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What Causes Acne?

The symptoms of acne – the pimples, cysts, blackheads, breakouts – are all caused by an excess of sebum and dead skin cells and inflammation.

Here is the important part: It is what causes acne symptoms that we need to deal with.

In other words, get to the bottom of what is causing the excess of oil, inflammation, and blockages.

What causes acne

The answer can depend on what type of acne you are dealing with:

  • If you have deep, blind pimples or cysts that only appear around the chin area – and that get worse on “schedule” about once a month, it usually caused by hormones
  • If you have breakouts that just don’t go away, this can often be caused by external factors especially your skin care products! (This is an overlooked and very simple cause, details below)
  • Blackheads are usually to do with skin “type” – an oily skin will have larger pores and more likely blackheads. These aren’t limited to adult acne but are usually worse in this condition

What Causes Acne

HORMONES:

Some factors that can disrupt our body’s natural equilibrium (hormonal balance):

  • Sleep – inadequate sleep increases the level of the stress hormone cortisol which increases inflammation. And because with adult acne we are usually dealing with aging concerns simultaneously, lack of sleep can affect these too.
  • Lack of exercise – exercise is one of the best ways to control stress by burning off extra energy, promoting better sleep, and creating endorphins in the brain which just make you feel better. The increase in circulation also ensures all your body systems are working optimally.
  • An unnatural diet – either a lack of whole foods, good fats and vitamins. Or it could be too much dairy, sugar, refined carbs or bad fats.
  • Normal changes and fluctuations – simple aging and body changes, pregnancy, menopause, changes in contraception etc. No wonder acne can be hard to deal with!

The Wrong Skin Care Products

  • Skin care products – if a product is too rich for your skin, or has an ingredient that your skin reacts to, it can cause acne. Not just the odd breakouts, but deep pimples that never seem to go away.

If you’ve tried everything to treat your acne, this could be it.

For example, Estee Lauder has some great moisturizers – however for a lot of people they are too rich and cause some serious breakouts.


Simply switching to a different product can clear up your acne in a week or two!


This is a sneaky and very important cause, as it will override everything else! You can have the best exfoliation, cleansing, diet, etc… and STILL suffer from breakouts if they are caused by a moisturizer, serum, or foundation.

So think about what you are using and if you have a suspect – stop using it for at least a week and see if there is a difference.

Other Common Causes of Acne:

  • Not cleansing before exercising – do you work out straight after work without washing your face beforehand? A quick wipe with witch hazel before and after very workout can prevent this
  • Pollution/smog/humidity – smog, grime and dirt can settle on skin and mix with sunscreen, sweat and make up. Humidity can cause sweating that dries on skin and opens pores which are then susceptible to clogging.
  • Shampoo and hair products – if you mainly breakout out around the side of your face or forehead, it may be your hair products or even just your hair itself touching your face and distributing pore clogging oils
  • Change in environment – if you’ve moved from a city with high humidity to one with dry air, for example, your skin may react in the form of acne. This will usually clear on its own once it settles down.