The Different Causes of Acne

acne causes

Everyone has suffered from acne at some point, be it a massive breakout or a lone pimple. Because every skin is different, the causes of acne varies from person to person. It can be due to hormonal imbalances (eg. puberty), or a bacterial infection.

Acne is defined as a chronic and inflammatory skin disease that presents itself in many forms such as pimples, blackheads, cysts, nodules and whiteheads. These forms are not harmful but they could leave scars which may not ever go away.

The science behind acne

The human body is covered in pores and these pores are connected to oil glands that sit under the skin, via follicles. Follicles are tiny sacs that both produce and secrete a variety of things that can trigger acne.

Where does acne form?

Acne usually appears in areas that have the most oil glands, such as the face, chest, neck, shoulders and back.

Acne occurs when the hair follicles are clogged with a combination of oil and dead skin cells. These hair follicles are connected to oil glands that secrete sebum, an oily substance that serves the function of lubricating ones’ skin and hair.

This secretion typically travels along the hair shaft, through the hair follicle openings and then onto the skin’s surface.

Should the body produce more sebum than necessary, the extra oil mixes with dead skin cells and then builds up in the hair follicles itself. They then form a blockage of sorts and allow bacteria to grow. If the blocked pore become infected due to the bacteria growth, inflammation occurs.

How are pores clogged or blocked?

There are two things that could happen due to a blocked pore. The blocked pore could cause the follicle wall to swell and create a white head or the blockage could be exposed to its surroundings and darken. That’s how a blackhead is formed. It is essentially bacteria and oil stuck in the pore but because it is exposed, the colour changes to brown.

Other forms of acne include pimples and cyst-like lumps. Pimples are red spots that have a white centre. These raised spots develop when the blocked hair follicle on the surface becomes infected or inflamed. Cyst-like lumps occur when a blockage is deep under the skin’s surface.

Most of the other pores on our skin are openings of sweat glands thus, are not usually involved in the causing of acne.

The primary cause of acne is said to be an increase in androgen levels.

Androgen is a hormone that remains at low levels until adolescence occurs. For women, this androgen is converted into estrogen. The increase in androgen levels can trigger the growth of oil glands that lay under the skin. These larger glands then go on produce more sebum.

An excess of sebum can break the cellular walls present in pores and cause bacteria to grow.

what causes acne

Other causes of acne

  1. Menstruation
  2. Changes in hormone levels
  3. Oral medication that contains lithium and androgen
  4. Oily cosmetics
  5. Emotional stress

The various types of acne

  1. Whiteheads: These are small and stay under the skin.
  2. Papules: These are usually pink in colour and are small. They are seen on the skin’s surface.
  3. Pustules: These are red at the base and usually contain pus. They are visible on the skin’s surface.
  4. Nobles: These are very painful, large and solid pimples that are rooted deep into the skin. They are clearly visible on the skin’s surface.
  5. Blackheads: They appear on the skin’s surface and are very dark and visible.
  6. Liquid: This liquid is also known as sebum and is produced by the glands under the skin. The sebum can block the hair follicles and pimples then grow when these follicles are blocked. Sebum, dead skin cells and hair can combine to form a blockage. When this blockage gets infected, swelling occurs and a pimple starts to develop once the blockage breaks down.
  7. Cysts: These are filled with pus and are very painful. They are visible on the skin’s surface and can cause scars.
  8. Propionibacterium acnes: This is the name of the bacteria that exist on the skin’s surface and contributes to the infection that causes pimples.
acne inflammation

Factors that could make the acne worse


Various studies have proven that foods that are high in carbohydrates or that contain dairy products may lead to acne. Recently, an experiment involving 14 men proved that consuming chocolate lead to an increase in acne.


As mentioned above, Androgens are hormones that increase in ones’ body at puberty. The hormone causes the sebaceous glands to get larger and produce more sebum. Hormone changes can be linked to many things but are commonly related to pregnancy and the consumption of oral contraceptives. While high levels of Androgen can cause acne, low levels of it can have the same effect as well.

Certain types of medication

Any kind of medication that contains androgens, lithium or corticosteroids have the potential to cause or worsen acne.


While there is no concrete evidence, it has been noticed by scientists that the cells producing sebum have receptors for stress hormones.

I have acne, what should I do?

The first thing is to determine the causes of your acne and what is triggering it. Seek out a reputable aesthetic doctor or dermatologist to first get a proper diagnosis. He or she may then prescribe acne treatments to help with your situation. Depending on the severity, drugs and medication may be prescribed.

Read more about acne treatments by clicking the links below: