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The key to defeating acne - Understanding its lifecycle

Ever wondered why acne feels like a never-ending cycle of


Increased pollution, screen-time, and climate change are creating the perfect storm for acne to thrive.

Sufferers have tried every anti-acne treatment going from ‘miracle’ ingredients to different brands and even home remedies but have been less than impressed with the results. This frustrating cycle weakens their self-confidence and resolve, making the enemy seem even more daunting and formidable.

But in order to defeat acne, it’s very important to understand acne & it’s lifecycle.

Yes, you heard it right, Acne has a lifecycle of its own & needs to be treated throughout & not only when you see an inflamed pimple on your face. With the right approach to managing symptoms, you can help restore your skin's health and appearance.

So let’s get to understanding the acne lifecycle:

Acne life cycle

Stage 1: Acne Prone Skin:  It starts with a follicle gets blocked due to an overproduction of oil and dead skin cells. The over production of oil & sebum happens due to any internal triggers (hormonal changes, change in body temperature or change in skin type etc) or external triggers (pollution, sun, lack of sleep, food, stress etc). This makes your skin look greasy and even start seeing an oily T-zone.

Stage 2: Clogged Pores: The Acne life cycle begins with follicles in the skin becoming clogged. The follicle wall breaks down, causing sebum to accumulate and create a plug at the surface of the follicle that is visible as either a whitehead (closed comedone) or a blackhead (open comedone).

The best way to tackle blackheads and whiteheads is through regular exfoliation and using skincare solutions that contain ingredients designed to target these concerns. Salicylic acid is often used to address clogged follicles as it helps dissolve excess sebum that can contribute to the formation of comedones.

Stage 3: Breakout: The follicle is now the ideal environment for the acnes bacteria to thrive, leading to an increase in bacterial population in and around the follicle. This is when papules, pustules, nodules, and other forms of breakouts appear due to bacterial infection and inflammation at this stage.

Once this occurs, bacteria can feed on the trapped sebum and begin to multiply rapidly, which triggers an immune response, resulting in inflammation. The immune system responds by sending white blood cells (WBC) to fight off the invading bacteria, which leads to inflammation of the surrounding tissue as well. This can lead to redness, soreness and swelling of affected areas as well as the formation of a scab over areas that have been inflamed for long periods of time.

Signs of acne

Step 4: Post-Breakout: After these breakouts subside, dark spots/scars may remain due to hyperpigmentation and inflammation. As the follicle repairs itself and begins to heal, it can take up to 8-12 weeks for dark spots and scabs to fully disappear. With a proper skincare regimen and treatment, acne lesions can be effectively treated with minimal scarring. It is also crucial to avoid popping or picking on the pimples, despite the temptation or frustration.

This 4-staged Acne cycle highlights the importance of early intervention at the pre-breakout stage to help manage follicle health and reduce breakouts before they occur. Knowing how follicle health can affect the subsequent stages, it’s important to take steps during this phase to help maintain follicle health with appropriate cleansers and moisturisers that are tailored for your skin type. This stage-by-stage breakdown of the acne life cycle is key to understanding how breakouts can be managed and prevented from occurring. By becoming familiar with the different stages, you can begin taking steps to combat acne before it happens and reduce its severity when it does occur.

Ultimately, it's vital to create an acne treatment plan that works for you.

This may involve:

  • Developing better hygiene habits like washing your face twice a day with a gentle cleanser.
  • Using skin care products that are non-comedogenic (meaning they won't clog follicles).
  • Topical treatments with a specialized combination of chemicals that are right for your kind and stage of acne.
  • In some cases, lifestyle changes such as reducing stress levels can also help reduce symptoms of acne. With the right approach to managing this condition, you can look forward to healthier, acne-free skin in no time!

Here’s a quick view of the entire Acne life cycle:

  • Stage 1: Acne Prone Skin: External & internal triggers lead to excess old and sebum production, which results in oily t-zone & greasy skin.
  • Stage 2: Clogged Pores: When you spot whiteheads & blackheads.
  • Stage 3: Breakout: Bacteria feed on your clogged pores & rapidly multiply. Immune response causes inflammation & WBCs (white blood cells) are sent to fight bacteria
  • Stage 4: Post Breakout: Scab & remaining inflammation. Wound healing begins but inflammation remains.
Written by Shalaka Dabholkar on Oct 11, 2023

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