Acne treatment Acne treatment

Acne Causes & Risk Factors

Acne Causes & Risk Factors Acne Causes & Risk Factors


Acne is a topic that has begotten many a middle school lunchroom myth and old wives tale. Contrary to popular opinion, acne isn't caused by the foods you eat or by dirty skin. In fact, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) says there's no evidence to link acne to food consumption, and scrubbing your face harshly and frequently can make acne worse. Some causes and risk factors are avoidable, but unfortunately others are not. However, acne is controllable with the right care.


Mix together excess sebum (oil), bacteria and dead skin cells, and you have acne, notes the Mayo Clinic. Acne results when oil produced by the sebaceous glands cannot freely travel up the hair follicle to the outer surface of the skin. Instead, it combines with dead skin cells to form a clog in the follicle. Bacteria begin to propagate, leading to acne formation. The various types of acne lesions include comedones (whiteheads and blackheads), papules, nodules and cysts. The AAD classifies acne as "mild," "moderate to moderately severe" and "severe."

Risk in Young People

When it comes to who gets acne the most, it's helpful to look closely at what triggers excess sebum production: hormones. High levels of hormones known as androgens are typically associated with the teen years. The AAD says 85 percent of teens get acne each year. By the time they reach their midteens, more than 40 percent require a dermatologist's help to address acne or acne scarring. The National Women's Health Information Center indicates young men are at higher risk for severe acne than young women, while acne in young women tends to come and go with the menstrual cycle.

Risk in Adults

Most people notice resolution of acne by the time they reach their 30s, notes the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. But acne can persist well into one's 40s and 50s, according to the AAD. says late-onset acne occurs more frequently in women than men due to hormonal fluctuations, discontinuation of birth control pills, stress, use of comedogenic skin and hair products and other factors. This type of acne is characterized by lesions around the mouth (the jaw and chin), chest and back. Some women may notice late-onset acne as menopause begins.

Other Risk Factors

According to the Mayo Clinic, people may be genetically predisposed to acne. Taking certain medications, such as cortisone, can cause acne, as well as the use of greasy or oily cosmetics and skin care hair products. Even high levels of humidity and sweating can encourage acne.


While there is an abundance of information about acne causes and risk factors, a 2005 poll conducted by the Segmentation Company and the AAD indicated many people continue to believe age-old acne myths. Although more than half of those surveyed knew acne wasn't caused by poor hygiene alone, 62 percent believed it resulted from stress, and 50 percent thought eating certain foods was the cause. While almost all respondents knew acne can happen to anyone at any age, 56 percent thought it was just a "phase" to be endured--yet another myth, asserts the AAD.

Control of Acne

Acne is controllable with tenacity and the right medical treatment, notes the AAD. Cases of mild acne may be resolved through use of over-the-counter topical treatments. However, persistent, moderate to moderately severe acne may require more aggressive treatment recommended by a dermatologist. Deep cysts and nodules always require medical intervention for effective resolution, notes the AAD. This disfiguring, painful skin condition is most likely to leave extensive scarring in its wake.

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