Hey, Pizza Face

By Anna Sachse

Posted December 11, 2008 in Mind Body Spirit

Zits, pimples, whiteheads, blackheads, comedones, pustules, cysts or boils—whatever nasty name you call it, you probably don’t want it. So what exactly causes those repellent breakouts also known as acne? Contrary to popular belief, that slice of pizza you ate last night probably isn’t the cause of your pizza face (unless you’re rubbing the pizza on your face before you bite into it). 


First of all, it’s actually also not true that acne is the result of poor hygiene. According to www.medicinenet.com, a subsidiary of WebMd, acne starts in puberty for both boys and girls when oil glands are stimulated by male hormones from the adrenal glands. Sometimes cells that are close to the skin’s surface block the openings of these glands and cause a buildup of oil (sebum, a natural substance which lubricates and protects the skin) underneath. This backup stimulates bacteria (which live on everyone’s skin and generally cause no problems) to multiply and cause surrounding tissues to become inflamed. Minor inflammation produces a pustule; deeper inflammation results in a pimple; deeper still and it’s a cyst. If the oil is able to erupt though to the surface, the result is a whitehead. If the oil accumulates melanin pigment or becomes oxidized, then it results in a blackhead. There is no dirt involved, just bad luck.


Which brings to mind a couple other “myths” that merit popping. First, heredity has little to do with it. Almost everyone has some acne at some point in their life, but, except for very severe cases, most people don’t have the same problems their parents did. Second, sweat does not cause acne, thus it isn’t actually necessary to shower instantly after exercise. Third, stress doesn’t have much of a direct role in causing them either. 


Occasionally prescription drugs, steroids, cosmetics or hormone fluctuations, such as during a woman’s menstrual cycle or pregnancy, can lead to acne, but not really all that often. 


The real culprits are truly just oil and bacteria. To reduce acne, your goal should be to (1) Open pores, (2) kill bacteria and (3) minimize oil. Here’s how:


Open Pores

Wash your face once or twice a day with a mild cleansing bar or liquid, such as Dove, Neutrogena, Basis, Purpose or Cetaphil, to remove debris and minimize sensitivity and irritation. If you want to step it up, mild scrubs, exfoliants and masques contain either fine granules or salicylic acid which gently remove the outer layer of the skin and thus open pores. Products containing glycolic or alpha hydroxy acids, or those with retinol, are also gentle skin exfoliants.


Kill Bacteria

Apply a topical antibacterial product to the infected area. Available in the form of gels, creams and lotions, the active ingredients usually include benzoyl peroxide, sulfur and/or resorcinol. 


Reduce Oil

You cannot stop your oil glands from producing oil but you can get rid of oil on the surface of the skin. A couple options include using a gentle astringent/toner to wipe away excess oil, or applying pore strips which pull out oil from your pores. As an FYI, there is no medical basis for yet another myth that applying toothpaste will rid you of your red spots. The same goes for vinegar.


Speaking of those myths, one I remember reading when I was 13-years-old was that popping pimples on your nose killed brain cells. The adults were probably just counting on the fact that us teenagers didn’t have enough brain cells in the first place to question it, and we’d be scared straight. But it didn’t matter either way to me. When you’re facing middle school with Mount Everest growing out of your face, what’s the loss of a few brain cells?



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