What Causes Acne?

There are so many myths about what causes acne, that it can be hard to tell the fact from the fiction. Everything from poor hygiene to a bad diet has been blamed for causing breakouts and these common misconceptions are far from the truth. Acne is a common problem that affects more than 80 per cent of people at some point in their life. Although it can be a phase that resolves itself in adulthood, many sufferers find it far more persistent and can experience breakouts throughout their adult life.

Acne occurs when pores in the skin become blocked by a build up of dead skin cells and oil from the sebaceous glands. This gives bacteria the chance to multiply, resulting in blackheads, whiteheads, pustules, nodules and cysts. The skin on the face, chest, neck and back contains more pores, meaning acne is more likely to occur in these areas. So why do some people suffer from acne and not others? It seems people who suffer from acne are more sensitive to certain levels of hormones in the blood, which cause the sebaceous glands to produce more oil. And, while the acne bacterium (known as Propionbacterium acnes) lives on everyone’s skin, it only thrives when the build-up of oil provides it with ideal conditions. 


Why do teenagers get it?

The main cause of acne in teenagers is changing hormones around puberty. Levels of testosterone rise at this time and cause the sebaceous glands to become more active, producing more oil than the skin needs, leading to possible breakouts. As we age, hormones begin to stabilise and acne typically resolves. This is why it is commonly known as a “teenage problem.” 

Why do adults get it?

Acne doesn’t always disappear with age. Many people suffer into their 30s, 40s and even 50s. In fact, acne can appear for the first time in adulthood. Women are usually affected more than men due to fluctuating hormone levels during their periods, pregnancy and throughout the menopause. There is also some evidence to suggest that genes play a part in the likelihood of suffering from acne. So, if you have parents or siblings who have experienced breakouts it’s more likely you may have them too.

Steps towards clearer skin

While it’s important to seek advice from your doctor for your acne, there are plenty of other things you can do to promote skin health.

Wash carefully: It's a myth that acne-prone skin is dirty, but careful cleansing can help keep breakouts at bay. Don't overdo it though, as too much washing can actually cause the sebaceous glands to increase oil production. Twice a day is fine. Try to avoid scrubbing the skin as this can cause further irritation. Gently pat the skin dry after washing and avoid using a face cloth as these can harbour bacteria.

Try to relax: Some studies have shown a link between stress and breakouts, so finding time to relax is key. It may not cure your acne but setting aside time to unwind or try activities like yoga and meditation may be beneficial and will promote more general wellbeing.

Use suitable cosmetics: Makeup is often important in maintaining confidence when you have acne, but look for products that are oil-free or water based. Products labelled as being non-comedogenic are best as they should not cause blackheads or whiteheads.

Don't squeeze: While it's tempting to squeeze spots in a bid for a "quick fix", you don't want to be left with a scar or cause further infection. It's best to leave them alone.

Exercise: Many people think that exercising and sweating will only make acne worse. As long as you shower afterwards, general aerobic activities like cycling and jogging can only do you good. Exercise is well known for releasing endorphins and improving mood, which can be vital for promoting self esteem and general well being.

Eat a balanced diet: There is little scientific evidence linking certain foods such as chocolate with acne. However, eating healthily and including plenty of fruit and vegetables will ensure good general health and will help you to feel the best you can.