While oil is essential for keeping your skin supple and hydrated, too much of it can cause problems. This is because bacteria like to feed off of specific skin oils. In this 3-part series, we will talk about how oily skin and bacteria cause pimples and how this process can be stopped in its tracks.
The Sebaceous Glands and Sebum
Present throughout the skin, sebaceous (oil) glands secrete an oily, waxy fluid (sebum) that acts to lubricate, waterproof, and protect the skin from dryness. To visualize oil glands you can think of pipes (like organ pipes). These small pipes are only open on one side. For a visual, think of factory workers making oil and then moving it with a conveyor belt to the main pipe. Then the main pipe dumps the oil onto the surface of your skin and boom, you now have shiny skin!
Finding the Perfect Balance
People with oily skin and hair tend to have extra sebaceous gland activity due to an excess of testosterone or several other factors. As we age, sebum production is reduced, leading to skin that is drier. However, having oily skin does not lead to fewer wrinkles. Lifestyle factors, such as excessive washing and over-scrubbing, can cause dryness by removing too much sebum. Additionally, living in a dry, arid environment along with frequent sun exposure increases the rate of transdermal water loss (TEWL), leading to dry skin.
Using a healthy moisturizer after cleansing can help to balance your skin’s natural oils and protect you from dryness.
Sebaceous glands produce oil (specifically, triglyceride-rich) that certain bacteria love to eat. Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes) is well known for its ability to feed off of these oils and enter the sebaceous glands, causing infection. Naturally-present Staphylococcus epidermidis produces a compound, succinic acid, which has been shown to inhibit P. acnes growth. How can I get my hands on more of that?!
All jokes aside, there are a variety of ways to balance your skin’s microflora. This includes finding a happy medium with regard to cleansing and maintaining some oil but not too much. Avoiding excess stress, and getting quality sleep helps your immune system to effectively fight off harmful bacteria.
The Anatomy of a Pimple
Pimples form when bacteria (P. acnes) gets trapped within a hair follicle and begins to grow and multiply. Several factors cause this to happen:
- Dead skin, keratin, and debris accumulate within the sebaceous gland, eventually clogging the pore.
- High oil production caused by genetics, stress, or diet provide food for the infectious bacteria.
Inflammation occurs as your body sends white blood cells to the plugged follicle to fight the infection causing the area to become red, swollen, and painful.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this trilogy for a deeper look into safely using antibacterial products to maintain healthy, beautiful skin.