What Are Clogged Pores?
Pimples and skin blemishes are common and often embarrassing. Skin blemishes are caused by oils, shedding skin cells and occasionally bacteria that become trapped in hair shafts. This material irritates the shaft and causes inflammation and the familiar pimples. Careful skin care can minimize clogged pores and prevent the widespread pimples and inflammation of acne.
Clogged pores are caused by natural oils, or sebum, that lubricate the skin and hair. Each hair follicle connects to a sebaceous gland, which produces oils. The oils move up along the hair shaft through the skin layers, according to the Mayo Clinic. The hair follicle opens on the skin surface to form pores. Excess sebum combines with dead skin cells and plugs the hair shaft. The plug makes the shaft bulge, causing a comedone, or a whitehead or blackhead. Whiteheads occur when the pore remains closed, whereas blackheads are created when the pore is open to the air. The color of blackheads is caused by melanin, a skin pigment, in the clogged pore. Melanin oxidizes in the air and turns dark. Bacteria may also be found in the clogged pores, causing other types of blemishes such as papules and pustules, which are red and tender bumps, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Clogged pores become acne when the hair follicle wall breaks. The injury attracts white blood cells, causing inflammation. Pustules form as the white blood cells migrate to the skin surface. The pustules can then collapse, and the surrounding skin and follicles also become inflamed. If the follicle breaks along the bottom instead of the side, the follicle collapses and causes a large inflamed lesion called a nodule. Pus-filled lesions, or cysts, occur following a severe inflammatory response.
Dirt does not cause clogged pores. Rather, excessive scrubbing and harsh soaps can irritate the skin and exacerbate acne. Changes in hormones, such as during puberty, skin contact with greasy or oily products, family history of acne and certain cosmetics and medications can cause clogged pores as well.
Over-the-counter or prescription products treat clogged pores by reducing sebum production and controlling inflammation. Preparations may be taken orally or applied directly to the skin. The Mayo Clinic warns that prescription medications may cause acne to worsen before it improves. Skin usually improves within two months.
Prevent clogged pores by gently cleansing skin no more than twice daily to avoid irritation, according to the Mayo Clinic. Control oil production with an over-the-counter lotion or cream containing benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. Use powder rather than heavy cream foundations, and always remove makeup before bed. Shower after exercise or excessive sweating because sweat can trap bacteria on the skin.
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