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How Is Acne Caused?

Updated on March 26, 2011

Acne is caused when a hair follicle becomes blocked and a build up of bacteria causes infection. Follicles are the tiny canals under the pores of the skin, which contain our hairs. An oil gland is attached to the follicle, also known as the 'sebaceous gland' . Its purpose is to produce oil (sebum) that lubricates the follicle and flows to the opening at the skin’s surface - the pore. Sometimes the sebaceous gland produces too much oil and the excess amount becomes blocked within the follicle.

Here you can see a healthy follicle. The hair is growing out through the pore and the oil glands (or sebaceous glands) are attached to the follicle beneath the skin. This is where the oil, or 'sebum' is produced. There are no blockages here and the hair is growing freely and unobstructed.


This follicle has a blockage, which will result in acne. When bacteria begins to form, infection will set in and acne begins. The follicle and pore may become itchy, sore and inflamed. Depending on what the blockage does and how there may be different types of acne that appear on the skin. See below to learn the difference between blackheads and whiteheads.

The two main types of acne are ‘blackheads’ and ‘whiteheads’. Blackheads are caused when the pore blockage is closer to the skin’s surface. The pore is open allowing us to see the blockage inside. They are dark in colour owing to dark pigmentation, rather than dirt within the pore.


Whiteheads develop from a blockage further down within the follicle. Oil accumulates in the skin causing raised bumps which are covered by a thin layer of skin and usually flesh coloured or white in colour.

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