The Timeline of a Skin Breakout
Pimples. We all deal with them. Whether it is full on acne, one spot, or a cluster of pimples, they have a life of their own. They pop up overnight, but seem to take ages to bid us adieu. So what’s happening when a pimple rears its ugly head, becomes inflamed, dries out, and scars? Let’s run the hardship of having a breakout, and what’s actually happening underneath our skin.
You wake up, brush your teeth, rub your eyes, look in the mirror, and BAM! there is a red spot on your chin. Although your skin was clear or at least zit-free the night before, it has taken it more than one night to form. In fact, that one spot have been forming under your skin for weeks before it saw the light of day. Now you are trying to apply your makeup, but the zit isn’t just inflamed and red, it is sore and above the surface. So even if you do an amazing job of applying concealer it will still be uneven from the rest of your skin (great!).
So what happened? Well, all the junk like sebum, oil, and bacteria that lead to a pimple congealed beneath the surface. The pore that was clear before has been filled by a sort of blockage of pimple ingredients (I know, it is gross), and that liquid also the infection remains under the skin until it causes the pimple to grow to the point of being exposed to oxygen.
As your day goes on, you glance at the mirror to see if that red spot has become a whitehead that everyone you’re talking to is staring at. You may even take some time during your lunch break to touch up your concealer or try to pop it. But this will only irritate it even more, add bacteria, and increase the risk of a longer lasting scar. And the worst part is if a pimple is not ready and fully grown, and you try to squeeze it, it actually pushes the bacteria further into your skin creating more damage.
By the end of the day, you remove your makeup, and prep a face mask or spot treatment with the hope it will magically disappear by morning. But you may ignore that when a pimple has reached the surface, your white blood cells are ready to fight the infection. Those white blood cells bring the infection together to form a whitehead, and in due time that whitehead will heal on its own. So when you actually see a pimple, it means that it reached the stage of healing, and all you need is a bit of patience.
If you can’t wait and are dying to pop it out (we don’t recommend doing that), try not to use your nails or fingers, use some tissue to avoid spreading more bacteria. And as soon as you pop it, apply a treatment of benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. This will kill the bacteria, calm the redness and irritation, and can even help prevent a scar from forming.
The grossness of the zit is now gone, and now you are left with a scab or patch of dry flaky skin that looks awful under makeup.
Once you are at this stage, you can treat the scar with products that contain AHAs, which will exfoliate the skin and restore its texture. Exfoliating will get your skin ready to be resurfaced. The scar tissue will die off, and new skin cells will take over without the darkness. You can also use a serum or moisturizer with hyaluronic acid, which will help your skin retain its moisture to increase the speed of healing and decrease dryness.
Now this pimple’s lifespan is the run of the mill breakout. But if you have a cystic breakout, it is similar, only much worse as it is more painful and longer lasting. Cystic breakouts occur much deeper within the skin, so getting it to reach oxygen and start healing itself is a much longer process.
The best thing to do in this situation is to leave it alone. Do not try to bring it to the surface by irritating it. If it is sore and red, try using ice on and off to reduce the swelling and numb the pain. Then use a strong acne treatment overnight. You will want something so strong that it can penetrate the skin even without there being a head to the breakout. My favorite is the Mario Badescu Drying Lotion. It is affordable, cruelty-free, and truly works wonders.
I know I didn’t touch on the emotions and mental state of having a breakout, but My Acne Story paints a picture of that pretty well. Hopefully next time you notice a spot creep up, you will better understand what is actually happening deep inside your skin and why certain methods are better than others when it comes to treating acne.
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