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Acne And Its Causes: The Latest Science

Let’s talk about what’s new in the world of acne – and what’s out of date.

If products loaded up with benzoyl peroxide and antibiotics are giving you awful side effects but getting you nowhere with your acne, you’re not alone. See, these traditional ways of treating acne haven’t been updated since the 1960s. 

While salicylic acid can be great with the right combo of ingredients, generally, over-the-counter treatment options are outdated and don’t really work all that well. That’s because they’re based on old understandings of acne and focus on treating only one or two causes of acne when multiple factors come together to cause breakouts. 

The good news is, there are new, better ways to treat acne! Let’s talk about how things have changed.

Old ways of treating acne

First, let’s talk about why those older products don’t work. 1. They act to dry out your zit, but they don’t go beyond the surface level of your skin. 2. They kill ALL the bacteria on your skin, even the good ones you need for a healthy skin barrier. 3. They don’t help your skin fight future acne, and in fact, by drying out your skin, they can worsen acne by causing your skin to produce more sebum. 

Sebum is the oil your skin produces – it does good things for your skin in the right amount, but it can also get trapped in your pores. And what’s worse, sebum is what we now know feeds acne-causing bacteria. That can create a vicious cycle!

Which brings us to…

Causes of acne: Today’s science
Changes in your skin’s microbiome

Your skin microbiome is made up of tons of different microorganisms, some of which are good for you and some of which are not so good. When the not-so-good bacteria overgrow, feeding on excess sebum trapped inside your pores, you’re more likely to get acne. 

Basically, a zit is like a tiny infection, usually (though not always) caused by a bacteria called C. acnes. Most of the time, your skin’s good bacteria can keep C. acnes in check, but when it feasts on tons of tasty sebum, or when those good bacteria aren’t as plentiful as they should be, boom, acne.

Your gut microbiome also plays a part

The other thing scientists have found over the last few years is that the causes of acne go beyond what’s on and in your skin. An imbalance in your gut microbiome can cause all sorts of unexpected side effects, and not just in your digestive system. It can also contribute to acne through systemic inflammation and can even affect your mood.

The funny thing is, this means some old wives tales about treating acne weren’t entirely off – for some people, certain foods, like processed sugars, carby junk foods, fast food, and chocolate can trigger breakouts. But now we know why – because the sugars feed the bacteria in the gut microbiome that cause inflammation, which makes it harder for your skin to fight infection. Again, boom, acne.

Skincare and probiotics

These two things are why we’ve seen such an uptick in skincare with probiotics, given both topically and orally. 

While it might seem like a fad – so many people think yogurt and kombucha when they think about the word “probiotics” – the reality is that pre- and probiotics are the future of skincare. 

Why? Because the things that happen in your body are so affected by the bacteria on and in your body. And pre- and probiotics simply mean the addition of specifically selected strains of bacteria or food for the bacteria you already have that can help fight infection, inflammation, and so on. (Dermala’s products, for example, were designed by microbiologists to give the good bacteria a boost and keep the bacteria that cause inflammation and acne in check.)

The next frontier in probiotics

Right now, products focused on probiotics need to be a part of an ongoing routine, because while the bacteria are right, not everyone’s system can keep those bacteria alive and thriving longterm. The dream would be to create products that change your body’s bacterial makeup longterm, without the need to continually re-up the bacteria supply. The science isn’t there yet – but it’s something scientists are working on.

New discoveries on the horizon in skincare

And that’s not all for the future of skincare. Scientists from UCSD recently discovered a new piece of the acne-forming puzzle. So, we’ve talked about how C. acnes, which regularly lives on skin, can overgrow when it gets too much to eat (cute). The zit that forms is a combination of that C. acnes overgrowth and your immune system’s reaction to it.

What scientists recently discovered is that, when zits form, fibroblasts in the area (that’s a kind of structural cell type) get involved. They secrete a beneficiall antimocrobial substance (good), but they alse secrete inflammation-causing proteins (bad). Isn’t the body a beautiful thing?

While this isn’t something we know how to apply to skincare just yet, it can help inform the development of future treatments.

And that’s the latest in acne-fighting science

As you can see, the acne-fighting skincare world is moving forward. So why use treatments that aren’t keeping up with the times? Find the probiotic-powered skincare products that are right for you and make acne a thing of the past!


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