The Acne Attack

Acne.. something almost everyone has experienced. Whether it was those pesky teenage pimples, the monthly hormonal breakout or a full face of the not-so-fun stuff, we’re here to shed some light on the what’s and how’s of acne.

What is acne? Acne is an inflamed, infected condition of the pilosebaceous unit -a fancy name for the hair follicle and oil gland. There are three main contributors to acne:

1-    Sebum quality

2-    Blockage of the hair follicle

3-    The pH of the skin

To better understand acne, we’ve compiled our knowledge into a story that’s digestible and non-science-nerdy!


The Sebum Story

Sebum (oil) is created by the sebaceous gland in our hair follicle. The sebaceous gland is stimulated by our hormones which allows us to produce a certain amount of sebum, this can be affected by genetics, medication, the health of the skin, diet and lifestyle.

The story takes a downwards turn when the sebaceous gland starts to produce a thick, gluggy, custard-like oil. If we think about how small our hairs are, the thickened, poor quality oil isn’t able to move freely to the surface of the skin through that small hair shaft, causing the passageway to become blocked! Once this occurs, it is very easy for P. Acnes bacteria to create an infection in the hair shaft. We naturally have about 50 strains of P. Acnes Bacteria living in harmony on the skin. Their job is to convert the pH of our oil to 4.5-6.5 pH. But, when our hair follicle is blocked with thick oil, it creates an anaerobic environment (no oxygen), which the P. Acnes absolutely love! They start to migrate down into the hair shaft and eat up the oil that is sitting within that follicle -like a feast for bacteria, how appetising… Their wining and dining produces inflammation and overpopulation, which then forms a breakout.



When our skin isn’t naturally exfoliating itself correctly (due to water loss), skin cells aren’t able to properly detach and exfoliate off, this creates a blockage of the hair follicle. External blockages can also be made by comedogenic makeup and skincare that occludes the skin -like a Cling Wrap effect, dirt and a build-up of oils on the skin’s surface that have not been cleansed can have the same effect.

Once the surface of the skin is blocked off, your oil isn’t able to flow through to the surface which causes a build-up of oil in the tiny follicle. Leaving you with a swollen, red surprise!



Our skin has a protective barrier called the Acid Mantle. It is made up of a layer of water and a layer of oil. This barrier protects our skin against Trans Epidermal Water Loss -another fancy word for hydration escaping the deeper layers of the skin. It protects against harmful bacteria and pathogens, and slows down the absorption of active ingredients to prevent against irritation. As mentioned above, the acid mantle should be a pH of 4.5-6.5 which is sitting at the acidic end of the scale. The overuse of stripping/exfoliating ingredients disrupts the acid mantle, taking the pH from acidic to alkaline. This effect allows those naughty little critters (the P. Acnes Bacteria, that is) to move from living a happy life on the surface, and down into your hair follicle to feast on your yummy oils.

A strong Acid Mantle is the pillar of healthy functioning skin!

Hair follicle blockage/pH disruption + no oxygen + P. Acnes multiplying + redness, pain, swelling, heat + white blood cells attack the infection = whitehead filled with pus.

There are many options in regards to the treatment of acne both internally and topically, it requires a multifaceted approach.

Please refer to our Essential Fatty Acids blog where we chew the fat on EFAS and how they’re important in skin revision.

If you’re an acne sufferer, we would love the pleasure of taking care of you and your skin.

Book in a consultation with one of our skin therapists to start your skin journey towards a clearer complexion.

With love and grace,

The Team at With Grace Skin Management

Emma Thwaite