Acne causes can differ from person to person, but they almost always center on one part of the skin: the pores. When pores become blocked, inflamed, or clogged, different types of acne can form – from milder cases of blackheads and whiteheads to more severe cases of nodules and cysts. The cause of the pore’s irritation can tell us about the type of acne that inevitably forms, as well as how to treat it. This guide is designed to walk you through the major factors that contribute to acne development, as well as what you should do when you don’t know your acne’s cause.


Oil Production and Sebaceous Glands

The most common acne cause involves oil overproduction and the sebaceous glands. These are small glands in the skin, which secrete an oily, lubricating substance known as sebum. The sebum moves up the hair follicle and onto the skin in order to lubricate the surface. This allows skin to stay buoyant and pliable.

The overproduction of sebum can directly cause acne. When too much oil is generated, the sebaceous gland and adjoining hair follicle can become clogged with sebum, dead skin cells, and bacteria. Acne caused by this oil overproduction, which is typically catalyzed by a hormonal shift, is called acne vulgaris. These are the common whitehead and blackhead pimples that form as a result of internal factors rather than external irritation. If the clogged pore becomes inflamed or infected, it can create inflammatory acne, like cysts and nodules.

A variety of experiences can activate sebaceous gland overproduction – from puberty and stress to weather and lifestyle changes. People can combat this excessive oil by using a cleaner, but in many cases, acne vulgaris is difficult to avoid.


Contact Irritation Causes Acne

While most acne is caused by internal changes, external forces also play a role in its development. Contact irritation is a leading acne cause. Makeup and face paint can clog pores, and certain chemicals in skin care products may cause acne as a side effect. If you notice that a certain product you use is causing acne, try going without it for a few days to see if the breakouts subside.

Another, more common form of contact-caused acne comes as a result of excessive friction, especially between skin and fabric. Known as acne mechanica, this form of the condition appears as the result of wearing too-tight or awkward fitting clothes, accessories, and equipment. Most acne mechanica patients at the Skin Care Center of Southern Illinois are athletes, especially football players, gymnasts, and runners who wear headbands. We also see an uptick in acne mechanica cases when the weather transitions from warm to cold, causing people to break out their tight-fitting winter caps.


Other Acne Causes

While hormonal and contact-caused acne are the most common forms of the condition, other factors may be at play in your acne development. Many of these are secondary acne causes, which means they create the circumstances necessary for acne vulgaris or acne mechanica to form.

  • Diet: Diet will never directly cause acne, but many doctors think there is a connection between foods high in sugars and carbohydrates and acne vulgaris. These foods cause insulin levels to spike, which can contribute to hormonal acne development. Avoiding these foods, like breads and pastas, will not cure your acne, but it could decrease your chance of developing future breakouts.
  • Over-washing: Over-washing skin with soaps and cleansers can strip the surface of its natural oils. This can cause the sebaceous glands to kick into overdrive in an attempt to replace the oils lost from washing. Oil overproduction will then lead to clogged pores, which can develop into acne.
  • Climate/Season: Excessively cold seasons and climates can trigger the overproduction of sebum. Just like in over-washing, the sebaceous glands can overreact to cold temperatures stripping the skin of natural oils. In response, these glands can produce more than enough oil, which can then clog pores and create acne.


Common Acne Risk Factors

While people with acne can sometimes control the condition’s causes, they cannot control their risk factors. There are several characteristics that may predispose a person to acne, but most have to do with hormonal changes and stage in life. This includes:

  • Puberty
  • Pregnancy
  • Post-Partum
  • Menopause
  • Extreme Stress

Additionally, people whose parents experienced acne have a genetic predisposition to the condition and may therefore experience it more often or intensely than others. Certain medications, like some birth control pills and corticosteroids, may also cause acne.

Remember that people are most at risk for developing acne during puberty, but the frequency of adult acne cases has risen steadily for the past decade. The exact cause of this increase is unknown, but acne is no longer simply a thing that teenagers experience.


What to Do When You Don’t Know the Cause

In many cases, people can trace an acne outbreak to a certain cause – whether it be a stage in the menstrual cycle or wearing a tight-fitting hat. Sometimes, however, the cause is harder to identify. This can be extraordinarily frustrating, especially if the acne is recurring.

If you’re confused about the cause of your acne, schedule an appointment with a dermatologist. This doctor will collect a full medical history and ask pointed questions about recent experiences, such as possible hormonal shifts and lifestyle changes. Even if a doctor can’t find the exact cause of your acne, they can provide a treatment option. The cause of acne rosacea, for example, is unknown to doctors, but your dermatologist can recommend a treatment plan to mitigate your symptoms.

Whether you’re struggling to control chronic acne outbreaks or can’t figure out why one pimple continues popping up in the same spot, make an appointment to visit the Skin Care Center of Southern Illinois. We can work with you to better understand your acne cause, making personalized acne treatment suggestions. Contact us to schedule your consultation today.