We’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating: blemishes are human. Unique to our species, as a matter of fact. But that’s where the rarity ends — because the vast majority of people on this planet (around 80%, actually) will encounter the skin condition at some point in their lives.
But exactly why do spots strike — and when? Why do some people seem more prone to breakouts, while others escape relatively pimple free? We’re answering all of your blemish questions.
Why do people get blemishes?
Breakouts are caused by clogged pores: when skin’s natural oils, plus dirt and dead skin cells, get trapped within a pore or group of pores. An open clog can oxidize and form a blackhead, while a closed clog remains covered with a thin layer of skin as a whitehead. These are called non-inflammatory blemishes, and if you’ve got skin, it can happen to you.
Sometimes, a common skin bacteria called P acnes gets trapped in the mix, creating a more intense skin reaction known as inflammatory acne: papules, pustules, nodules and cysts. Surprisingly, scientists know relatively little about why some people get more clogged pores, or seem more susceptible to blemish-causing bacteria.
Why do teens get more spots?
One of the key factors in blemish formation is increased sebum, or oil production. Higher levels of oil on the skin simply increase your chances of having clogged pores and in turn, spots. Because teens are more likely to have oily skin due to hormonal changes, they’re more likely to have blemishes. And since testosterone stimulates sebum production, teenage boys tend to have more blemishes than teen girls.
Are blemishes genetic?
Scientists believe that spots are ultimately caused by a complex interplay between four main factors:
- Genetics: if your parents had/have blemishes, your chances increase.
- Hormones: fluctuations can lead to breakouts in teens and adults.
- Environment: damage from UV rays and pollution can leave skin more susceptible to spots.
- Lifestyle: stress, diet, sleep habits and skincare choices all factor into your skin health.
Why do some adults still get blemishes?
Post-puberty breakouts are becoming more and more common with both women and men. Though no one is exactly sure why, it may be related to the stress and pollution of our modern world.
Hormones likely play a role: as testosterone fluctuates, spots can appear. In women, this is most often related to their monthly cycle or menopause, whereas in men, it could be any number of factors affecting testosterone levels.
What’s the best way to treat blemishes?
Controlling excess oil and keeping pores clear are two essential ways to manage spots. There are several active ingredients that dermatologists recommend:
- Salicylic acid: this beta hydroxy acid exfoliates and unclogs pores, helping to prevent blackheads and whiteheads. Find it in SLMD Skincare Salicylic Acid Cleanser, a powerful face wash that’s gentle enough for everyday use, as well as Salicylic Acid Spot Corrector, a targeted solution. For body, try maximum strength Salicylic Acid Body Wash.
- Sulfur: a natural mineral with antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that also helps exfoliate and absorb excess oil. Find it in SLMD Skincare Sulfur Lotion, formulated for blemish-prone skin.
- Retinol: derived from vitamin A, it supports the skin cycle, which helps keep pores clear and minimises hyperpigmentation. Try it in SLMD Skincare Retinol Serum, which also contains hyaluronic acid and allantoin to soothe skin.
To manage chronic breakouts, try SLMD Skincare Blemish-Prone Skin System, which contains these proven blemish-fighters combined in a simple, 3 step system.
Dr. Lee’s last word
Having blemishes is by far the most common skin condition we dermatologists treat. I always remind patients that it’s not life threatening — but I understand how disruptive it can be. Our first line of defense is to start a regimen containing over-the-counter actives and follow it consistently (that’s the key). In more stubborn cases, we can try a variety of prescription topicals, as well as oral medications. Remember to be patient and kind to your skin, and be reassured that blemishes can be managed.
—Dr. Sandra Lee