The Scoop – What Causes Acne?
Acne is not your fault. It is not caused by the food you eat or how often you wash your face; it is caused by a complex combination of factors.
Genetic disposition to acne
There’s absolutely nothing you can do about your genetic makeup. If you are wondering if you’re genetically prone to develop acne, interview your blood relatives. If there is a family history of moderate-to-severe acne, you are at the greatest risk for having a genetic disposition for acne, with onset most often in the early teen years.
Your genetic makeup may make it is easier for the P. acnes bacteria to proliferate on your skin. Your body may be more inclined to produce a swelling response to the bacteria.
You may produce more oil. Your pores may plug more easily. Your skin cells may turn over at a slower rate for your age. These contributing factors to acne are all determined by your genetic makeup. In addition, if both your parents have had significant acne, your risks for developing acne is also very high.
Acne and hormones
Hormones are another genetic factor affecting the development of acne. For women, hormones regulate changes throughout her lifetime. Fluctuations in estrogen levels (and androgen levels) can cause acne. As a result, many women experience outbreaks in conjunction with their menstrual cycles. The flood of hormones released by the body during and after pregnancy can also cause acne. And, just when you thought you were too old for acne, you find that the erratic estrogen levels during perimenopause and menopause can cause yet more acne, once again.
During puberty, everyone begins to produce androgenic hormones. One of the things these hormones do is cause the sebaceous glands to enlarge. The rate at which the body produces sebum, or oil, is affected by hormone levels. Too much oil stimulation, causing sticky oil and too little shedding of dead skin cells – and the next thing you know, your face is populated with a new acne outbreak. These hormones fluctuate during puberty, which is why almost all teens suffer from some form of acne.
Other factors that cause acne
One of the most important contributing factors to acne is stress. If I remember my years of puberty accurately, they were loaded with stress – some of it caused by the acne itself, an ironic catch-22. The reason for this is that stress hormones are released by the body to deal with stress, triggering increased oil production by the sebaceous glands. In addition, stress delays wound healing, so the breakouts last longer.
Environment is another factor in acne outbreaks. Pollution, exposure to oil or grease, dry air, and high humidity all have an effect on your skin and play a part in acne outbreaks. Put a teen in front of a fryer for a couple of hours after school every day and you can pretty much take bets on the next outbreak of acne.
A variety of over-the-counter and prescription medications may have side effects that affect your body’s chemistry, leading to changes in hormones that instigate acne. These include any drugs regulating or stimulating androgenic hormones (which is why athletes using corticosteroids, legal of otherwise, typically have a lot of acne), phenobarbital and some other anti-epileptic drugs.
If your mother keeps telling you to keep your hands off your face, she has a good reason – excessive rubbing or irritation to the skin can lead to acne. Holding the telephone too close to your face, sweating in a football or bicycle helmet, a backwards baseball cap with the strap pressing on your forehead – all these can lead to acne outbreaks. If you hold a cell phone to one side of your face, you may notice you break out more on that side. Even the strap of a purse can cause an outbreak on your shoulder.
If you are having problems with acne, use cosmetics, sunscreens and moisturizers that are noncomedogenic. This means they have been specifically formulated so they don’t contain ingredients known to cause acne. Otherwise, they may irritate your skin and clog your pores.
With careful attention to the causes of acne that you CAN control, you can reduce the problems caused by the factors you CANNOT control.