What Causes Acne?

Acne is a common, yet dreaded skin condition that most people experience at some point in their lives. Some get affected only as teenagers while in others, acne symptoms can continue even when they are in their 30s or 40s. Acne that manifests itself as pimples, zits, pustules, papules or cysts is irritating, painful at times and damages one’s self-esteem. Acne needs to be treated promptly.  While acne cannot be cured medically it can be controlled with the right treatment.   Hence, knowing causes of acne is important for only then can you take appropriate preventive measures to control its outbreak.

What causes acne?

Acne is caused when hair follicles or pores found at the surface of the skin become blocked. This can be due to various reasons. Hair follicles grow out of the pores on your skin’s surface. These are attached to sebaceous glands that are small glands located near the skin’s surface. These glands produce sebum – a sticky substance – that helps to lubricate the skin, prevent it drying and makes the skin look young and healthy.

The main cause of acne is when these sebaceous glands produce excessive sebum. This happens when the person has very oily skin and other reasons. Excess sebum mixes with dead skin cells. This prevents their excretion through the hair follicles. Instead, they plug the pores. When pores are plugged near the surface, they erupt outwards creating a whitehead or blackhead.

When bacteria infect these plugged follicles, they become pimples, pustules, papules, cysts or nodules.  The bacteria that infect comedones are known as Propionibacterium acne (P.acnes). They can breed inside a plugged hair follicle and thrive. The body sends white blood cells to fight this infection. Blood cells increase, pus forms and inflammatory acne like pustules form.

Some groups of people are more prone to acne than others.

Causes of Acne in Teenagers

The causes of acne in teenagers are due to increased production of the hormone testosterone during puberty. This hormone is essential for building bone and muscle strength in girls and in the growth of testicles and penis in boys. Sebaceous glands are easily affected by excessive hormone levels. Increased testosterone therefore triggers excessive sebum production – more than the body requires. Hence, teenagers are more prone to acne than others are. 

Hereditary Causes of Acne

Children whose parents have suffered from acne outbreaks are more likely to develop acne themselves when they reach puberty. When both parents have suffered from acne as teenagers, their children are likely to develop acne at a similar age. Similarly, when both parents have had adult acne breakouts, their children are also susceptible to similar problems.

Reasons of Acne in Adults

Among adults, women are more prone (80% of all adult acne cases are women) to acne outbreaks than men are. This is because women undergo greater hormonal changes at certain times in their lives.

what causes acne

  • In men, steroids or hormonal imbalance can cause acne

Acne Due to certain Medications

Some people get acne when they are on medications such as lithium when it is used to treat bipolar disorders or depression and steroids. Other medications that can cause acne to flare up are corticosteroids, oral contraceptives, Phenobarbital, halogens, phenytoin, isoniazid and excessive iodine from kelp, a type of brown seaweed.

Diets can worsen Acne

While diets do not contribute to acne eruptions, certain foods can worsen symptoms of acne. These include foods rich in saturated fats like chips, bagels, bread, cakes, dairy products, beverages like alcohol, etc.

Excessive Sweating

Excessive sweating or friction on the skin from items such as helmets, tight collars, back packs or headbands can cause acne to breakout.

Stress can worsen Acne

Anxiety and stress can worsen an acne breakout. When a person is stressed out, cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands. This increases the oil production by the sebaceous glands. Such excessive oil blocks hair follicles resulting in acne breakouts. When a person is stressed, the body also produces excess hormones in response to this. This again can lead to acne eruptions.

Acne Causes – Myths

Acne is not caused by excessive consumption of chocolates or greasy foods. It is also not caused due to dirty skin or coming into contact with a person who has acne. Another myth, that excessive scrubbing will clean the skin and thus acne is also not correct, in fact, excessive scrubbing of skin using strong soaps with chemicals can worsen acne symptoms. Skin needs to be cleansed regularly with a mild soap.

Summing it all up ..

Thus, there are 3 contributing factors to causes of acne:

  • Excess sebum production
  • Irritation of hair follicles due to improper falling off of dead skin cells
  • Bacterial infections

And there are numerous other factors such as diet, stress, etc, which can worsen an acne breakout. Acne is a common disease that affects millions of people worldwide. Knowing the causes of acne is important for only then will you know the right treatment to undergo and control acne infections of various types.