What exactly is going on biologically at the molecular level with acne and causes breakouts? Hormonally, there is a lot going on but I'm curious about what is going on chemically.

  • $\begingroup$ What are you looking for beyond wikipedia? That seems to cover your questions. $\endgroup$
    – kmm
    Jan 8, 2013 at 23:22

1 Answer 1


Acne is caused by blockage of hair follicles by oils (sebum) from your skin and dead skin cells. Hormonal changes in puberty cause your skin glands to produce a lot of oil. Blocked follicles are visible as a small black dot (blackheads).

The recognizable pimples occurring during normal puberty acne form because of bacterial infection (the sebum/skin mix forms a good growth medium for bacteria). The immune system responds with inflammation (the red "base"). The pus (the white "middle") is a dead bacteria, skin and white blood cell mix.

Most treatments for acne focus on either killing the bacteria or removing the dead skin or sebum. Professional medical treatments might also focus on altering hormonal levels. This is also why the COCP , the birth control pill, usually lessens acne in women. Popular over-the-counter remedies for acne (e.g. Clearasil) usually contain a lot of alcohol which both kills the bacteria and removes the sebum, but also makes the skin dry. This in turn causes the skin to produce more sebum thus making the problem worse.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Good answer but it could do with some citations and expansion of "COCP" abbreviation. $\endgroup$
    – rg255
    Jan 9, 2013 at 9:20
  • $\begingroup$ And you could've explanded the COCP in your comment @GriffinEvo so that I don't have to google that it means Combined Oral Contraceptive Pill - birth-control pill. $\endgroup$ Jun 23, 2014 at 18:43
  • $\begingroup$ @TomášZato I didn't look it up - I was asking the OP to do it so the correct meaning of COCP was used (if there is more than one). The responsibility lies with the OP, not me, I was just asking for clarification on the abbreviation and other points to make the post meet the guidelines. $\endgroup$
    – rg255
    Jun 25, 2014 at 8:51
  • $\begingroup$ You know, you you could've just edited the answer... I added an explanation $\endgroup$
    – dtech
    Jun 25, 2014 at 10:15
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    $\begingroup$ I don't like to perform edits that change contents of the answer. I think editing other's posts should merely to improve grammar, formatting and general readability. However this attitude can individually differ. $\endgroup$ Jun 25, 2014 at 10:55

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