What Causes Acne and What Puts You at Risk for It?

Apr. 24
Acne is among the most prevalent skin conditions in the world, with roughly 50 million cases in the United States alone. Although this disorder is most likely to impact teens, it can also affect adults—and it’s more likely to manifest in women.
We discuss what acne is, telltale symptoms, and typical causes. Lastly, you’ll find out which behaviors and conditions can increase your likelihood of suffering from it.
What Is Acne, and Do You Have It?
Acne vulgaris is the result of abnormal activity in your skin’s sebaceous hair follicles (or pores), resulting in skin eruptions. Symptoms include:
  • Whiteheads.
  • Blackheads.
  • Papules (raised bumps). 
  • Pustules (pimples with pus).
  • Nodules (hard, painful lumps under the skin).
  • Cystic lesions. (pus-filled lumps under the skin).
The condition is more likely to last for longer than a standard pimple or zit. It also takes longer to develop, and doesn’t usually get better without intervention. 
Severity can differ dramatically from person to person. Blackheads and whiteheads are generally classed as mild, whereas painful nodules and cysts are inflammatory.
These lesions typically occur in areas with a higher concentration of oil-producing glands. That means your face, neck, back, shoulders, and chest are more likely to be acne-prone than elsewhere on your body.
Common Causes of Acne
Acne causes can be more complicated than superficial skin troubles. These are the typical culprits behind the condition:
1. Excess Sebum Production
Sebum is a type of natural oil produced by your sebaceous glands. Normally, sebum maintains skin health by acting as a barrier to retain moisture, among other functions. 
If these glands are working overtime, sebum can turn harmful. Too much oil can block up your pores, prompting trademark lesions to form.
2. Clogged Pores
Sebum isn’t the only substance that can block up your pores and result in a breakout. Other perpetrators include dead skin cells, comedogenic cosmetics, and debris. 
For that reason, it’s essential to keep the surface of your skin clean. One study found individuals who wash their face once a day rather than twice daily had worse symptoms.
3. Bacterial Infection
Our skin plays hosts to thousands of living organisms, bacteria included. However, under the wrong conditions, certain species can instigate a breakout. 
Unfortunately, the ideal circumstances for such bacteria to colonize and inflame is oily skin and clogged hair follicles (pores).
4. Hormonal Imbalances
High androgen levels are the usual suspect. Androgen, the male hormone, is needed for normal female development. However, if there’s too much of it in your system, it can have unwanted consequences, breakout-prone skin included.
Human-growth hormone and insulin are two other hormones that can influence your skin.
Additionally, women are more susceptible to flares (breakouts) right before their menstrual cycle begins.
Risk Factors of Acne
Acne risks can span from legitimate medical problems to poor lifestyle habits. We investigate the factors that can increase your chances of developing or worsening it:
1. Hormonal Disorders
This skin ailment is a characteristic symptom of specific hormonal diseases—usually those that cause high levels of androgens, insulin, and a few others. 
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is one such example. Others include Apert syndrome, Cushing syndrome, and hypothyroidism. 
If you notice that your skin troubles began at the same time as other issues—e.g., body hair, fatigue, or other complaints—make an appointment with your doctor.
2. Age
As we mentioned earlier, teenagers are more vulnerable to being affected. Almost 95 percent of young adults will experience it as they pass through puberty.
Higher testosterone levels in both girls and boys can stimulate acne, which can persist until age 20 or longer.
3. Medications
Some drugs can have side effects that include skin disruptions, which is known as drug-induced acne. If your lesions have appeared all of a sudden, you might want to investigate any new medications you were prescribed.
Medicines that increase your acne risk include:
  • Corticosteroids.
  • Lithium.
  • Antibiotics.
  • Vitamin B12.
  • Thyroid hormones.
  • Anti-seizure drugs.
  • Halogen compounds (e.g., iodine, bromide, etc.). 
4. Diet
Foods with a higher glycemic load could be responsible for aggravating your skin. These consist of sugary or high-carb items that spike your blood sugar. Research has also revealed a connection between dairy and acne.
Bear in mind there’s little research to support various fried or oily foods worsening breakouts.
5. Stress
Both chronic and acute stress is linked to a wide range of health issues. Numerous skin conditions can be exacerbated by raised stress levels, and acne is no exception.
6. Oily Substances 
Greasy food being the major cause of acne may be a myth, but oily substances should be avoided. For instance, if you work in a kitchen and grease from fryers collect on your face. 
Certain cosmetics can also fall into this category. Heavy creams, moisturizers, and similar products could contribute to clogged pores—which can lead to blemishes.
One study of 140 girls confirmed the association between cosmetics use and worsening acne. Remember to choose appropriate products that are not oily or heavy (e.g., non-comedogenic or dermatologist-approved).
7. Genetics 
There is a relationship between acne and genetics. If your family members have a history of the condition or still suffer from it, you’re more likely to contract it too.
8. Friction 
Acne lesions are best left untouched as they heal, no matter where they’re located.
Friction from everyday activities, clothing, and accessories can inflame pustules, nodules, and cysts. For example, hats rubbing on oily foreheads, or backpack straps rubbing against pustules on your back.
Know Your Skin
Understanding why acne occurs can help you address potential issues that you may not have been aware of. 
Quality over-the-counter products can make a difference, but you shouldn’t rely on them alone to eliminate acne. 
If you suspect you have a hormonal complaint or a medicine you’re taking is the source of your skin woes, check in with your doctor. You can consult with a dermatologist if your acne is severe and self-care and non-prescription treatments don’t seem to be working.
  • https://www.niams.nih.gov/health-topics/acne
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3051853/#__sec2title
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK83685/
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5300732/
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4884775/
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