Understanding the science behind breakouts may help you minimize the number of pimples that pop up.
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Pimples are no fun. And despite those reassurances we got as awkward teenagers that we’d grow out of them, many of us still deal with acne—at least occasionally—as adults.

But have you ever wondered exactly what’s going on in your body that’s causing those zits? Sure, you know it has something to do with oil and dirt and hormones, but what’s with the redness and swelling, and those whiteheads just begging to be popped?

This video from the American Chemical Society breaks down breakouts like we’ve never seen before. Not only is it a fascinating look at what goes on beneath the surface of your face, but it may help you better understand why blemishes happen, and how to prevent them in the future.

In short, the video says, it’s all about P. acnes, the bacteria most commonly blamed for causing pimples. When excess oil production leads to clogged hair follicles, dead skin cells can build up underneath and feed the growth of these bacteria. That kicks the body’s immune system into play, rushing blood and germ-fighting white blood cells to the area—hence the redness and (eww) sometimes even pus.

So what can you do about acne? The video suggests avoiding refined carbohydrates (yes, there’s evidence that there may be some truth to the old wives’ tale about sugary foods) and using a face wash with benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. If we could add some additional advice, be smart about the makeup you wear, and change your pillowcase regularly, too.

Hopefully, these skin-healthy habits will keep you mostly blemish-free—although the occasional spot is sure to pop up now and again. If you still have a frequent problem with acne, ask your doctor if antibiotics, retinoids, or birth control pills might help clear it up.