Most of us, if not all, suffer from acne breakouts at a certain point in our life. In fact, for some, it does not stop even after the teenage or puberty age. Even adults experience acne breakouts from time to time. So what causes acne exactly?
Like any other skin issues, acne is a bad thing to have. Acne can greatly affect a person’s appearance and can cause low self-esteem and lack of self-confidence to many. Several studies also support that acne negatively impacts the quality of life and self-image of a person specially teenagers. Thus, acne is a skin condition that we should not take for granted. It must be treated or better prevented. But before we can find the perfect solution for it, it is important to first understand and know what causes acne.
Acne is a skin problem that commonly develops when dead skin cells and excessive oil production plug the pores, creating the perfect environment for acne bacteria to grow. This is also a hormonal condition normally triggered by male hormones or androgen which is very active during the teenage years. Acne also has several types and these are: whiteheads, blackheads, pimples, nodules, and cysts.
What causes acne?
Just like any skin problem, acne develops due to several factors and causes.
- Main factors (oil production, dead skin cells, clogged pores, bacteria). Primarily, the development of acne starts when excessive oil and dead skin cells accumulate in the pores. As a result, pores get congested and acne bacteria grow and cause infection and inflammation.
- Hormones. During the teenage years or puberty period, the hormone called androgen increases. In effect, sebaceous glands become larger and produce more sebum or oil. Aside from teenagers, adults can also experience hormonal changes such as during pregnancy or when using oral contraceptives. These hormonal changes can trigger too much oil production. For women, a low level of androgen in the blood can also worsen acne condition. Read more about hormonal acne.
- Products that you’re using. The shampoo, conditioner, lotion, body or facial cream, and the likes can cause acne and/or worsen your acne condition. Products that are loaded with oil and heavy moisturizers can cause acne. Read more about Scalp Acne Shampoo.
- Certain drugs or medications. Aside from natural hormonal changes, certain medication or drugs can also cause acne as a side effect. Medications that contain corticosteroids, lithium, and androgen can cause an acne breakout.
- Stress. Stress causes a lot of diseases. It makes our body and immune system weak. Stress makes us more susceptible to bacterial infections such as that of acne.
5 Most Common and Effective Acne Medications You Need to Know
Knowing what causes acne is not enough to prevent it. The next thing to do is to find the medication that will work best to treat acne. Consulting a dermatologist will help identify the medications or treatment that can resolve your acne problem. Here are five of the most effective medications that your dermatologist may prescribe:
- Benzoyl Peroxide. The most commonly prescribed acne medication; this comes in the form of gel, cream, lotion, or wash. Aside from its antibacterial properties, benzoyl peroxide is capable of bringing oxygen deep into the skin, which can aid in killing 99.9% of acne-causing bacteria. This comes in different strengths: 2.5%, 5%, and 10%, though it is said that the effectiveness of benzoyl peroxide is just the same regardless of strength. Common side effects such as redness, itching, and dryness are expected in the first few weeks of use.
- Oral antibiotics. These medications help stop P. Acne or acne bacteria and are normally in the form of pills taken once daily. A few examples are doxycycline, levofloxacin, and minocycline. Aside from killing acne bacteria, oral antibiotics also help in reducing acne inflammation. Most common side effects are nausea, vomiting, headache, dizziness, upset stomach, and diarrhea.
- Tretinoin. Tretinoin is a product of combining retinoic acid and vitamin A acid. It comes in forms of gel, cream, and liquid with various strengths. Aside from acne, tretinoin is also used to treat sunburns and wrinkles. This medication is usually applied once daily. Common side effects are skin irritation, excessive redness, peeling, swelling, and crusted skin.
- Adapalene. A retinoid gel which comes in .1% and .3% strength. This is applied directly on the skin to reduce and prevent dead skin cells from plugging your pores. This medication can also reduce acne inflammation. Some people using this topical acne medication may experience redness, dryness, burning, scaling, and itching. Sunlight exposure should be avoided by people using adapalene.
- Azelaic Acid. This medication comes in cream form. Azelaic acid is found in animal products and whole grain cereals. This medication helps skin to renew fast, preventing dead skin build-up resulting to decreased whiteheads and blackheads formation. Side effects such as itching, burning, stinging, and tingling sensations can be felt in a short period.
5 Common Myths on What Causes Acne
Awareness is important when dealing with acne. Finding what causes acne is as important as finding the best treatment for it. So, to further help you, here are the 5 most common myths on what causes acne.
- Myth #1. What causes acne is greasy food. Eating oily and greasy food does not cause acne. In fact, there is no study that completely and strongly supports that your diet is a contributor to your acne or acne breakout. Of course, what you eat has an effect on your body. There are foods that can make the skin healthier, while there are some that can cause skin allergy. Fatty, oily, or greasy food, whatever you may want to call it, may be bad for your heart but does not cause acne. Read more about foods that cause acne.
- Myth #2. What causes acne is not enough washing. In fact, it is the other way around. Too much washing can irritate your skin. It can also cause your skin to lose its natural moisture. Less skin moisture results to dryness (dead skin cells). Dead skin cells can clog pores which help develop acne. Washing your face twice daily (morning and before bedtime) with mild and non-comedogenic facial wash is enough.
- Myth #3. What causes acne are chocolates and sugary products. Many still believe that eating chocolates, candies, ice cream, and the likes can cause acne. Surely, too much of these products are not good for our health. But it doesn’t have anything to do with your acne.
- Myth #4. What causes acne are sexual activities such as masturbation. This myth is commonly heard from teens. Our acne or pimple breakout has nothing to do with masturbation or any sexual activity.
- Myth #5. What causes acne are dirt, smoke, and air pollution. It’s never bad to be clean and to have good body hygiene. However, dirt, smoke, or air pollution is not the reason you have acne. Of course, no one wants all of these. Too much scrubbing and washing can irritate your skin and worsen your acne. When it comes to washing or cleaning your body, always be gentle.
What is Cystic Acne?
Cystic acne is the most severe type of acne. This happens when acne bacterial infection goes deep into the skin causing a red, inflamed, tender, and large bump initially filled with blood, then with pus. Cystic acne is painful and can last for weeks. It can also cause deep and permanent scars. Cystic acne is mostly observed in men but women may get it too. (Read more about How to Get Rid of Cystic Acne).
What Causes Cystic Acne?
Cystic acne, just like other types of acne, develops when pores are clogged with dead skin cells and excess oil creating a perfect home for acne bacteria. The only difference is, it is more severe and goes deeper into the skin. More pus is developed, causing raptured follicles. When a follicle is destroyed, the infection spreads to nearby follicles making a larger inflamed bump on the skin surface.
Other factors that causes cystic acne or can worsen it are:
- Hormonal changes. Changes in hormones or hormone levels during puberty, menstrual cycle, and pregnancy.
- Drugs or medications such as corticosteroids, lithium, phenytoin, isoniazid.
- Cosmetic products. Greasy and occlusive, cosmetics, heavy moisturizers or lotion.
- Increased humidity and sweating.
How to treat cystic acne?
Over-the-counter medications do not usually work with cystic acne. In most cases, you have to consult a dermatologist that can prescribe appropriate and stronger medication that will work for your condition. Here are some medications your doctor might prescribe:
- Prescription-strength topical treatment. Prescribed topical treatment normally comes in the form of gel, cream, and lotion. The strength varies and will be prescribed based on the severity of cystic acne. Your dermatologist may also prescribe a combination of topical medications.
- Oral antibiotics. Because of severity of cystic acne, topical treatment might not be enough to cure and prevent it. In most cases, topical treatment is combined with oral antibiotics to fight and kill bacteria and diminish inflammation.
- Oral contraceptives. Women with severe acne may take birth control pills as prescribed by a doctor to decrease the level of testosterone. A lower testosterone level may decrease the severity of acne in women. Birth control pills bring so many bad and good side effects; it is important to discuss this with your doctor before using oral contraceptives. (Read more about birth control for acne)
- Dapsone. This medication is normally in a topical gel form with 5% strength. Dapsone is an anti-inflammatory medication with antioxidant and minor antibacterial properties. Dapsone can greatly reduce acne lesion. Common side effects are mild redness, dryness, and burning.
- Cortisone shots. Cortisone is an anti-inflammatory chemical naturally produced by the body. However, it does not last long enough to fight acne inflammation. For cystic acne, cortisone is injected directly into the bump to help quickly reduce inflammation. As a result, large red bumps will flatten fast.
- Isotretinoin. This is an acne pill that is normally prescribed to people with a severe acne condition that does not respond to any other medication. This pill is taken for a period of 15-20 weeks and is said to be very effective. Unlike other acne medications with mild side effects, Isotretinoin can cause high risk of depression and can result to a deformed infant if taken during pregnancy. Other side effects include dry nose and mouth; dry, cracked lips; and muscle and joint pain.
- What food causes acne? Researches and studies have been conducted to find out the effects of diet to acne or acne breakouts. But as of now, food and diet is not yet fully established as a culprit for acne breakout. There might be some studies that link diet or food to the development of acne, but evidences are not that strong and further studies need to be done to clearly and completely prove that specific food causes an acne breakout.
- Does chocolate causes acne? No. Eating chocolate does not cause acne. There is very little to no evidence linking chocolate to acne breakout. Though, some research says that eating TOO MUCH chocolate can increase oil production, still it does not mean that eating chocolate alone develops acne. Furthermore, a study conducted at University of Pennsylvania by Dr. Albert Kligman supports that eating chocolate does not lead to acne development.
- Does smoking causes acne? Smoking is definitely bad your health. But smoking, as far as acne is concerned, does not cause acne. Studies support that when it comes to acne, there is no strong statistical difference between smokers and non-smokers.
- Does coffee causes acne? Coffee or caffeine products have not been proven to cause acne. As of now, the relation of coffee to acne remains a myth.
- Does smoking weed causes acne? Further research still needs to be conducted to know if smoking weed causes acne. Some studies state that smoking weed can spike testosterone level by up to 5%; for healthy individuals, it might do any harm. However, these studies also state that for unhealthy people, testosterone increase may cause oil glands to heighten sebum production. Whether it causes acne or not, it’s better to not use it.
- Does milk causes acne? Many studies support that milk and other dairy products, because they contain growth hormones and inflammatory substances, can help develop acne. Growth hormones and inflammatory substances found in milk may also clog pores.