At some point or another, we all dealt with a breakout. Whether it was in our early teenage years, before a special event, or as an adult. Dealing with blemishes is not only unsightly, but it is inevitable. I will finally unveil the main reasons for acne.


Obviously we all deal with stress. It’s hard to avoid stress whether you just started a new job, dealt with a loss, or have too much going on in your life. It is crucial to find ways to manage stress in order to prevent your skin from breaking out.

As we all know, excess sebum of the skin is produced during periods of high stress, and these excess oils are what causes clogged pores that cause acne. According to Dr. Adam Friedman, an associate professor of dermatology at George Washington University, “A stress-related hormone called CRH, or corticotrophin-releasing hormone, and bind to receptors in the skin’s sebaceous glands, and that binding drives up the skin’s oil production — which can cause pimples.”

Overactive Sebaceous Glands

Excess oils from your sebaceous glands can cause acne. According to, “On areas where acne develops, sebaceous glands surround the hair follicles. The combination of the sebaceous glands and the hair follicles is the “pilosebaceous unit,” where acne pimples and cysts develop.” Excess oils in the skin form a plug and then lead to bacteria which is the next cause of acne.


Bacteria is one of the most common causes of acne.  Touching your skin or picking on your pimples can further spread bacteria in the skin and cause your skin to breakout. Acne forms when these follicles get blocked, and oil builds up under the skin. Dead skin cells and sebum collect together to form a plug in the skin. This plug forms when it gets infected from bacteria and swelling results.


There are various hormones that can cause the production of acne.

  1. Testosterone levels increase during puberty/teenage years. The rise in testosterone levels may increase sebum production from the sebaceous glands in the skin. This leads to clogged pores which cause acne. Another condition that causes an increase in testosterone levels and acne is PCOS—Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. Typically, women with PCOS will have higher levels of male hormones called androgens.
  1. Other hormones play a part in acne too. For women, hormonal changes relating to pregnancy or the menstrual cycle can also trigger acne. For women entering menopause, a decrease in estrogen levels may cause an increase in acne.


Dairy is another culprit of acne. Dairy is filled with antibiotics and hormones (such as testosterone) which can cause clogged pores and cystic acne. It also has a high sugar content which causes the skin to produce more oil that can potentially clog your pores.

Regardless, if you consistently break out after you eat dairy-heavy foods, it might be worth cutting dairy from your diet to see how your skin reacts. It’s important to allow 6-8 weeks to see a difference in your skin. For more info on other food-related cause of acne, check out my article HERE.


There is definitely a predisposition for acne to run in families. If either (or both) of your parents are acne-prone, then they carry the genetics for you to develop acne. Genes play a large role in determining how oily your skin is, how often your dead skin sheds, and how your skin reacts to hormonal changes.

Pore-Clogging Ingredients

Did you know that some of the ingredients you use are actually comedogenic? That means, they have the ability to clog/irritate your skin. That proves true for any cosmetic or skincare product you use. Typically, heavier moisturizers and foundations contain ingredients that have the potential to cause breakouts.

When pores become clogged from an irritating ingredient such as lanolin, they form a plug built up with dead skin cells and bacteria, which consequently results in pimples or blackheads.

So much of our skincare habits can affect how our skin looks today.


Exfoliating your skin too often (more than 2-3 times a week) can dry out your skin and cause skin irritation. Did you ever hear that saying, “too much of something can be a bad thing?” well changing your skincare products too often can be an example of that.

Not washing your pillowcases or makeup brushes regularly.

Not cleaning your make-up brushes or pillow cases can cause a disaster. First of all, not washing your brushes at least 1 time a week can harbor bacteria in your brushes along with build-up of foundation or other makeup which can cause your makeup to appear cakey, streaky, or uneven. If you suffer from acne or sensitive skin, your beauty brushes can harbor oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria which then transfers back to your skin and causes clogged pores/blemishes. Now think twice before you let your brushes/sponges sit for months before washing them.

Not washing your face daily or going to sleep with your makeup on can cause your pores to become clogged. Throughout the day, our skin gets dirty with oil, dead skin cells, and toxins. Therefore, it’s crucial to wash your face at least 1-2 times a day (depending on your skin type) to prevent the harbor of bacteria and/or acne breakouts.

Just like it is important to wash your face even if you don’t use products daily it is even more crucial to wash your face if you wear makeup. Even sleeping in makeup just one day can promote acne development/clogged pores that won’t probably show up until 2 weeks later.

Using the wrong skincare products for our skin type

It is essential you determine your proper skin type so you can use the right skincare to address your skin concerns. Using the wrong type of skincare products can cause more irritation or breakouts. Not only that, but certain ingredients can be pore-clogging, therefore, it’s important to look for products that are fragrance-free or noncomedogenic f you have sensitive skin.  To determine your proper skin type read my skin types ARTICLE HERE.

Products to help treat your acne: 

Note: I am not a dermatologist. I am a licensed skincare professional. Please consult with your physician before using any of the treatments below. These are some of my favorite treatments that I recommend to my clients struggling with acne.

Here are some suggestions for acne treatments. 

InkeyList Salicylic Acid Cleanser

THE INKEY LIST | Salicylic Acid Cleanser

This cleanser is a lightweight cleanser with salicylic acid. It helps removes makeup and dirt, which helps clear pores to prevent and treat acne and excess oiliness.

Skin Type: Normal, Combination, and Oily


 La Roche Posay Effaclar Gel-

 LA ROCHE-POSAY | Effaclar Duo Acne Treatment with Benzoyl Peroxide

This gel is made of 5.5% benzoyl peroxide to help kill the bacteria causing acne while reducing oil production. Use every other day to avoid drying out the skin. You can apply this morning or night.


Paula’s Choice 10% Azelaic Acid Booster –

  PAULA'S CHOICE | 10% Azelaic Acid Booster

Azelaic acid is helpful with those with rosacea or acne as it does a fantastic job with healing inflammation and redness of the skin. It is a more gentle alternative to retinoids/benzoyl peroxide.

Skin Type: Combination, dry, sensitive, or normal skin.


Differin Acne Gel

             DIFFERIN | Acne Treatment Gel

Differin is an OTC retinoid that treats the redness and inflammation associated with acne. It also helps prevent pimples, blackheads, and clogged pores before they occur. Start using this 1-2x a week, then increase after a few week as tolerated.

Glymed Plus Skin Astringent No. 5– 

              PAULA'S CHOICE | Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Gel Exfoliant

This exfoliant consists of 2% salicylic acid to exfoliate dead skin cells and clear the pores. It also helps brighten dark spots and minimize the appearance of pores. Use 2-3 times a week on opposite nights of retinoid or benzoyl peroxide.

Skin Type: Oily, combination, and acne-prone

Prescription Retinoids or oral antibiotics–an excellent treatment for moderate to severe acne. You can get this by prescription only from your physician or dermatologist. To read all about retinol and retinoids, visit my helpful article HERE.

For my favorite masks to help clear acne/oily skin, visit my article HERE.

**Note: Some of the links mentioned on this page are affiliate links. That means, when you use those links to buy products, I may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. That way, I can run this website for years to come.



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Main causes of acne



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