How Acne Works | No-Nonsene Simple Steps + 1 Clever Trick

I know explanations on how acne works can be complex and confusing.  I find there is sometimes too much medical terminology and not enough actual explaining.  For example, Acne Vulgaris is the correct name for acne.  Acne Vulgaris?…give me a break.


Hello dear reader and acne survivor!  Thanks for dropping.

I’ve tried to make the process as simple as possible.  Anyway, what follows is a breakdown of the stages and development of acne in simple steps.    The learning of its development will help you in your fight against acne.  This is by way of knowing what happens and how to reverse/stop this process.

I’ve also included 1 Clever Trick that you can do right now to get you started on your fight against acne.

Step 1 – The Pore/Hair Follicle

Step 2 – Why an Over Production of Sebum?

Step 3 – A Blocked Pore

Step 4 – Bacteria

Step 5 – The Different Types

Step 6 – What to Do?


* The 6 Steps to How Acne Works *

Step 1.  The Pore/Hair Follicle

The Anatomy of a Hair FolliclePimples and acne begins with your hair, in the hair follicle (pore) – a tiny skin organ that produces hair.  There are thousands of hair follicles in your skin, which are denser on your face.  Each produce just one hair.

You can see in the anatomy of the hair follicle (pictured right) there exists the sebaceous gland.  Under normal skin conditions, this gland produces sebum, an oily matter.  Sebum lubricates the hair as it travels up toward the surface and protects the skin once it’s there.

Sebum is a good thing in the right doses.

N.B.  A hair follicle and pore can be used interchangeably.  A sweat pore or sweat gland is not the same thing and is much, much smaller.  Sweat glands are not where typical acne develops.  Additionally blocked sweat glands looks more like a rash.





Step 2.  Why An Over Production of Sebum?

Due to a variety of reasons, related or not, combined or not, sebaceous gland may produce MORE sebum than required.

These reasons can include poor diet, stress, puberty, and poor sleeping patterns.  They contribute to hormonal changes in the body that stimulate the sebaceous gland to OVERPRODUCE sebum.


Step 3.  A Blocked Pore

Hair follicle with an overproduction of sebumThis surplus of sebum may itself may clog the hair follicle, or more commonly, a mix of this extra sebum with dead skin cells (Keratin).  At the surface of the hair follicle sits this barricade.  It stops any more Sebum or dead skin cells to be expulsed from the hair follicle.

Other reasons for a blocked pore can be comedogenic substances in face products being used.  This can include heavy, viscous oils being put on your face such as coconut or cocoa oil.  Dirt can also clog pores.

N.B.  At this point in time, a pimple does not actually exist, this is simply a clogged pore or comedo.  Everybody gets these and they are not associated with acne pimples.  The whiteness is not white blood cells but a clogged mixture of sebum and keratin that hasn’t been oxidized yet such as a blackhead.  Illustrated below.

Also, there is a type of acne that happens called Papules.  This is when normal comedones become inflamed and seem more like a rash than typical acne.  No blackheads or whiteheads are visible but it is sore and hard to touch.

 How Acne Works

Step 4.  Bacteria

Propionibacterium AcnesThe comedo makes the area susceptible for bacteria to grow and multiply. This bacteria known as Propionibacterium Acnes which lives off of sebum. When a comedo forms this bacteria flourishes causing inflammation, redness and pain.  

NOW, a pimple has formed.

Another more vicious bacteria that really causes infection is Staphylococcus which can live on the surface on the skin.  This bacteria is responsible for a pimple that is deeply painful and red, and can possibly leave scars.


Step 5.  Different Types

What forms next is result of multiple variables.  These include the bacteria, sebum production, scratching or picking your face, products you use, smoking and range of others…..More to the point, there are different KINDS and severity of acne.  How acne works is quite simple but it is these variables which determine your acne.  Identifying them is essential to control acne.  Below they are listed in terms of severity.

Acne Mechanica – Not really acne, and the kind you wish you had – if you could choose and couldn’t choose none at all.  Acne Mechanica is usually on the forehead and only targets sports people or hat/helmet wearers.  It’s caused by sweat and the constant friction between your skin and the inside of your headpiece.  Quite simple to stop.  Change your sweatbands regularly and wash your forehead.  Let it dry and definitely don’t pick at it.

Mild-Moderate-Severe Acne – This is the most common type of acne.  I’d say I was around the moderate scale.  This sort of acne can last from a few months to a number of years.  It is easier to treat than the other types of acne listed, but as you all know, it still has some incredible resilience.

Pustules – Are like the previously mentioned Papules (Step 3 N.B.) except they are much more inflamed, pus filled, red and may have broken the skin.  This type of acne is most severe and usually a few of these are visible with moderate and severe acne.  Scarring is likely with pustules, especially if you squeeze or scratch them.  A dermatologist can help with these.

Nodules – Nodule and cystic acne is very similar in that they go deeper into the skin.  Nodules are hard and may or may not have pus in them.  Nodules are the horror ones that stay on your face for 2 weeks that you get maybe 2 or 3 times a year.

Cystic – Cystic acne are softer than nodules, and actually are pus filled.  This doesn’t mean you squeeze them though.  Like nodules they have a shelf life of 2 weeks.  Acne that is comprised of many nodule and cystic acne lesions is the most severe.  The kind you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy.  A dermatologist must be seen and something like Accutane is prescribed.  (Even though Accutane itself is the devil).



Step 6.  What to Do?

Now you know a little more about how acne works you can start to combat it better.  There are plenty of websites like the American Academy of Dermatology offering great help with tips, advice, products, treatments, and reviews.  

You just have to find something that works for you because everybody is different.  I do a variety of simple things every day such as 3 day apple fasts, drink lemon water most mornings, and using sulfate-free shampoo.  I also eat well and take Pantothen.

Thanks for reading and I hope I’ve informed you in some way on how acne works.  If there are any questions or queries, please don’t hesitate to ask, just post them below and I’ll answer them as best I can.


And as Promised…1 Clever Trick for Acne

Phones can cause acne.Drink Water!

No, I’m kidding…I mean, do drink water to help your skin.  But that’s not my little trick.

Here’s the trick.  Look in the mirror and check to see if your acne is worse on one side.  If it is, it will most likely be on the side of your dominant hand.  Clean your cell phone!

It is harboring that many nasties, it isn’t funny.  You spend on average 58 minutes a day on your phone.  Rubbing your hands all over it repeatedly after touching other things throughout the day.  It’s like a germ bank.  Then you press it against your face.

It’s messing with the pH levels of your skin.  It’s also putting more different strains of bacteria onto already inflamed skin.  And, adding pore clogging dirt to your face.  Clean your phone once or twice week minimum.  Simply wipe it down with a paper towel and some antibacterial.

Dirt and grease on your phone can cause pimples.
Dirt and grease on your phone can cause pimples.

However, there is another reason and the most important.  The average time spent talking on a phone is 15 minutes a day.  And, we generally prefer to use one side.  So that side of your face gets a nice, warm massage every day for 15 minutes.  And, this can over stimulate sebum production  As you now know from the steps above, this isn’t good.

So clean your phone regularly.  Also using earphones is a great option too.

Do this, and it takes away another reason for getting pimples.  It may not fix it but it will reduce it.  Hope this helps.


Cheers Rohan





By BruceBlaus. Cited staff. “Blausen gallery 2014”. Wikiversity Journal of Medicine. DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.010. ISSN 20018762. (Own work) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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