What Causes Acne

When hair follicles on the skin become blocked, acne may occur. Each hair follicle is equipped with sebaceous glands which are located near the surface of your skin with the purpose of these glands being to lubricate the hair and skin to prevent dryness. To provide this lubrication, the glands produce sebum, an oily substance. Many wonder, if this sebum is what causes acne, cysts, and breakouts in general.

Acne occurs when the glands produce too much of this oily substance. As the sebum builds up, it mixes with dead cells and the sebum and the cells plug the follicle, causing it to bulge outward so a whitehead is seen. When the plugged follicle bulges inward, a blackhead appears. When blackheads and whiteheads are created, bacteria normally found on your skin contaminates and infect the follicles, causing cysts, pustules, nodules or papules.

Age, Ethnicity, Heredity

Most will develop acne at some time in life although it does tend to be most common during adolescence. All ethnicity and skin types can develop acne and it appears most frequently on the face, back, neck and chest. Testosterone and heredity do appear to play a role in the development of this skin condition.

For teenagers whose hormones are raging out of control, an increase in testosterone appears to be the culprit. Testosterone is needed by both males and females for normal development although the hormone plays different roles in the body based on sex. As the sebaceous glands are very sensitive to changing hormone levels, it is believed the increase of testosterone increases sebum levels also.

If your parents had acne, you are more susceptible to developing this skin condition. Studies have shown that this is especially true if both parents had a severe case of this same problem during their teenage years. Sadly, if your parents suffer from adult acne, you will too, in most cases.

Adult Acne

What causes acne breakouts in adults? As hormone levels tend to level out once the adolescent years have come and gone, many are under the assumption that acne will be a thing of the past too. This isn’t the case though, especially for women who account for 80% of adult acne cases. Hormone levels appear to play a role here also.

When a woman is about to have her menstrual cycle, she may notice an increase in acne breakouts. Pregnancy is another time when acne tends to appear, especially during the first trimester. Those women suffering from polycystic ovary syndrome often have acne accompanied by weight gain and small cysts forming in the ovary. Certain medications may lead to an acne breakout, including lithium.


Studies have shown that certain things will not lead to acne. Your diet doesn’t play a role in the development of acne although it will affect overall health. Poor hygiene and dirty skin don’t lead to the development of acne because the biological reactions which trigger acne happen under the surface of your skin. Washing your face too often can actually make the problem worse as the skin can become aggravated. Acne can’t be passed from person to person either.

Irritation can lead to an increase in sebum production so take care not to irritate our skin on the face. Anything which scratches your skin, rubs it or stays against the skin too long can lead to irritation. The same is true of sunburns, shaving with dull razors and cosmetics which clog pores. Whenever possible, take good care of your skin and wash twice a day to help remove sebum and dead skin cells so acne doesn’t appear.