May 2022

What Causes Acne?

What Causes Acne

Everybody has had pimples at a certain point in their life. While some people are blessed with clear skin, others have to deal with different skin conditions such as acne. In this post, we will discuss the causes behind acne and what treatments work best depending on the severity of the case.

What is Acne?

Your face has tiny openings called pores that encircle hair follicles. Near the surface of your skin, there also are sebaceous glands (oil-producing glands). Sometimes dead skin cells and oil build up in these holes and block them.

Pimples form when a clogged pore comes into contact with bacteria. Having one pimple doesn’t mean you have acne.

Acne is a skin condition of the skin where this scenario happens occasionally, and instead of a pimple or two, you get multiple pimples in multiple places on your face and neck. They can be categorised into different types: pustules, papules, whiteheads, blackheads, nodules, and cysts. Some of them tend to cause scars. Teenage acne is called acne vulgaris.

Acne does not pose a threat to one’s health, but there is more to it than a cosmetic issue. Sometimes it can cause painful lumps in the skin. Not to mention, a lot of people suffer from low self-esteem and are emotionally distressed by their pimples and the scars they leave behind.

What Causes Acne Breakouts?

What Causes Acne Breakouts?

As we mentioned earlier, acne occurs when the pores of the skin get clogged by oil (called sebum), bacteria, dirt, and dead skin cells due to issues with the lubrication process.

There are different things that can cause acne. For example, in some people, certain foods will trigger acne flare-ups.

All in all, the problem is largely due to hormonal changes. Some people develop sensitivity to androgen hormones which play a role in the onset of puberty and reproductive health in general. Overall, male bodies make more of these hormones, but women have them too.

Such sensitivity can trigger acne flare-ups in some people, especially when paired with oils and acne-causing bacteria.

It has also been established that if one of your parents had adult acne, then you will be more predisposed to getting adult acne.

Now, in older people, a sudden acne flare-up might be a sign of an underlying disease that you should go and have checked.

Lastly, acne sufferers might have less linoleic acid and free fatty acids in their sebum as compared to people who don’t have acne. This is simply a difference in skin characteristics.

Other risk factors that contribute to acne and make acne worse include:

  • Genetics – family history is not your destiny, but it can increase your likelihood of getting acne
  • Stress – sometimes, you can develop acne in high-stress situations
  • High humidity and air pollution
  • Accessories like sports helmets and hats
  • Skincare routine – if you don’t use the right kind of product for your skin needs, you may end up having pimples all over the face; using heavy creams and lotions can take a toll on your skin
  • Sometimes acne develops due to certain medications such as barbiturates, anticonvulsants, and corticosteroids

How Severe Can Acne Get?

Acne is ranked by severity based on four grades, number one being the mildest and four being the most severe form of acne.

Grade 1: This is a mild version of acne that is characterised by whiteheads and blackheads most of the time. Here and there, there may be pustules and papules. It’s easy to treat acne grade 1.

Grade 2: With this one, acne is moderate. You can see multiple papules and pustules on your face. Treatment becomes more challenging.

Grade 3: This is a more severe acne type called nodulocystic acne. It presents as multiple papules and pustules. You can also see inflamed nodules. It is not uncommon for pimples to arise on your chest and back at this stage.

Grade 4: This grade is known as severe nodulocystic acne. It manifests itself with multiple painful and inflamed nodules and pustules.

Preventing Acne

Here are a few things that can help you improve acne or prevent acne breakouts:

Do not wear makeup or resort to oil-free makeup

If you have existing pimples, you will probably be tempted to camouflage them with makeup. But you should know that keeping makeup on for too long can clog pores even more and worsen acne.

You should choose your makeup wisely and preferably get one that is labelled suitable for sensitive skin. Always shop for less comedogenic products if you have acne-prone skin. Some companies put acne-fighting salicylic acid in their foundation products.

In addition, you should remove makeup properly before going to bed.

Stay hydrated

Hydration is vital for your whole body. If you don’t drink enough fluids throughout the day, it can impact your skin. Basically, the body may put the oil glands into overdrive, resulting in more sebum.

To understand how much water you need on a daily basis based on your weight, multiply your weight in kilograms by 0.033. This will give you an approximate number to go by. For instance, if you are 65 kg, you should drink around 2,2 litres of water.

Use a moisturiser

It’s not uncommon for people with oily skin types to think they don’t need to moisturise their skin. However, every skin type needs a good old moisturiser to keep it well hydrated. If you let your skin get too dry, the oil glands will inevitably produce more sebum in an attempt to counterbalance, which will lead to pimples.

Do not touch your face with dirty hands

Touching your face transfers bacteria and dirt from your fingers onto your delicate facial skin. If you can’t help touching your face, make it a point to sanitise your hands in advance so as not to spread impurities further.

Limit sun exposure, even if you use sunscreen

Lots of long-term sun exposure will eventually dehydrate your skin, causing it to produce excess oil and then clog pores. Plus, ultraviolet rays are responsible for 90% of skin ageing. Too much sun exposure can also contribute to adult acne and some skin diseases.

Wash your face properly

Overly washing your face or using aggressive products may do more harm than good. It will strip your skin of its natural oils, which will trigger an overproduction of sebum to make up for the losses.

This will lead to clogged pores and – you guessed it – acne. Instead, get your hands on a gentle cleanser, wet the face with warm water and apply it directly to the skin. Rub gently and rinse with lukewarm water.

Know your skin type

It is vital to know your skin type so that you can use the right type of product based on its needs. If your skin often feels tight and flaky, even itchy, it means you have dry skin. If it looks shiny most of the time, it’s oily. Some skins have both oily and dry areas. This is known as a combination skin type.

Do not use oily hair care products

You are probably wondering what these products have to do with your acne, and the answer is simple: oily substances from your hair can travel down your forehead and get on your entire face, clogging the pores. When looking for hair products, make sure they are oil-free.

Acne Treatment

Acne Treatments: Mild Acne

When acne develops and is still in its early stages, the first line of treatment is topical acne creams and medication, including benzoyl peroxide, azelaic acid, alpha-hydroxy acid, and salicylic acid. Benzoyl peroxide has antiseptic properties and works by killing bacteria as well as removing dead skin cells. Moreover, your dermatologist or doctor may order oral antibiotic treatment such as clindamycin, metronidazole, and erythromycin.

Acne Treatment: Moderate Acne to Severe Acne

If you are plagued by acne formation, you should know that you don’t have to put up with it anymore. Thanks to advancements in dermatology and the cosmetic industry, you now have access to a plethora of acne treatments like hydrafacials for example, that will make you forget this problem ever existed.

Retinoid creams. These are topical medications that eliminate dead skin cells faster and prevent them from clogging the hair follicles. They also reduce scarring and even out the skin tone. Retinoids are not spotted treatments. They have to be used on the entire face in order to work. Keep in mind that some products you use to treat acne, topical retinoid especially, can make your skin hypersensitive to light.

Thus, you should use lots of sunscreens and stay in the shade whenever possible. Some creams should only be used at night. Consult a dermatologist or skin care specialist for more information.

Oral antibiotics. As explained earlier, bacteria that are naturally found on the facial skin can add to acne problems. That’s why some patients benefit from an oral antibiotic treatment like tetracycline and doxycycline.

Oral contraceptives (birth control pills). If the cause of your acne breakouts is hormonal changes, you may be prescribed birth control pills to curb androgen hormones (male hormones). Your dermatologist and skin care professional will be the judge of that.

Steroid injections. If you have inflamed acne lesions, steroid medication injected directly into the spot can help reduce inflammation.

Chemical peels. Chemical peels are chemical agents that come with different concentrations, ranging from mild to medium and deep. They can achieve deep exfoliation underneath the skin, which helps to treat both acne pimples and hyperpigmentation.

Light or laser therapy. The treatment works by delivering wavelengths straight into the deepest levels of the skin and working its magic from there. The laser light causes microscopic injuries, thus prompting the skin to turn on healing mode. It takes multiple procedures to get the desired results.

Treating Acne Scars

Now, it may be that you had acne in the past, and you no longer have to deal with this issue, but now you are faced with another one: acne scars. In that case, aesthetic medicine offers a slew of treatments such as:

  • Chemical peels. Chemical peels work both for acne breakouts and acne scars. There are different concentrations that help to achieve certain exfoliation depths. Stronger chemicals are not available over the counter. You need to go to a licensed medical professional or medical spa therapist who will evaluate your case and determine the right combination of acids.
  • Dermabrasion. This is a treatment that can be used for very severe acne and for acne scars as well. It involves removing the top skin layer by passing a handheld device over the face.
  • Laser resurfacing. This one employs a handheld instrument that sends laser light into the skin. Its goal is to remove the top layer of damaged skin in order to renew the cells. Aside from acne scars, laser treatments can decrease the appearance of dark spots.
  • Soft tissue fillers. Indented scars can be treated by injecting some kind of filler into them, such as collagen or fat.
  • Steroid injections. For raised scars, steroid injections work to minimise the bump and improve the appearance of the skin.


Questions Mark

Do certain foods cause acne?

If you tend to eat white bread and refined sugars in excess, this can trigger flare-ups. Soda and other carbonated drinks are to be avoided as well.

Does chocolate cause acne?

No, it doesn’t. Science has not found a link between chocolate and acne flare-ups, but if you are allergic to cholate, it may manifest in hives and other unwanted symptoms. What can result in an inflammatory response from the body are refined sugars (when eaten in excessive amounts). So, you should watch your diet.

What causes a build-up of dead skin cells?

The biggest trigger of dead skin cell build-up is a lack of proper exfoliation. So, if you don’t want to run into this issue in the future, don’t forget to exfoliate your skin on the regular. However, keep in mind that some products were not meant for daily use. The recommended frequency is twice to thrice per week or less, depending on how much your skin can handle.

Can you take acne medication during pregnancy?

A lot of the medications are not recommended to use during pregnancy as they can harm the developing foetus. You should always consult a general practitioner or your ob-gyn if you plan to get pregnant. They will guide you through the process.

Does mild acne go away?

Oftentimes, you can eliminate milder forms of acne with some over-the-counter products and medication.

At what age does acne stop?

Teen acne (or acne vulgaris) disappears by the age of 17 for girls and 19 for boys. You may have occasional flare-ups on and off before it completely goes away. Remember that untreated acne vulgaris may leave scars that will keep reminding you of your school days for the rest of your life.

Is acne related to cleanliness?

It is a common myth that this skin condition occurs as a result of poor hygiene and dirty skin. The processes that lead to acne take place underneath the skin’s surface, so cleanliness has nothing to do with the issue.

Why is acne more common in females?

Adult female acne is more common since women have a complex hormonal system that changes constantly. Hormonal imbalance can worsen acne.

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