Much remains unknown about acne-- how it forms and how it eventually resolves. Some people get pimples all the time yet some almost never do. Doctors do know several triggers and causes of acne.
Acne vulgaris, the medical term for the common acne, is basically a disorder of the skin's sebaceous glands. These glands are present everywhere on the body except on the palms, feet, and the lower lip. They are mostly concentrated on the face, neck, and chest. These glands produce sebum, a type of oil which serves to moisturize our hair and skin.
Under certain conditions, increased sebum production initiates a cascade of events that result into the p. acnes bacteria, a common human skin resident, sparking off an inflammation of the blocked pores. But what causes increased sebum production in the first place?
Those raging hormones
The main reason is hormones. Acne starts appearing during adolescence when testosterone, found in both males and females, causes the sebaceous glands to become larger and produce more oil. This starts the pimple formation process. In women, hormone activity during menstrual cycles or pregnancy may make acne worse. Acne may flare-up 2-7 days before the menstrual period, during pregnancy, or when women start or stop taking birth control pills.
Blame your parents
Genetics also shows a clear involvement in getting acne as the condition tends to run in families. Teenagers afflicted with acne usually have family members with the same predicament. So if one or both of your parents had acne when they were young, chances are you would have them, too.
Stress may worsen acne. Stress causes increased cortisol output from the body’s adrenal glands, which may increase the skin’s oil production thus making you more prone to pimples.
The role of diet
Many people blame diet for acne breakouts. They would swear that eating certain foods like chocolate or greasy junk food can worsen acne. Most medical authorities deny a connection, but this may change in the future as newer studies reveal a link between acne and certain products like refined carbohydrates, dairy products, and iodine-rich foods.
Drugs and chemicals
Certain drugs are known to worsen acne. These include those containing halogens (iodides, chlorides, bromides), lithium, barbiturates, and androgens. And so do environmental irritants like high humidity and industrial pollution.
Some cosmetics can irritate the skin or block the pores, causing acne. This is the reason why when choosing soaps, lotions, makeup, or any other skin care products, you should look out for non-comedogenic ingredients- meaning, they do not clog the skin pores to cause pimples.
Some of these common cosmetic ingredients that are likely to block the pores (comedogenic) are cocoa butter, sodium chloride (salt), wheat germ oil, and coconut oil. Those with medium clogging potential include soybean oil, mink oil, corn oil, glyceryl stearate SE, and cottonseed oil, sulfonated castor oil, and saturated vegetable oil.
Other causes of acne
Mechanical irritation like picking your pimples, scratching, shaving facial hair, or rubbing your face can also make them worse by spreading infection, and therefore must be avoided.
- Baylor College of Medicine: Back-to-school stress can trigger acne problems
- PubMed.gov: Does diet really affect acne?
- University of Buffalo: Acne, milk and the iodine connection
- Acne Resource Online: Cosmetics and acne
- Soapnuts: Non-comedogenic chart