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Why Do I Have Breakouts? Acne Series Part 1

There are few things more annoying than waking up in the morning and looking in the bathroom mirror only to discover a huge new pimple (or several pimples) on your face. It’s even worse when you know that you have some huge event coming up where you want to look your best without feeling you have to pile on layers and layers of foundation to cover up. Men are also affected, and I’m sure they will agree with me when I say that shaving when you have acne is just plain uncomfortable.




Murphy’s law definitely counts when it comes to skincare because those pesky pimples always seem to appear at the most inconvenient times! When this happens, we tend to turn to Dr. Google to find an immediate solution to our dilemma. I can see the search results already…

“how to get rid of pimples fast”

“overnight DIY remedies to get rid of pimples”

“natural home remedies for acne”


Those are just a few examples. “Desperate times call for desperate measures”, they say. However, with breakouts and acne, doing something drastic out of desperation can cause irreversible damage and even worsen the situation.


What Causes Acne?

When it comes to treating acne, the first thing you must always do is try to determine what is causing it. You have to get to the root of the problem in order to effectively treat the condition. Otherwise, you’re going to find yourself in a long-term battle with your skin where you’re treating the skin topically without addressing the cause and aggravating factors that are involved.

So, what causes acne? There are a few culprits that you need to know about.


1. Hormones can cause acne

I placed hormones first in this list because they are what causes acne the majority of the time. Through a complicated process, a hormone called dihydrotestosterone stimulates the oil gland in your skin, which leads to excessive oiliness that can eventually lead to a breakout.

Androgenic hormones (sex hormones) peak during puberty and that is why teenagers tend to struggle with their skin. However, an imbalance in these hormones can cause breakouts and acne later in life as well. Even adults may struggle with hormone-related acne.


A rise in androgens doesn’t only lead to more oil on your skin, but it also causes inflammation (irritation, redness and swelling) and increases the production of bacteria on your skin. Your skin naturally has bacteria called Propionibacterium (P. acnes). They are harmless when they are under control, but as soon as your hormones get all mixed up, these bacteria multiply! That is when the problems start.


Inflammation, excess oil and bacteria = acne. A whole other vicious cycle then starts.

You start stressing about the breakouts - > Stress hormones are released -> They cause even more problems -> You go buy a very soapy, drying cleanser to help with the oiliness and breakouts -> This strips the skin barrier, causing even more damage and inflammation -> Your skin cannot protect itself or function correctly -> Breakouts increase even more …

The cycle continues on and on…

Acne itself causes a lot of stress, but it is also CAUSED by stress, which takes me to my next point.


2. Stress can cause acne

Stress, stress, stress… we hear so much about it and I think all of us has experienced stress before. Stress causes so many problems in the body, and acne is one of them. How does stress cause breakouts?


It is believed that certain hormones released when stressed can trigger or aggravate acne. These are, specifically, adrenal hormones that are released by your adrenal glands when you are stressed. When these hormones are released, they cause different reactions in the skin, like triggering inflammation and increasing oil production. This can then lead to acne.

Stress also causes us to pick at our skin more, and that can also worsen the condition if you already have acne.


3. Picking Your Skin Can Worsen Acne

Touching your skin does not directly “cause” acne, but can “trigger” it. As you’ve read above, acne is caused by excess oil, inflammation, and overgrowth and spreading of bacteria. When you touch the skin, you can spread the bacteria on the surface of the skin. When you’ve scratched and picked until your skin bleeds, you can spread the bacteria under the skin as well.


Open sores on the skin are like doorways for bacteria to enter and cause more pimples to form beneath the skin. When you squeeze a pimple using the wrong techniques, you’re also possibly damaging the follicle and spreading all the pus and dirt underneath the skin. You can probably imagine what a mess is created under the skin.


Picking a pimple that has a scab on it over and over again can lead to scarring. By picking off the scab when it isn’t ready to fall off by itself, you are preventing your skin from healing properly. The new tissue that forms is already damaged and weak, and will leave you with scars, red marks and indentations that may not ever go away without treatment.


4. Using The Wrong Skincare Can Cause Acne

No one likes to have breakouts on their skin. In our desperation to find a cure for the oiliness and breakouts, we rush off to the store and find anything that says “non-comedogenic”, or “for oily skin” or “anti-blemish”.


These products give your skin that extremely clean, dried-out feeling which can sometimes feel good because you just want to be rid of the oil. But then as the day progresses, the oiliness comes back and by the evening your make-up is all smudged and your skin is greasy… again.


These products also give the skin a really tight and dry feeling, but the skin still seems so shiny and oily when you look at it. How does this make sense? Actually, it makes complete sense…


When you use a soapy cleanser, you are stripping off the skin barrier that is supposed to be keeping water inside your skin. Without an intact skin barrier, the water in your skin evaporates, leaving you with extremely dehydrated skin that still produces a lot of oil. This imbalance of oil and water wreaks havoc on the skin because your skin cells cannot do what they are supposed to do.


The pH on the skin is also completely wrong, so your skin is not protected from the environment and won’t function properly.


5. Diet

This is a fact: what you eat will play a role in the health of your skin. If you’re struggling with acne, perhaps take some time to analyze what you’re eating in a day. Below I have listed a few foods that may aggravate acne or even cause it:


· Dairy Products

It is quite sad that milk and milk products can cause acne, because who doesn’t love a milkshake or a piece of chocolate every now and then? Maybe you enjoy having some milk in your coffee or tea. Unfortunately, milk contains hormones that have been shown to cause or aggravate acne. Excessive amounts of these hormones stimulate the oil glands and can lead to breakouts.


· High GI (Glycaemic Index) Foods

High GI foods usually contain lots of sugar and include yummy foods like cakes, chips, cookies, sweet treats, cereals and energy bars. Bread, pasta, rice and sweetened dairy products are also high GI, as well as some fruits like pineapple and watermelon.


High GI foods cause or aggravate acne by causing a spike in insulin levels in the body. When insulin levels are elevated, your body produces more androgenic hormones, growth hormones and stress hormones.


When the above happens, the skin is stimulated to create more and more skin cells. The oil glands are also stimulated and produce more oil than they are supposed to. These processes lead to a thick build-up of dead skin cells that get stuck in the pores and mix with all the oil on the skin. When this process carries on long enough, you end up with blackheads that lead to breakouts and painful pimples.


6. Poor sleeping habits

Did you know that poor sleepers are more prone to acne than those who get in enough sleep? It is true. Sleeping is not only important for energy levels and brain function – it is so important for healthy skin too.


Your skin uses the time you sleep to repair itself and your skin barrier. Research shows that people who get in a good amount of sleep are less prone to acne than those who only sleep 3-4 hours per night. While you sleep, your skin works on repairing its water-lipid barrier that may have been damaged during the day.


A healthy barrier protects the skin from harm. If your skin’s immunity is intact, your skin is protected against skin diseases like acne, especially if the acne is caused by outside factors (not internal factors, like hormones or stress).


Get in enough sleep – your skin needs it!


7. Environmental Factors

Your skin is your body’s first line of defense against the environment around you. It is directly exposed to sun, water, wind, dirt, chemicals and pollution. Your natural environment has a great effect on the health of your skin. Let’s take a look at a few points:


· Temperature

According to published research, the warmer the climate, the more oil the skin produces. So if you already have acne-prone skin, then a rise in the temperature outside may aggravate or trigger breakouts on your skin.


Hot temperatures also causes sweating, which dries and traps bacteria, oil and dead skin cells. This may lead to clogged pores, which can lead to or aggravate acne.


· Sunlight

Short-term exposure to sunlight won’t usually cause acne. But when you’re exposed to sunlight for long periods of time, your skin becomes inflamed and dried out. The inflammation can be a trigger for acne, while the heat and damage caused to the skin may stimulate the cells in the oil glands to produce more oil.


· Pollution

Air pollutants have a very damaging effect on the skin. When you live in a polluted area, your skin is constantly exposed to toxic substances in the air. These toxins cause damage to the skin by causing the production of free radicals (the opposite of anti-oxidants) in your skin.


Free radicals cause problems for your skin cells. They damage certain cells so that these cells cannot do what they are supposed to do. Free radicals love targeting the lipids (oils) in your skin. These lipids are found in the membranes around your cells. Without these lipids, your cells can’t survive or do their job.


Your body needs to find a way to protect itself from all the cell damage, and an inflammatory process starts. It is the inflammation that leads to the formation of acne.

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I hope you enjoyed reading Part 1 of our acne blog post series!


Check back to read our next post:

How Can I Get Rid Of My Breakouts? Acne Series Part 2


This blog post will explain in detail how you can get rid of your acne for good! I will go through some of the best treatment options for acne and explain how they work. After trying out these treatment methods, your breakouts will be a thing of the past.

Until next time!


Written by:

Maryke le Roux

Advanced Dermal Aesthetician

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