What Causes Acne?

Many people believe what causes acne is their own doing, and they are too embarrassed to seek medical care. Top dermatologists want you to know that acne is not a condition for which blame can be assigned. In all likelihood, what causes acne for you is a result of your biology - ie what you inherited from your parents!

What Causes Acne? - Heredity and Hormones

"The conditions that prompt acne-such as oily skin and hormonal fluxes-can be inherited," says Dr. Cherie M. Ditre, director of the Cosmetic Dermatology & Skin Enhancement Center in Radnor, Pennsylvania.

In fact, many parents who once suffered from acne themselves will bring their preteens and teenagers to the dermatologist's office at the first sign of a blemish, as they recognize the need to catch it early and begin treatment.

"What causes acne is multifactorial," confirms Dr. Lisa Benest, a dermatologist in Burbank, California. "Some individuals are genetically predisposed. Hormones from puberty, changes in a woman's menstrual cycle or stress cause our skin to become more inflamed."

What Causes Acne? The Androgen Connection

One of the key hormones that causes acne is androgen, a male sex hormone that is actually produced by both men and women. It is responsible for most male sexual characteristics, and its production goes into overdrive as we approach puberty. Not only does it affect the development of underarm and pubic hair, but it also causes the sebaceous glands in your skin to grow larger and produce more sebum. Excess androgen leads to oily skin, and the acne cycle begins: Oil clogs pores, traps bacteria and leads to breakouts. Because men produce more androgen than women do, their acne can be more severe.

Clues to excess androgen production in women include "hirsutism" (excessive hair growth on the face or other areas of the body) or its polar opposite: bald spots. If you have acne and either of these problems, see your doctor to have your hormones tested. The situation may be remedied with birth control pills or drugs known as "androgen blockers."

In addition, women with hirsutism, irregular menstrual cycles, obesity, infertility or diabetes may suffer from a hormonal condition called polycystic ovary syndrome, which is linked to an overproduction of insulin by the pancreas. Your physician can perform a blood test to determine whether you have this underdiagnosed condition. If so, prescription drugs are available, and lifestyle changes-particularly weight loss-will be encouraged.

What Causes Acne? - Other Factors

Other factors that aggravate acne include:

  • Stress
  • Overexposure to the sun/sunburn
  • Weather (high humidity)
  • Use of cosmetics that contain oil (such as moisturizers)
  • Certain prescription medications
  • Anything that comes into continued contact with your face, such as your telephone (which collects oil) or an athletic helmet

As you can clearly see, what causes acne is often not your fault!


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