The next time someone tells you that not washing your face is what causes pimples, stand up for yourself. Dirt is not a cause of pimples. In fact, too much washing will only aggravate your condition and make it look worse. Your pimples are not your fault. What we think of as a bad complexion is actually the result of a complicated process that starts in your genes. If your mother and father suffered from acne, they might be one of the causes. Thank them. They passed their acne prone skin on to you.

What’s the real cause of pimples? To find out, we have to look deeper than just the surface of your skin. Your face, neck and shoulders are covered with countless tiny hair follicles, each of which contains a sebaceous gland. This gland produces a think oily substance called sebum. Blackheads and whiteheads form when sebum, which normally flows out of our pores to coat out hair and skin, gets blocked inside, backs up, and swells the area. Blackheads and whiteheads turn into pimples after they get infected with bacteria (Propionibacterium acnes) that lives on the skin.


The real question is “what blocks the pores and traps the sebum in the first place?” The answer is dead skin cells from within the hair follicle. Now, we shed dead skin cells constantly, so the fact that they are dead has nothing to do with it. It’s the way that we shed these particular skin cells. Normally, they fall off one at a time and we never notice them. In acne sufferers, these dead skin cells “slough” off in sticky sheets that clump together. These clumps get clogged in the pores at the top of the hair follicle. This improper shedding of dead skin cells is caused by androgen hormones. These hormones spike during puberty and gradually taper off for the rest of our lives.

Because hormone imbalance is the root cause of pimples, many people experience acne when their hormones are out of whack during adolescence, pregnancy, menopause, and times of stress. So don’t worry about your hygiene. If you have acne it’s not because you’re not as clean as other people, it’s your hormones that are to blame. Any treatment you use to battle your acne must take your hormones into account to be successful.

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