for acne that lies deep under the skin dermatologists can prescribe topical or oral medication.

ESTHETICIAN – a licensed skincare expert; for many types of acne estheticians can perform facials, extractions and a variety of skincare treatments.  They can also recommend special skin care products. 

NURSE PRACTITIONER - a medical professional; for many types of acne nurse practitioners can perform a variety of skincare treatments, including laser.  They can also prescribe medications if necessary.

DIETICIAN – a licensed health expert; for many types of acne these experts can address potential food allergies or sensitivities that can cause or aggravate your acne.

Clear, glowing skin is always possible.  It can be a journey, but with patience, you will find your way.









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