Acne is the most common skin condition that Americans face. In fact, breakouts affect as many as 50 million of us every year. While the most common acne sufferers are teenagers, breakouts can occur at any age. There are lots of theories floating around about reasons why we break out. Some people respond by throwing out their sugary snacks, changing their skincare regimen, or even rushing to the dermatologist. But before you can successfully put a stop to acne, it’s important to understand what causes breakouts in the first place.
Reasons for Breaking Out: The Technical Explanation
The science of breakouts is a bit complicated. The oil glands secrete a liquid called sebum through the pores. Sebum is the oil that removes dead skin cells from the body. It travels through the microscopic follicles that connect the oil glands to the pores on the surface of your skin. If the follicles are blocked (usually by a combination of sebum, skin cells, and hair), they become subject to bacterial infection. The bacteria cause inflammation of the skin, and that’s when breakouts occur.
But if the blockage of follicles contributes to acne, the question remains: What causes that blockage in the first place? More importantly, can it be prevented? It all boils down to hormones. Specifically, many of the reasons for breaking out is believed to be associated with an increase in androgen levels.
The hormone androgen becomes prevalent during adolescence (hence those teenage breakouts). When androgen spikes, the oil glands expand and produce more sebum. This contributes to increased blockage and creates a breeding ground for the types of bacteria that allow acne to flourish. That’s why major acne medications feature ingredients designed to unblock the pores. The oil itself isn’t what causes breakouts; it’s the prolonged buildup of oil that causes bacterial infection.
So What Causes Breakouts?
There are a lot of commonly held beliefs regarding the reasons for breaking out: chocolate consumption, stress, makeup. While there are some glimmers of truth to these beliefs, the actual causes are a lot more nuanced. Let’s look at them one by one.
Does Diet Cause Breakouts?
Two landmark studies from the ‘60s and ‘70s failed to find a link between chocolate and acne. As a result, many people concluded that diet doesn’t cause breakouts. More recent and comprehensive studies, though, have uncovered more specific dietary associations.
For instance, nutrients like omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and antioxidants may help to fight the inflammation that causes acne. On the other hand, foods with a high glycemic index have been shown to contribute to acne growth. These are foods that cause rapid blood sugar spikes, like sugary snacks, french fries, white bread, and corn syrup. Dairy products may also be associated with increased breakouts, but more research is still needed.
Does Stress Cause Breakouts?
Clinical research has demonstrated a relationship between stress and acne breakouts. However, the reasons for breaking out when stressed are still largely unknown. Stress does contribute to hormonal changes in the body, but researchers haven’t found a definitive link between stress and sebum production.
Stress may cause breakouts directly, but it’s also possible that stress-related breakouts are the result of lifestyle factors. For instance, when we experience heavy anxiety, we’re much more likely to neglect our hygiene and indulge in junk foods. So be mindful of how your stress impacts your day-to-day routines.
Do Cosmetics Cause Breakouts?
Certain cosmetics can indeed clog pores, thereby contributing to acne growth. It’s important to shop for skincare products labeled “non-comedogenic.” This means that they have been tested and found not to exacerbate acne-prone skin.
Certain ingredients, like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, have even been shown to help prevent breakouts. That’s because these products contain small nanoparticles that work without clogging pores. Biologique Recherche products like Masque Creme Biofixine, Masque Visolastine +, and Creme PIGM 400 are just a few examples of high-quality skincare essentials containing titanium dioxide as a primary ingredient.
The Surprising Reasons for Breaking Out
All too often, we try to guess what causes breakouts despite evidence to the contrary.
In many cases, you may be making acne worse as you attempt seemingly logical removal measures. For example, many people with breakouts will wash their face several times a day. It makes sense on the surface. You want to get rid of those coarse oils that are contributing to the problem! However, when you constantly strip your face of its natural oils, it dehydrates the skin and causes the oil glands to produce even more sebum. And that means more breakouts.
Rather than over-washing, use a gentle acne-fighting cleanser like Lait E.V. in the morning and evening. Ingredients like salicylic acid work to cleanse the skin while also unclogging pores and eliminating the bacteria that cause breakouts in the first place. In addition, to combat what causes breakouts, make sure to moisturize daily. This will help to keep your skin hydrated and prevent excess oil production.
Hair-care products present another surprising reason for breaking out. Believe it or not, the oils from your shampoo and conditioner can run down to your face, clogging pores. Try to avoid this type of runoff as much as possible, and shop for water-based hair-care products as opposed to oil-based products.
It’s one thing to understand what causes breakouts. It’s another thing to keep the breakouts at bay. If you’re struggling with excess acne at any age, here’s a quick breakdown of the steps you can take:
1) Use an acne-fighting face serum like Serum Complexe Iribiol.
2) Avoid high-glycemic foods like sugary snacks and white flour.
3) Switch to water-based hair-care products and non-comedogenic cosmetics.
4) Moisturize daily.
5) Avoid over-washing your face.
6) Focus on managing your stress.
Of course, if the problem persists, see a dermatologist. They can help to determine what causes breakouts in your case.