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Breakouts, Blackheads, oh my!

Updated: Oct 12, 2021

Generally speaking, breakouts are caused by buildup of dead skin cells, excess oils and bacteria.

When these elements all climb into your pores together they form a plug. Bacteria can live harmlessly on our skin’s surface but when trapped inside a pore or follicle they multiply causing breakouts. Then we get the dreaded inflammation, redness and pain.

Now, the average person sheds approximately 35,000 skin cells per hour! Can you believe it? But here’s what’s really interesting. A person with a genetic predisposition to acneic skin can shed up to four times that amount!

So it’s not really your fault, or poor hygiene that is causing your breakouts.

So what’s the difference between blackheads, whiteheads, and milia?


These are simply, an open opening that filled up with dirt. When the oils, bacteria and dead skin cells mix in with this, the dirt oxidizes just like an apple that has been cut in half will oxidize. The follicle is open and so it receives oxygen. While some will simply resolve themselves, some will grow into more severe forms of acne and then become infected or inflamed.


Whiteheads are simply closed instead of open. These occur the same way but do not oxidize. Most often, they go away on their own. However, they can grow into more severe forms and also become infected or inflamed.


These little bumps happen when dead skin cells (or sebum which is oil) become trapped by the skin that grows over them. They are tiny and hard and require a doctor to remove them.


A physical exfoliant uses substances and/ or tools like scrubs, pads, brushes, blades, etc. to remove dead skin cells. Most retail store exfoliants tend to be mild, inexpensive and reliant upon small particles that physically lift dead skin cells from the skin's surface. Although they are easy to use, they can contain products and chemicals that should be avoided - especially on breakouts. It's best to avoid highly abrasive ingredients like nuts and seeds as they can create tiny tears and can irritate the skin.

Common Problems

Over Exfoliating

Over exfoliating can compromise the skin's lipid barrier and cause dehydration which can lead to the overproduction of oils and that can lead to breakouts. Too much of a good thing! As such, it can also lead to a compromised lipid barrier which makes the skin more prone to sensitisation, irritation and ultraviolet damage. These will all worsen the breakouts.

Coarse Cleaning

Harsh scrubbing and use of harsh soaps can increase the trauma and lead to more damage than good. Clean your face gently. When washing your face, use your hands (cotton pads are a great option as well) because other items like terry cloth or other scrubbing materials may cause acne sores to rupture.

Careful on the Moisturizer

If you use a moisturizer, use only light, non comedogenic moisturizers. Dermalogica's Calm Water Gel is a lightweight solution. This weightless water-gel moisturizer hydrates dry, sensitive skin. It is refreshing and skin-quenching, forming a weightless barrier against environmental assault to increase and lock in moisture. I also really like their Active Moist. It goes on sheer. It has a Prebiotic Moisture Complex and a unique combination of plant extracts that help improve surface texture and combat surface dehydration. Natural botanical extracts of Lemon, Cucumber and Burdock help to refine the skin.

What to do about it

Well, besides seeing an esthetician, you can do some things at home as well.

Invest in good, clean, healthy products that won't strip your natural barrier. A great example of a clean product is Dermalogica's Flash Foliant. This product can be a leave-on, flash-foaming exfoliant. It helps clear and prevent breakouts. Salicylic Acid, a Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA), help wipe out existing and future breakouts. Tangerine Peel Extract brightens dull skin while Grape Extract – a potent source of Alpha Hydroxy Acids – exfoliates dead skin cells to help even skin tone. As with all Dermalogica products, it is vegan, gluten free, paraben free and cruelty free.


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