Anatomy of a Blackhead
In the United States, 40 million to 50 million people suffer from acne, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, making it the most common skin disorder in the country. Blackheads are clogged pores, common among acne sufferers, that look like black dots on your skin. According to the Nemours Foundation's Kids Health website, you can treat and prevent most blackheads with proper facial care and hygiene.
According to AcneNet.com, a blackhead is a non-inflammatory bump that develops when a pore is filled with oil and dead skin cells. Blackheads are also called open comedones because the pore's entrance stays open. Each hair follicle on your face is located inside a tiny opening in your skin called a pore. The University of Maryland Medical Center notes each follicle has a sebaceous gland to produce a natural oil called sebum, which flushes dead skin cells out of the pore and moisturizes your skin. If the sebum and skin cells get stuck in the pore, they clog the opening, causing a black dot to appear on your skin.
Propionibacterium acnes, also called P. acnes, are bacteria that naturally live in your pores, according to Health News Flash. These bacteria are anaerobic, which means they thrive in conditions with little to no oxygen. When sebum fails to properly flush skin cells from your pores, clogging them instead, oxygen can't reach the P. acnes bacteria. With no oxygen, the bacteria multiply in your middle layer of skin, the dermis. In response, your body sends white blood cells to fight off the bacteria, notes Health News Flash, causing inflammation and infection in your dermis.
Apply a topical medication, available over-the-counter for mild acne, or prescription strength for moderate to severe cases. The American Academy of Dermatology notes common medications include salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, antibiotics and retinoids. Your dermatologist could also prescribe an antibiotic to fight P. acnes bacteria from the inside.
Severe acne can leave scars, which may be treated with laser resurfacing, dermabrasion, chemical peels, surgery or skin fillers, notes the AAD.
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends washing your face once or twice each day with mild soap and lukewarm water. This removes excess sebum from your skin, preventing clogged pores, without triggering your skin to over-produce sebum.
Drinking plenty of water helps your skin flush out toxins and heal itself. Don't pop pimples or squeeze blackheads, warns Kids Health, because it spreads P. acne bacteria and infection to other pores. Wash your glasses frequently to keep oil from clogging pores on your nose, wash your hands before applying any medication to your face and keep your hair clean and pulled back so it doesn't spread more sebum and skin cells onto your facial pores.
The American Academy of Dermatology says excessively washing your skin, to remove oil, may backfire and irritate skin.
Anecdotal evidence has led to the common belief that acne is triggered by greasy or sugary foods, but there is currently no scientific evidence proving or disproving a relation between diet and acne, according to the AAD.
Sun exposure and tanning may seem to temporarily clear your skin, but there is no scientific evidence that ultraviolet light cure acne. Dermatologists do have evidence that exposure to UV rays prematurely ages the skin and increases your risk of skin cancer. Also, many acne medications increase your sensitivity to UV rays, increasing your risk of burning and skin damage.
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