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Causes of Acne


By: Dr. Loretta Lanphier, ND, CN, HHP, CH

Acne is a very common skin problem that plagues the majority of us at some point in our lives. For folks of all ages, acne blemishes can be painful, unsightly, and embarrassing. We know that acne may be found in numerous places on the body such as the face, neck, chest, back, or buttocks. It can develop as a variety of blemishes including papules, pustules, nodules, or cysts. But, the question remains: "What exactly causes this annoying skin condition?"

As with many medical conditions, there is no single identifiable cause. Rather, it typically occurs when a combination of several factors are present together. Let's take a closer look at some of the most common causes of acne.

Hormones: Acne is usually associated with the hormonal changes of puberty. During the teen years, increased levels of sex hormones called androgens cause the sebaceous glands (oil glands) of the skin to produce increased amounts of oil. These excess skin oils tend to combine with dead skin cells and other debris on the skin, and the blockage of pores can occur. Oil that becomes trapped under the skin is often infected with bacteria, and the inflammation, pus, swelling, and redness of acne are the results.

Stress: Stress affects acne in several ways. It triggers another hormone called cortisol that has an aggravating effect on acne blemishes. Stress also can result in nervous habits which can lead some people to develop mannerisms such as rubbing or picking at the face, which only worsens acne. Picking or popping acne blemishes only spreads the condition, and can lead to scarring as well.

Genetics: Acne is not technically an inherited condition. However, severe acne does often run in families. If your parents experienced severe acne, your own risk is increased as well. Research about genetic links to acne is ongoing, but results are not yet conclusive.

Harsh Skin Care Products: Many people with acne try to use the harshest skin care products they can find in order to get aggressive with the disease. Unfortunately, this often backfires, as these products actually stimulate the development of acne by further irritating the skin. More oil is produced, and the acne gets worse.

Oil Based Cosmetics: Oil based cosmetics can be very irritating and hard on your skin. They tend to block pores and prevent the skin from "breathing." This can lead to acne. Try using makeup and cosmetic products that will not encourage or worsen acne. Be sure also to cleanse cosmetics from your face every day.

Enzyme Deficiencies: In rare cases, some individuals have a deficiency of an enzyme called sterol hydroxylase. This condition can produce acne in some individuals.

Excessive Steroids: Cushing's disease is a rare illness that causes the body to produce excessive amounts of corticosteroids. Acne can result from this disease. Acne can also form from taking high amounts of medicinal steroids.

Environmental Factors: Changes in the weather such as high winds or increased humidity may result in swelling and aggravation of the skin that can lead to acne for some people. Pollution and other environmental toxins do not technically cause acne, but they may irritate and worsen existing acne.

Certain Medications: Some drugs are known to trigger acne. Examples include synthetic lithium and androgens. Birth control pills can go either way. For some women they cause acne, but for others they improve acne depending upon the individual's hormonal balance.

Certain Illnesses: Some disorders have acne as one of their side effects. Examples include diabetes, Jacob's syndrome, and polycystic ovarian syndrome.


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