What Causes Acne?
Contrary to what you may have heard, acne is not caused by dirty skin. Acne is caused by overactive oil glands in the skin and a build-up of oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria, which leads to inflammation in pores.
Oil glands become stimulated when hormones become active during puberty, which is why people are likely to get acne in their teens. Because the tendency to develop acne is partly genetic, if other people in your family had (or have) acne, you may be more likely to develop it too.
Although there is no surefire way to prevent acne, try these tips to help reduce the number and severity of your breakouts:
- Washing your skin is essential (it helps remove excess surface oils and dead skin cells that can clog your pores), but washing too much can actually cause damage by overdrying your skin or irritating existing acne.
- Remember to wash after exercising because sweat can clog your pores and make your acne worse. If you work around greasy food or oil, or if you’ve been sweating from heat or because you’ve been working hard, wash your face and other acne-prone areas as soon as possible.
- If you use skin products, such as lotions or makeup, look for ones that are noncomedogenic or nonacnegenic, which means that they don’t clog pores.
- If you can’t live without your hair spray or styling gel, be sure to keep them away from your face as much as possible. Many hair products contain oils that can make acne worse. Try to use water-based products.
- If you get acne on areas such as your chest or back, avoid wearing tight clothes, which can rub and cause irritation.
For some people, over-the-counter (OTC) products work to help clear up acne. It may take some time to find one that works best for you — some may not do the trick and others may cause irritation. OTC acne products come in different strengths. The most popular and effective OTC acne-fighting ingredient is benzoyl peroxide. Another ingredient, salicylic acid, can help to dry up pimples.
If you find OTC products aren’t working for you, it’s best to seek a doctor’s advice. A doctor can prescribe special gels or creams, pills, or a combination of both. It may feel a bit awkward or embarrassing to talk about your acne with someone, but your doctor is trained to help get your skin looking its best.
What about pimples you already have? It’s tempting, but popping or squeezing a pimple usually won’t get rid of the problem. Squeezing can actually push infected material and pus deeper into the skin, which can lead to more swelling and redness (not what you want before a big date!), and even scarring, which can be permanent.
If you’re taking a prescription acne medication, finish your entire prescription even if your skin clears up, unless your dermatologist says you can stop. If you stop too early, there’s a chance your skin could break out all over again.
Eating nutritious foods can help keep you healthy, of course, and your skin will benefit from getting enough vitamins and minerals. But the bottom line is that you don’t need to be obsessive about what you eat or how often you wash your face to control acne. If you don’t find an OTC product that works for you, talk to your doctor or a dermatologist for some advice on living through the acne years.
Reviewed by: Patrice Hyde, MD
Date reviewed: June 2014