Surprising things that cause acne

Acne is “the most common
skin disease,” affecting about 80 percent of the population between the
ages of 11 and 30. But even babies get pimples, and people in their 40s and 50s
experience breakouts as well. The market is saturated with products promising
clear skin, but the first step in defeating ugly breakouts, is understanding
just what causes them.
There are plenty of theories
and old wives’ tales about what causes acne, like eating too much chocolate, or
not having clean skin. But I wanted real, expert advice. So, I talked to
doctors and skincare specialists around the country, and they told me about
some surprising things that cause acne, and how to rid your face of those
unsightly blemishes.
the myths
The best place to start, is by
dispelling the myths of what actually causes acne. Dr. Fayne Frey, a board
certified dermatologist, said there are only four main causes of acne — clogged
pores, hormones, oil production, and bacteria. She said things like hormones,
steroids, facials, and a diet full of pasta, chips, dairy, and junk food can
make acne worse, but those four causes are the real reason for breakouts.
Frey said there is no
scientific evidence that makeup, greasy foods, or dirt on the face are actual
causes for acne. However, washing your face twice a day with a mild cleanser
has been shown to reduce adolescent acne. Dr. Gabrielle Francis adds that skin
infections, blood sugar imbalances, stress, and toxins can also cause acne.
“Acne can be one of the side effects of living life like a rock
star,” she said.
Health and wellness expert,
Dr. Will Cole, said when the trillions of bacteria in your gut — called your
microbiome — are imbalanced, it can lead to a weakened intestinal lining. That
weakened lining is also known as “leaky gut syndrome,” and it’s
linked to almost every inflammatory health problem, including acne.
Cole said your doctor can
order bloodwork to determine how leaky your gut is, which will help them decide
what the next course of action should be. A healthy gut will lead to a healthy
You are what you eat, and if
you’re eating something that your body is rejecting it will show in your skin,
Dr. Cole said. Every person’s body is different, so it’s important to nail down
exactly what is upsetting your digestive system and what foods are helping you
thrive. An elimination diet is an easy way to figure out which foods are
triggering a negative reaction, Dr. Cole said.
traffic jam
Dr. Cole said methylation is
the body’s biochemical superhighway that helps you flush out all the toxins
that are dragging your health down. When that highway gets jammed, your body
holds on to toxins and it can show up as skin flare-ups, he said. Foods that
are rich in folates and B-vitamins like Brussels sprouts, mushrooms,
cauliflower, grass-fed beef, and green leafy vegetables are the key to a
healthy detox.
Ever notice that while your
hair is on point, your skin is looking busted? That’s because a buildup of
hair-styling products can get onto the skin and clog your pores, said Dr. Sonam
Yadav, a cosmetic dermatologist and founder of Juverne.
Dr. Yadav said dandruff, or
long bangs, or hair in front of the face can all contribute to breakouts as
well, so people should try to keep their scalp clean, and avoid heavy hair gels
and waxes if they’re having a problem with acne.
Your cell phone is crawling
with bacteria, and it’s the one device that spends the most time pressed up
against your face. Dr. Yadav recommends cleansing your phone with an
antibacterial wipe daily to avoid spreading that bacteria to your skin.
Your warm fluffy pillow might
be betraying you. Dr. Yadav said one place people don’t realize bacteria lurks,
is in their own bed. You shed thousands of skin cells every minute and those
cells have trace amounts of bacteria. Since you spend a big part of your life
cheek-to-cheek with your pillow, it’s only natural that all those cells and
bacteria are snuggled up with you. Washing pillow cases frequently can help cut
down on cheek acne, Dr. Yadav said.
facial cleanser
It seems counterintuitive, but
an aggressive approach to bacteria can be even worse than doing nothing at all,
Dr. Yadav said. Scrubbing, comedone extraction, and facials can make delicate
skin prone to bacterial infections. A mild soap-free cleanser is typically all
you need. However, using a stronger acne medication as a preemptive measure can
help if you know you have a high-stress event coming up. Looking at you,
Chin and jawline breakouts are
hotspots for adult acne, and hormones are most likely to blame. Your monthly
menstrual cycle, or hormone imbalance from conditions like PCOS can cause acne
breakouts, so contraceptive pill treatments can be a lifesaver, Dr. Yadav said.
No doubt a good day at the gym
is great for your overall health, but not showering properly after your workout
can be a dealbreaker for healthy skin. Dr. Yadav recommends showering with a
benzoyl peroxide wash after a sweaty workout, but a plain cold shower to wash
off sweat and bacteria before opening pores with steam is the best way to go.
It might be the most important
meal of the day, but your breakfast choices may be sabotaging your skin. The
dermatological community has mixed views on diet and its effect on acne, but
Dr. Gene Rubinstein, M.D., F.A.A.D., at Simi Valley Hospital in California,
links foods to breakouts and oil production. Diets that are full of sugar,
bread, cereal, pasta, and potatoes have been linked to acne and rosacea. Try to
replace those staple items with whole wheat bread and pasta, brown rice, and
sweet potatoes instead. Even the sugars in fruit can cause a flare, so he
encourages teen patients to moderate their fruit juice intake.
Milk is another culprit that
has been named a “problem child” for skin. Milk products may increase
the oil production that leads to acne, and because most milk in the United
States comes from pregnant cows, there are pregnancy hormones that can trigger
hormonal acne.
Dr. Rubinstein recommends his
adult patients cut down on caffeine, hot and spicy foods, and chocolate. And
citrus fruits can react with sunlight to cause skin problems, so using a
sunscreen that contains zinc or titanium dioxide can help.
Dr. Francis named alcohol as a
culprit people don’t often think about, but it’s a very common cause. That
hungover feeling you get in the morning is often due to dehydration and toxins
trying to leave your body. It results in your skin looking like you feel.
That dehydration effect dries
out the skin, and the toxins in alcohol speed up the aging process. A fizzy
cocktail may seem like a well-deserved treat at the end of a long week, but
soft drinks and alcohol are a losing combination, since soft drinks rob the
skin of vital nutrients. A dull, aged complexion is the price to pay for too
many Jack and Cokes, Francis said.
Steroids and supplements are
culprits for massive facial breakouts, but they can also be a culprit for
“bacne” which is difficult to treat without cessation of the steroids
or supplements, according to board certified dermatologist Robin Evans.
But other medications like
anti-seizure meds, psychiatric meds, and meds to treat tuberculosis can cause
acne as well. Oral contraceptives are a fairly common culprit, especially those
high in progesterone, like Depo-Provera, and the Mirena IUD. You should never
stop taking medication without first talking to your doctor. But if acne
becomes a problem, don’t hesitate to ask about your options.
A rash around the mouth can be
a form of acne called “perioral dermatitis,” and the culprit is
disguised as an oral healthcare hero. Fluoride-based products, like toothpaste,
can actually cause the irritation. So talk to your dermatologist about other
oral care options if you notice an outbreak, Evans said.
acne at bay
Acne can be problematic and
unsightly, but it’s often just a reflection of what’s really going on inside
your body. Maintaining a healthy diet, and a clean and low-stress lifestyle,
can all go a long way in preventing breakouts and improving your overall
Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.