What Can Cause Acne Breakouts?

Have you ever wondered what triggers those frustrating acne breakouts? Whether you’re a teenager battling with hormonal changes or an adult dealing with stress-induced breakouts, understanding the underlying culprits is key to finding an effective solution. From improper skincare routines to certain foods and even environmental factors, a variety of elements can contribute to acne flare-ups. In this article, we will explore some common causes of acne breakouts, providing you with the knowledge to take proactive steps towards achieving clear skin.

Hormonal Factors

Hormonal Changes During Puberty

Puberty is a transitional phase in your life when your body undergoes numerous hormonal changes. These changes can trigger an increase in oil production by your sebaceous glands, leading to clogged pores and eventual acne breakouts. Hormones such as testosterone play a significant role during puberty, contributing to the development of acne.

Hormonal Fluctuations in Women

Women experience hormonal fluctuations throughout their menstrual cycle, which can influence the occurrence of acne breakouts. The levels of estrogen and progesterone vary during different phases of the menstrual cycle. Fluctuations in these hormones can cause increased oil production, leading to the formation of acne. Hormonal imbalances, such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), can also contribute to hormonal acne in women.

Menstrual Cycle

During the menstrual cycle, the hormone levels in a woman’s body fluctuate. In the days leading up to menstruation, progesterone levels increase, leading to an increase in oil production and the likelihood of acne breakouts. This hormonal change may cause breakouts to occur around the chin and jawline area.


Pregnancy is a time of profound hormonal changes. The surge in hormones, particularly progesterone, can result in an increase in oil production, leading to acne breakouts during pregnancy. Some women also experience pregnancy-specific acne, which can be caused by hormonal imbalances or changes in skincare routines.

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder that affects women. It is characterized by the presence of cysts in the ovaries, hormonal imbalances, and insulin resistance. PCOS can result in increased androgen levels, leading to excessive oil production and the development of acne. The hormonal changes associated with PCOS can contribute to chronic acne breakouts that are often resistant to conventional treatments.

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Genetic Factors

Family History of Acne

Genetics can play a significant role in the development of acne. If your parents or close relatives have a history of acne, you may be more likely to experience frequent breakouts. Certain genetic factors can influence the way your skin reacts to hormonal changes and the production of sebum, making you more prone to acne.

Genetic Predisposition

Apart from family history, other genetic factors can contribute to your susceptibility to acne breakouts. Variations in genes responsible for regulating oil production, inflammation, and skin cell turnover can increase your chances of developing acne. While genetic predisposition alone is not solely responsible for acne, it can influence the severity and persistence of breakouts.

Dietary Factors

High-Glycemic Index Foods

A diet high in glycemic index (GI) foods, such as sugary snacks, white bread, and processed carbohydrates, can potentially worsen acne breakouts. High-GI foods cause spikes in blood sugar levels, which can trigger hormonal changes and inflammation in the body. These changes can increase sebum production and result in the development of acne.

Dairy Products

Consuming dairy products, especially those high in hormones, can contribute to acne breakouts. Milk and other dairy products can contain hormones from pregnant cows, which can affect your own hormone levels and lead to increased sebum production and clogged pores. Additionally, milk contains certain growth factors that may stimulate the production of skin cells and contribute to acne formation.

High-Fat Diets

While more research is needed, some studies suggest that a high-fat diet, particularly one rich in saturated and trans fats, may be linked to acne breakouts. Foods like fried foods, processed snacks, and fatty cuts of meat can potentially increase inflammation in the body, which can worsen existing acne or trigger new breakouts.

Environmental Factors

Humidity and Sweating

Living in a humid climate or engaging in activities that make you sweat excessively can contribute to acne breakouts. Humidity increases moisture on the skin, creating an environment favorable for the growth of acne-causing bacteria. When sweat mixes with oil and bacteria on the surface of your skin, it can clog pores and lead to breakouts.


Exposure to environmental pollutants, such as air pollution and industrial chemicals, can have detrimental effects on your skin. Pollutants can accumulate on the surface of your skin and disrupt its natural barrier function, leading to inflammation and acne breakouts. Additionally, pollutants can trigger oxidative stress, further aggravating acne.

Occupational Factors

Certain occupations that expose individuals to oils, greases, and industrial chemicals can increase the likelihood of developing acne. Workers in industries such as construction, manufacturing, and food service may be more prone to acne breakouts due to prolonged exposure to these substances. Maintaining proper hygiene and using protective measures can help minimize the risk.

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Skin Care and Makeup Products

Comedogenic Ingredients

Some skincare and makeup products contain ingredients that are known to clog pores and contribute to acne breakouts. These ingredients, known as comedogenic ingredients, can include certain oils, waxes, and thickening agents. Understanding the ingredients in your products and opting for non-comedogenic options can help prevent acne breakouts.

Pore-Clogging Products

Using products that are not suitable for your skin type or that are too heavy can contribute to the formation of acne. Products that do not allow your skin to “breathe” properly can clog pores, trap bacteria, and cause inflammation. It is important to choose skincare and makeup products that are specifically formulated for your skin type and are non-comedogenic.

Medications and Medical Conditions

Certain Medications

Some medications can contribute to the development of acne as a side effect. Examples include corticosteroids, hormonal contraceptives, anticonvulsants, and certain antidepressants. If you suspect that a medication may be causing or worsening your acne, consult with your healthcare provider to explore alternative options.

Chronic Stress

Chronic stress can disrupt the balance of hormones in your body, leading to increased sebum production and inflammation, which can exacerbate acne breakouts. Finding healthy ways to manage stress, such as through exercise, mindfulness, and relaxation techniques, can help reduce the impact of stress on your skin.

Cushing’s Syndrome

Cushing’s syndrome is a medical condition characterized by an excess of cortisol, a stress hormone, in the body. Cortisol can increase sebum production and promote inflammation, contributing to the development of acne. If you suspect you may have Cushing’s syndrome, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and treatment.

Cancer Treatments

Certain cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and targeted therapies, can cause skin changes and acne-like eruptions as side effects. These treatments can disrupt the normal functioning of the skin, leading to clogged pores and breakouts. It is essential to discuss any concerns about acne or skin changes with your healthcare team to ensure appropriate management.

Psychological Factors


While chronic stress can contribute to acne breakouts, even short-term stress can impact your skin. When you’re under stress, your body releases stress hormones that can increase inflammation and oil production, leading to acne breakouts. Managing stress through relaxation techniques, exercise, and seeking support can help minimize its impact on your skin.


Anxiety can cause your body to release stress hormones, similarly to stress. This hormonal response can trigger inflammation and affect your skin, potentially leading to acne breakouts. Practicing stress-reducing techniques, such as deep breathing exercises and mindfulness, can help alleviate anxiety and reduce the likelihood of acne flare-ups.


Depression is a mental health condition that can affect various aspects of your well-being, including your skin. The hormonal imbalances associated with depression can contribute to increased sebum production and inflammation, making you more susceptible to acne breakouts. Properly managing and treating depression can help alleviate its impact on your skin.

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Physical Factors

Friction and Pressure

Friction and pressure on the skin can cause irritation and inflammation, leading to acne breakouts. This can occur from wearing tight-fitting clothing, using abrasive materials on the skin, or repeated rubbing or touching of the affected areas. Avoiding excessive pressure or friction and opting for gentle skincare practices can help reduce the risk of acne.

Excessive Scrubbing

Using harsh scrubs or exfoliating products and scrubbing the skin vigorously can disrupt the skin’s natural barrier and cause irritation. This irritation can worsen existing acne and potentially lead to new breakouts. Opt for gentle cleansers and mild exfoliants, and avoid excessive scrubbing to maintain the health of your skin.

Hair and Scalp Products

Hair and scalp products containing oils, fragrances, or other irritating ingredients can migrate onto the skin and clog pores, leading to acne breakouts along the hairline, forehead, or jawline. Be mindful of the products you use and avoid applying them directly on areas prone to acne. Additionally, regularly washing your hair can help prevent product buildup on the scalp.

Personal Habits

Touching the Face

Frequently touching your face, whether out of habit or as a result of nervousness, can transfer bacteria and oil from your hands to your skin. This can clog pores and lead to breakouts. Being mindful of this habit and consciously avoiding touching your face can help prevent acne flare-ups.

Picking or Squeezing Pimples

Although it may be tempting, picking or squeezing pimples can damage the skin and spread bacteria, leading to further inflammation and prolonged healing time. It can also increase the risk of scarring. Instead, allow acne to heal naturally or seek professional guidance for safe and effective extraction techniques.

Not Washing the Face Properly

Improperly cleansing your face can result in the buildup of dirt, oil, and dead skin cells, leading to clogged pores and acne breakouts. It is important to wash your face twice daily with a gentle cleanser suitable for your skin type. Avoid harsh scrubbing or over-cleansing, as this can strip the skin of its natural oils and worsen acne.

Other Contributing Factors


Smoking cigarettes can have a negative impact on your skin health and contribute to acne breakouts. Smoking increases inflammation in the body, which can worsen existing acne or trigger new breakouts. Additionally, smoking can decrease blood flow to the skin, impair skin healing, and worsen the appearance of acne scars.

Exposure to UV Radiation

While sun exposure can initially improve acne symptoms by drying out excess oil, it can also lead to negative long-term effects. UV radiation damages the skin, thickens the outer layer, and clogs pores, which can increase the likelihood of acne breakouts. Protecting your skin with SPF and avoiding prolonged sun exposure is essential for maintaining healthy skin.

In conclusion, acne breakouts can be influenced by various factors, including hormonal changes, genetic predisposition, dietary choices, environmental factors, skincare and makeup products, medications, psychological factors, physical factors, and personal habits. Understanding the potential causes of acne breakouts can help you make informed decisions about your lifestyle, skincare routine, and treatment options to effectively manage and minimize the occurrence of acne. Remember, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, practicing proper skincare, and seeking professional guidance are crucial steps in achieving and maintaining clear skin.