While there are always new questions to answer, many of the factors that tend to produce acne have been well researched.

Hormones and Sebum

It’s no accident that acne tends to be associated with teens. It strikes over 85% of us during those years. It’s at that stage of life when hormone levels rise sharply. Androgen levels increase in both males and females.

Among other effects, those stimulate the sebaceous glands that produce sebum, the natural oil found in hair follicles. The largest increases occur in the face, back and upper chest – right where acne tends to concentrate. The result can well be an outbreak of acne.

Increased oil or sebum isn’t generally a problem if it reaches the surface. It’s spread around, and often washed off with alcohol or soap and water by those who take good care of their skin. Still, blackheads may form as a result of the excess oil.

Worse, pores can close, causing them to become clogged with that excess oil. That encourages the growth of whiteheads. Also, the resulting pressure can cause follicles to rupture. The bacteria have a more ‘friendly’ environment in which to grow. At the same time, bacteria and the white blood cells that deal with it (normally without any problem) get trapped. The result is pus and inflammation. Acne.

Stress itself doesn’t produce acne, but it can make it worse by increasing hormones. It also contributes to weakening the immune system, thus leading a less effective defense against invading bacteria. But it’s not a major factor.


Certain drugs can encourage the development of acne. Barbituates and tetracycline are known to be among the culprits. Anabolic steroids are widely recognized by professional dermatologists to be a major contributor among those who take them. Forgoing these, except for specific medical purposes, helps reduce the odds.


Genetics plays a role, as well. How large, is still not yet quantified. The area is one of active research, and therefore the exact mechanism isn’t detailed. But, statistics show that acne does tend to run in families. That may be partly due to diet or other common family circumstances. But it’s more a factor of inheritance.

Diet & Skin Care

This is a much more minor cause than is commonly supposed. While certain foods are themselves greasy, that doesn’t translate directly into increased oil in the skin. Of course, poor eating habits often go hand in hand with poor skin care practices. And, any food that tends to increase the production of sebum (oil) or certain hormones will have an effect.

But no study suggests that the common culprits – soft drinks, chocolate and greasy cheeseburgers, among others – play a large role in producing acne.

Poor cleansing habits play some role, because bacteria that lie near the surface sometimes remain ‘unmolested’. Regular use of a good cleanser can help. Take care that the skin doesn’t become excessively dry, however. That causes other problems.

Also, heavy dirt or even makeup can contribute to a problem by blocking the pore, especially if they block oil ducts. But surface dirt itself isn’t responsible for acne. The dark head on blackheads is the result of exposure to air, not trapped dirt.

There’s little one can do about heredity, and passing through the teen years is a normal part of life. But good skin care, quick treatment at the onset of symptoms and other controllable choices will help keep acne at bay.

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