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Acne Causes

People once believed that chocolate, greasy foods and certain sexual practices were the most common acne causes.

Acne can cause stress in a person's life. [© Shutterstock, 2010]
© Shutterstock, 2010
Acne can cause stress in a person's life.

Acne Causes

People once believed that chocolate, greasy foods and certain sexual practices were the most common acne causes. Today, people with acne might not believe those old-fashioned myths, but why some people never get a pimple and others battle a seemingly never-ending breakout remains a mystery. Most people have at least some experience with acne, even if they dont realize whats causing it. According to the National Institutes of Health, an estimated 80 percent of people between the ages of 11 and 30 suffer from some form of acne.

Overproduction of Oil

Acne begins in the hair follicles. The body's sebaceous gland sends oil, also called sebum, to hair follicles to keep hair healthy. However, when the body produces more sebum than whats needed, the resulting oil can mix with common bacteria and skin cells and form a plug in the hair follicle, leading to a whitehead, blackhead or pimple. A whitehead results when the follicle wall bulges. When the plug reaches the surface of the skin it becomes a blackhead. If the follicle becomes inflamed or infected, a swollen red pimple forms. Acne is a common adolescent condition because puberty causes the sebaceous gland to grow, leading to oil overproduction. Menstrual cycles can also seem to cause the sebaceous gland to work harder than necessary, resulting in monthly breakouts for many women.

Irregular Shedding of Dead Skin Cells

Hair follicles also frequently become plugged by rapidly shedding dead skin cells. Those who suffer from acne often shed dead skin cells more quickly than people who have clear skin. When dead skin cells within the follicle are shed gradually, they make their way to the skins surface without any issue. When mixed with oil, the cells form a plug within the follicle, causing a whitehead, blackhead or pimple.

Bacteria Buildup in Hair Follicles

Once a hair follicle becomes plugged, the bacterium Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes) begin quickly multiplying in the follicle and area surrounding it. This bacteria causes the inflammation that causes painfully swollen red pimples. As the body fights off the bacteria, it sends millions of white blood cells to the area, creating puss within the pimple. Picking at a whitehead or blackhead can cause the bacteria to multiply more aggressively and increase the chances of a painful pimple.

Hereditary and Hormonal Causes of Acne

Although it's unknown why acne causes seem to plague some and not others, individuals seem more susceptible to the skin condition if their parents also had acne breakouts, According to the Mayo Clinic, genetics plays a role in how much sebum the body produces.

The body's endocrine system is responsible for releasing the proper hormones for growth and sexual development, including testosterone production, which increases during puberty for both boys and girls. Androgens, a form of testosterone, are the hormones responsible for causing the sebaceous gland to produce oil more rapidly, which then begins the acne breakout cycle.

Other hormonal shifts, such as pregnancy, menstruation, menopause and starting or stopping the birth control pill can affect acne in women. Some women see an improvement in their acne during these hormonal events, but many women breakout.

External Acne Causes

The majority of acne causes occur deep within the skin and people can do little to prevent them; however, some acne triggers can be avoided entirely. Pressure and friction on the skin can aggravate acne. Common culprits are telephones, backpacks and bike helmet straps. Make-up that isnt non-comedogenic can contribute to clogged pores. Many women use heavy concealers to cover their breakouts, which can worsen the condition, especially if its not washed off before exercise. The oils from fingertips and hair can cause pimples much like sebum. Certain medications, such as those used to treat types of depression and epilepsy, can cause breakouts, according to The National Womens Health and Information Center.

Myths about Causes of Acne

Many people believe clean skin isn't susceptible to acne, but excessive washing does nothing to prevent acne and can actually cause breakouts by stimulating more oil production. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, scientists have been unable to find a direct connection between diet and acne, despite the widespread belief that certain foods such as French fries, pizza, caffeine and chocolate cause breakouts. However, some people may find their bodies react to certain foods in the form of the breakout. Stress is another factor commonly believed to cause acne. While stress doesn't directly cause a breakout, medications used to treat stress can lead to acne. Also, the body's stress response includes an increased production in cortisol, which can in turn increase sebum production and worsen acne. Finally, the belief that too much sexual activity can cause pimples is purely a myth.

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