I have a challenge for you. Call me now. Yes really, you my friend. Let’s chat. Can you do it?
For us to speak skin, you need a 9 digit code called a phone number.
Without knowing someone’s code, we don’t get to connect.
Which is why if you’re serious about kicking butt to acne, you need to understand what causes acne. Without understanding the causes of your acne, you’re trying to call a good friend with no clue about their phone code.
Yeek – seriously, imagine how lost we’d be if there ever was a contact deleting mobile phone bug.
Your acne/spots/blemishes/breakouts are a screaming toddler wanting to be understood. When you do something your acne doesn’t like, breakouts scream louder. When you do something your skin’s howling for, breakouts go take a nap.
Understanding what causes acne will help you defeat acne. Pow to that. Come see what’s triggering yours…
1. What Causes Acne: Pollution
Did you know there’s a bazillion tiny particles floating about your face right now? You can’t see them, but it doesn’t mean they’re not there. Like an imaginary best friend no-one can know about.
The types of particles floating around your face are different depending on where you live. Different depending on the time of year and different depending on which direction today’s wind decides to breeze/blow/gale from.
Sometimes the air about you is A-star clear.
Sometimes the air about you is full of pollution.
Teeny-tiny specks of dirt made by car exhaust fumes, factories, cooking, aerosol sprays, fires, candles and more.
…and when you have an oily skin type, which as you’re prone to acne is very likely, these teeny-tiny specks get stuck in your pores. Once glued down, they bury deep causing your skin ageing damage and inflammation.
Acne is an inflammatory skin condition. Because pollution causes inflammation, pollution can worsen acne.
But my friend, pollution as a cause of acne doesn’t stop here.
A 2017 skin study tells us people living in high pollution areas have;
- Oilier skin
- Higher sebum levels
- Altered sebum composition
When your skin’s oily, your pores are prone to collecting dead skin plugs which are then able feed acne bacteria like crazy.
Treatment for pollution caused acne;
- Gentle yet thorough daily evening cleanse – try a skin protecting, non-comedogenic cleanser like this guy
- Wearing a non-comedogenic foundation which helps form a daily barrier over skin
- Sun can heighten the effects of pollution/cause pollution particles to react on your skin – avoid by wearing an oily skin friendly sunscreen daily
2. How Over Cleansing is Causing You Acne
Having acne and an oily skin type can make you want to cleanse, cleanse, cleanse. Especially because of a well spread myth saying if you have acne your skin is unclean.
In actual-real-scientific-fact my friend, the complete opposite could be true.
You could have acne because your skin is too clean.
Cleansing your skin, especially with aggressive cleansers (often called foaming cleansers, oily skin cleansers, soap) cause skin changes which make your skin extra friendly for acne causing bacteria.
Imagine your skin like a holiday home. When booked out, no-one else can get in. However if you over-clean aka send your normal holiday guests packing, you leave the door open for a new-uninvited or unknown kind of guest.
Exactly like over cleansing your skin.
Normally your skin has a whole host of bacteria on it. This is a very, very good thing and helps keep your skin healthy. When you over cleanse or use a cleanser with a high pH level, you cause your skin’s bacteria populations to change.
Naturally your skin has a pH level of 4.2-5.5. Healthiest when below 5.
Your normal bacteria populations love this pH – like a sunny beach vacation.
When you over cleanse skin or use a high pH cleanse (some can be as high as pH 12!) you make your skin a not so loved place for normal skin bacteria and a very loved place for acne causing bacteria.
Acne bacteria breed best at pH levels above 6.
Potential reason for your acne: Over cleansing/Using a high pH cleanser.
Treatment for cleanser induced acne;
- Use a pH balanced cleanser – this is a perfect option and can also be used as a 2nd step in a 2 step cleanse
- Stop washing your face so much
3. Cause of Your Acne: Dairy
Diet has huge effect on your skin. I’ve experienced the effect of Mr.Dairy first hand and I’ve helped several other skin savvies like you fix their diets to see the very same great skin change.
Dairy is a key acne danger food for these 3 reasons;
- Dairy contains hormones
- Dairy from cows contains a protein called beta-casein which in many people is inflammatory
- Dairy contains a sugar called lactose which if not broken down can feed bad gut bacteria ultimately effecting the health of your skin
Crazy fact: Humans aka you and I *winks* were only designed to drink dairy/our mum’s milk when building our toddler bodies into strong young adult bodies. Sometimes the strength of hormones in your mum’s milk could even make you – as a baby – lactate white liquid. After your mum’s milk was gone, diary disappeared from your diet.
Potential cause of your acne: Dairy. Found as milk, cheese and yogurt. Or used in biscuits, cakes, pasta sauces, salad dressings and a surprising amount of non-milk looking foods.
4. Reason for Your Acne: Hormones
Those pesky things ‘eh. Hormone presents are like playing Russian roulette – you never quite know what you’re going to get.
Androgens are a type of hormone including testosterone with direct links to acne. And both women and men have testosterone. At different times of your monthly cycle, hormones like estrogen compete competitively with testosterone for dominance. Ups and downs cause your skin to react.
The most common reaction is oil making. Super sticky oil making.
— Cheryl Woodman (@HonestyForSkin) 6 March 2018
What causes acne? Take a peek at your acne equation;
Sticky sebum + dead skin + acne bacteria = acne
What gives you acne? The type of sebum your acne prone skin makes is different from the sebum non-acne prone skin types make.
All oils are not the same my friend, imagine them like different chocolate types – plain, white, dark, milk, 70%.
Skin types prone to acne are very often low and/or deficient in an oil called linoleic acid. A thinner, drier kind of skin oil. Meaning your hormones are coding your skin to make too many of the thicker, pore clogging kinds of skin oil.
What causes spots? Hormones causing your skin to make sticky sebum.
How to help treat hormone caused acne;
- Use a linoleic high facial oil – rosehip oils like this one are naturally linoleic high
- Drink anti-androgenic spearmint tea like this one twice per day
- Take a daily 30mg zinc gluconate supplement (2 of these daily) which studies show can help treat acne and is also active against too much testosterone
5. What Causes Acne: Slow Exfoliation
Aka trapped dead skin stuck deep inside your pores. A pot holing expedition of skin cells which are loving life deep underground in your pores. They don’t need air and they ain’t coming up for it anytime soon.
Every day your skin naturally exfoliates itself. A few skin cells shed off, a few more grow back. Like a brick wall being constantly replaced. 30 days is the average time you need for almost 100% of your skin cells to completely shed off and become renewed.
However, because your skin is acne prone and very likely oily or combination – skin cells lurk around longer, especially inside your pores.
Here past their sell-by date flakes absorb oil, make sticky dead skin plugs and feed the no-good kind of bacteria.
What causes acne? Trapped dead skin cells stuck deep inside your pores.
How to help get rid of acne;
- Exfoliate regularly with an oil soluble aka gets inside your pores liquid exfoliate – salicylic acid is best – try this purse friendly optimal strength skincare pick
- Help regulate how sticky your sebum is by using balancing linoleic high oils
6. How UV light Is Causing You Acne
A very commonly spoken of and non-dermatologist recommended home holiday remedy for acne is sunshine – dries spots and your skin out like crazy.
But… the very same thing could also be causing you acne. Yeesh.
Not only can sunlight cause your skin serious premature ageing. Sunlight or more specifically UV light could be the cause of your acne.
Why? Because UV light has a special spark with your skin’s oils, being the right amount of energy to oxidise aka make go off your skin’s sebum.
Your sebum is a homemade mixture of lots of different kinds of oil. One kind goes by the name squalene. And when squalene gets oxidised by UV light it makes a highly comedogenic/highly pore blocking ingredient called squalene monohydroperoxide.
How to help get rid of acne;
- Use a zinc oxide suncream daily
- Avoid direct sunlight around danger hours e.g. 10am to 2pm
- Wear a hat and sunglasses to help protect your very delicate face
7. What Causes Acne: Comedogenic Skincare
Acne cosmetica is this acne cause’s fancy name. Makeup, skincare, sunscreen, cosmetics… anything you’re using on your face can have potential to block your pores.
…and blocked pores, you guessed it my skin savvy – cause acne, spots, blemishes and breakouts.
A warm and cosy den for acne causing bacteria.
Imagine one of your pores like Cinderella’s perfect slipper, now imagine another which is too big and another which is too small. Cinderella’s feet will wash in and out of the too big slipper. Her feet won’t even be able to get into the too small slipper and the fitting slipper – well sometimes, after a long hard 5km walk in heels, they’re too exercised to slip out.
The same is true of all skincare ingredients. Some are the perfect size to slip into your pores and never again come out.
Ingredients like coconut oil, cocoa butter, myristyl myristate and Isopropyl myristate.
What causes acne? Comedogenic skincare.
How to help get rid of acne;
- Look out for skincare calling itself non-comedogenic
- Screen your skincare ingredient list for comedogenic ingredients in 5 seconds using this tool explained in detail here
- Never use virgin coconut oil on your skin
8. Is an Overload of Sugar the Cause of Your Acne?
Sugar tastes so good but trust me there’s a heap of other much healthier foods able to tingle your tastebuds to the very same pleasures.
Sugar is a food which can play havoc with your hormones. Once you eat sugar, you begin a high-speed game of tag. Sugar granules go in, run around and insulin hormones scurry around trying to catch one.
The more sugar granules you eat, the more insulin hormones get released to go chase them.
The hormone cascade sugar begins causes;
- Oily skin
- Large pores
- Increased occurrence of acne and spots
Yikes! And sugar isn’t only the white granules you add to cakes, cereals and tea. Quick release sugar can be found in refined foods too – white pasta, crisps, white bread.
What causes acne? Eating lots of sugar.
How to help get rid of acne;
- Minimize the amount of refined sugar in your diet
- Eat low glycemic index foods/low glycemic load diet
- Avoid refined, processed and ready made foods
9. What Causes Acne: Using Blitz-It Skincare
Using harsh skincare is oh so bad for your skin and can cause or make-worse existing acne. Remember how we said acne is an inflammatory skin condition? Well too harsh skincare causes inflammation. See how the 2 could trigger each other off?
If you put a chocaholic next to 5 cubes of chocolate – there’s only one thing that’s a’happening ‘eh.
You’d have no idea this imaginary person was a chocaholic until Boom – 5 cubes of chocolate devoured in 0.5 milliseconds flat.
Same is true of your skin.
You might have acne prone skin without knowing it – use too harsh skincare and pow – acne central.
You might already have acne and be tempted to use extremely strong skincare to get clear skin – then pow once more – acne worsens, grows and explodes.
What causes acne? Extra strength skincare.
How to help get rid of acne;
- Treat your acne prone skin as sensitive skin
- Avoid products which promise to peel your skin
- Use small amounts of skincare which works – it can be super tempting after you start seeing results from using a 2% salicylic acid toner to over use
10. Could a Skin Infection be the Cause of Your Acne?
Your skin is a super organ with 1 primary goal – keeping you safe. Imagine an over protective father sleeping rough outside your boyfriend’s door. Skin is the 1 sleeping giant between you and the world.
Your skin keeps harmful UV radiation away from your vital organs. Your skin holds you together and prevents you from becoming gooey mush on the floor. Your skin acts as a shield/barrier against irritants, allergens, bad bacteria and villain like viruses.
But your skin is not un-defeatable, especially if you’re using skincare which works against your skin’s natural biology.
Now 1 bacteria in-particular – called Propionibacterium acnes or p.acnes for short is well-recognized as an initial trigger for acne. However, p.acnes is not the only bacteria which can make your skin get bumpy, inflamed, pink and red acne lesions.
Imagine having a cat flap – you let your cat in, but you also shout a free pass to all other neighbourhood cats and/or insects/birds/mice/dogs small enough and smart enough to figure it out.
Infections as a cause of your acne which happen when your skin barrier is poorly are the very same deal. If you have especially inflammatory acne, there’s a strong likelihood you have a bacterial skin infection.
What causes acne? Skin infection caused by an unhealthy skin barrier.
How to help get rid of acne;
- Avoid too strong for you skincare
- Be sure your skincare is pH balanced
- Wash your face just once a day
- Avoid long hot showers & baths which breakdown your skin barrier
- Avoid acne products which dry out your skin – your skin barrier is oil based
- Use probiotic skincare
There you have it my friend the what, why and who of what causes acne. Your triggers could be 1, 2 and 3. You might find just 3 explodes your acne. You might find all poke and play with your acne in different ways.
Which rings most true with you? Which changes are you going to be trying out first? Come chat with me in the comments box below dear friend…
Cheryl Woodman is a scientist & award winning skincare formulator who’s more friend next door than bow tie wearing professor. As creator of Honesty For Your Skin her aim is to help you care for your skin in the best ways possible. She’s founder of the natural & fragrance free skincare brand Honesty while also hosting 1 to 1 skincare coaching to help you get your best skin yet. Find out more here.