What is Acne

Living in today’s world, you’ll often hear ‘beauty is only skin deep’. As someone who has suffered from acne for over 10 years, this phrase is especially annoying. The truth of the matter is, most people don’t even know what is acne and how it is formed. This blog post will attempt to answer these two basic questions.

For me, this phrase touches a very sensitive spot because while I do not consider myself to be overly concerned with my looks, the way I obsess over my skin says the opposite. Having acne makes me feel that I’m going into the world of beauty with a disadvantage.

Of course having acne has shaped my perception of beauty, however I don’t think I’m wrong by considering the foundation of aesthetic beauty to be clear skin. Therefore, I think that it is unfair to apply the concept of ‘beauty is only skin deep’ to someone suffering from acne.

How This Can Affect Your Life?

I rarely go out without wearing concealer and I feel extremely anxious after a long day when I haven’t had time to touch up my makeup. I also avoid staying over at anyone’s house or having anyone stay with me, because I don’t want them to see my skin in the morning.

From the outside, these behaviours are often interpreted as shallow, especially since my refusal to go out with a bare face makes it seem like makeup is extremely important to me. But it is not that the makeup itself that is important. Rather, it is the makeup’s function.

what is acne

This is what society dictates your skin HAS to look like. Otherwise you’re “ugly”

Acne is treated by many people as a cosmetic issue and this is one reason we don’t talk about it openly. Instead of being seen for what it is- a skin disease- we see it as a beauty flaw.

In turn, this perception makes us treat acne using beauty products. Piling on the makeup has a superficial feel and on top of that, it can make acne worse. Therefore, I think an important step in curing acne is understanding its real cause and treating it for what it is.

I am going to help you understand the cause of your acne on a deeper level so that in the future you can have the tools to treat it more effectively.

The Biology Behind Acne

It is important to understand the biological cause of acne and what acne is before trying to find a cure because clear skin is a commodity in a consumer society and most people catering to us are businessmen.

Remember all the lotions, gels, astringents, toners, scrubs, masks, and pills you’ve bought over the years that just ended up being part of your collection of useless acne remedies?

You probably bought these because you were promised a quick cure for your acne and like many before you, fell for it. As someone who has gone through this before, let me just remind you that to skin-product companies, acne-prone people are fresh meat.

Ignorance and desperation are a deadly combination and profit-oriented companies are experts in sniffing out the vulnerable.

As an acne-sufferer myself, I often wonder whether my body is as great and amazing as biology indicates. However, I understand that everything happens for a reason and so I am going to explain the biological cause of acne.

Basically, the root cause of acne is sebum. Sebum is simply an oily substance produced by oil glands in your skin. The function of sebum is to protect your skin from bacteria that cause infection and prevent dryness.

However, sometimes your skin produces too much sebum and it creates clogging problems. This is just a disaster waiting to happen because at the same time that you are over-producing sebum, your skin is shedding and the dead skin cells are being gathered in your pores.

Here’s a nice visual summary I found online:

the causes of acne

Common Acne

The most basic type of pimple is just a pore stuffed with a mixture of dead skin cells and skin oil. These pimples are called comedos (white heads). Comedones, or black heads, are formed when the stuff inside your pimple pops out a bit and has a chemical reaction with the air. That reaction is called ‘lipid oxidation’ and is responsible for the color of a blackhead, which many people think is due to dirt.

Here is a visual representation of the maturation process of classic acne

Here is a visual representation of the maturation process of classic acne

People who don’t have acne either produce just the right amount of sebum or shed skin cells at a normal rate. You would think that because our body is always trying to be balanced, the rate of shedding would depend on sebum production or vice versa. However, acne is the product of this lack of coordination.

Bacterial / Severe Acne

Another type of pimple is a bit more complicated and is caused by the bacterial type of acne. This type of pimple does not form because the pore is clogged.  Instead, it is caused by a bacteria called Propionibacterium acnes or P. acnes. This pimple forms in two steps:

1. The P. acnes bacteria develops on your skin

The P. acnes bacteria needs to eat a substance called glycerol in order to survive and lives inside your pores because skin oil has a lot of glycerol.

However, in order to digest the glycerol, the bacteria needs to produce an acid and this acid causes inflammation. This is what causes the redness that comes with acne.

2. Your body is full of cells that fight infection.

One of these cells is called a neutrophil and they’re assigned to the inflammation department.

Inflammation is your body’s way of alerting these cells that infection is on its way, so whenever there is inflammation, these guys come running to the scene. Neutrophils are pretty intense cells because they actually eat the bad cells and let the chemicals inside them do the killing.

Then, they remain alive for around six days just to make sure that the harmful bacteria are taken care of. However, the war between neutrophil and infectious bacteria causes a nasty puss-filled pimple on your face and because of the neutrophil’s life-span, it makes the pimple live for a week. These are the pimples that you see with severe acne.

I hope this post helped you understand what is acne and what causes it. Remember, understanding your condition gives you the possibility to establish a strategy to get rid of it.

Is there something you think I forgot in this post? Let me know in the comment section, I’ll work on adding it to the body of the post with a mention to your site / social profiles!


1. Tortora, Gerard J., Berdell R. Funke, and Christine L. Case. “Microbiology: an introduction” 2007. pp. (453, 585, 565, 594-5).