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Acne & Irritation

author image Barb Nefer
Based in Kissimmee, Fla., Barb Nefer is a freelance writer with over 20 years of experience. She is a mental health counselor, finance coach and travel agency owner. Her work has appeared in such magazines as "The Writer" and "Grit" and she authored the book, "So You Want to Be a Counselor."
Acne & Irritation
A woman applying a face cleanser with a brush. Photo Credit studiokovac/iStock/Getty Images

There is a close link between acne and skin irritation. Irritation plays a strong causal role, and certain actions can inflame the affected area and worsen pimple outbreaks. You can prevent potential problems and help your acne heal if you know how irritation affects this skin condition and how to soothe it.


The Mayo Clinic describes acne as a skin condition that leads to outbreaks of skin lesions. It is most common on the face, but it can show up anywhere your skin has oil glands, including the shoulders, neck, arms and back. There are several different kinds of lesions, such as blackheads, whiteheads, nodules, pustules and papules. Some are hard, while others are pus-filled, and some have a head. Mayo explains that the most severe cases of acne cause cysts that get infected and can lead to permanent scars.


Acne used to be blamed on infrequent washing, eating too much chocolate or consuming greasy foods like hamburgers and french fries. The Mayo Clinic explains those beliefs are untrue. Starchy foods may make you more prone to acne, but skin irritation is the real cause. Dead skin cells are shed abnormally, and they combine with excess skin oil, also known as sebum, to block hair follicles. The blockage causes irritation and swelling that turns into a pimple. Bacteria often grows in the area and complicates the problem.


You can inadvertently worsen the irritation when treating your acne. Over-the-counter products with popular ingredients like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide should control it. You may think you need to scrub your face to clean away the excess oil, but that will only make it worse. Applying harsh soaps and scrubbing with a wash rag or towel inflames your skin. The irritation will worsen your pimples. You can also irritate them by washing your face more than once a day. Limit yourself to a single washing using mild soap and a gentle touch, the Mayo Clinic advises.


Gentle, infrequent washing helps prevent irritation and there are other steps you can take to avoid inflaming your pimples. Dab the skin gently dry after showering, bathing or swimming. The Acne.com resource website warns that makeup can irritate your skin and block hair follicles, making pimples worse. This can be avoided by exclusively using non-comedogenic or oil-free cosmetics and removing them completely before going to bed. Use fragrance-free, hypoallergenic products, because scented ingredients may also irritate your skin.


The American Academy of Dermatology warns that you can inadvertently irritate your acne by touching or scratching it or picking, popping and squeezing pimples. They may feel painful or itchy but you should never touch them. Otherwise, they can get bad enough to permanently scar your face.

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