What Is The Main Trigger For Acne?

Acne, the dreaded skin condition that affects countless individuals worldwide. Whether you’ve experienced it firsthand or heard the tales from others, the question remains the same: What is the main trigger for acne? This article aims to shed light on this common concern, exploring the factors that contribute to the development of acne and guiding you towards a clearer understanding of its main trigger. So, if you’ve ever wondered why those pesky pimples seem to appear out of nowhere, read on to uncover the secrets behind the main culprit of acne.

Hormonal Changes


During puberty, your body goes through significant hormonal changes as it matures. The increase in androgen hormones, such as testosterone, can stimulate the sebaceous glands to produce more oil. This excess oil, also known as sebum, can mix with dead skin cells and clog the hair follicles, leading to the development of acne.

Menstrual Cycle

For many women, hormonal fluctuations during the menstrual cycle can play a role in acne breakouts. As estrogen and progesterone levels fluctuate, it can affect the amount of oil produced by the sebaceous glands. This can lead to excess oil on the skin and an increased risk of clogged hair follicles, resulting in acne flare-ups.


Pregnancy is another time when hormonal changes can trigger acne. The surge in hormones, particularly during the first trimester, can lead to increased sebum production and subsequent acne breakouts. However, some women may also experience a decrease in acne during pregnancy due to hormonal changes.

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

PCOS is a hormonal disorder that affects women and can cause various symptoms, including acne. In PCOS, there is an imbalance in reproductive hormones, particularly increased androgen levels. This hormonal imbalance can lead to excessive sebum production, clogged hair follicles, and the development of acne.

Excessive Sebum Production

Sebaceous Glands

The sebaceous glands are responsible for producing sebum, which is necessary to keep the skin moisturized. However, when the sebaceous glands become overactive, they can produce an excess amount of sebum. This excessive sebum can mix with dead skin cells and bacteria, leading to clogged hair follicles and the formation of acne.

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Androgen Hormones

Androgen hormones, such as testosterone, play a significant role in regulating sebum production. When there is an increase in androgen levels, it can stimulate the sebaceous glands to produce more sebum. This excess oil can contribute to the development of acne.

Sebum Composition

The composition of sebum can also impact acne development. In individuals prone to acne, the sebum produced may have an altered composition, making it more likely to clog the hair follicles. This can create an environment suitable for the growth of bacteria and the formation of acne.

Clogged Hair Follicles

Dead Skin Cells

The shedding of dead skin cells is a natural process that occurs regularly. However, when there is an excessive buildup of dead skin cells, they can mix with sebum and clog the hair follicles. This can create a plug, preventing the skin cells from properly shedding and leading to the formation of acne.

Excessive Oil Production

As mentioned earlier, excessive sebum production can contribute to clogged hair follicles. When there is an overproduction of oil, it can mix with dead skin cells and create a thick, sticky substance that can block the hair follicles. This environment is ideal for the growth of bacteria and the formation of acne.


Bacteria on the skin, particularly Propionibacterium acnes, also known as P. acnes, can play a role in the development of acne. When the hair follicles become clogged with a mixture of dead skin cells, sebum, and bacteria, it can create an inflammatory response. This leads to the formation of red, swollen acne lesions.

Hair or Skin Products

Certain hair or skin products, such as heavy oils or greasy cosmetics, can also contribute to the clogging of hair follicles. These products can mix with naturally produced sebum and dead skin cells, leading to a higher risk of acne formation.


Family History

Genetics can influence your predisposition to developing acne. If you have a family history of acne, particularly among your parents or siblings, there is a higher likelihood that you may also experience acne breakouts. While genetics do not directly cause acne, they can make some individuals more prone to developing it.

Inherited Traits

Certain inherited traits, such as the size of your sebaceous glands, the amount of sebum your body produces, and the way your skin cells shed, can contribute to acne formation. These traits can be passed down through generations, increasing the likelihood of developing acne.


High-glycemic Foods

Studies suggest that diets high in glycemic index (GI) foods, such as refined carbohydrates and sugars, may worsen acne. These foods cause a rapid spike in blood sugar levels, leading to increased insulin production. Elevated insulin levels can stimulate the sebaceous glands to produce more sebum, potentially worsening acne symptoms.

Dairy Products

There is some evidence to suggest a link between the consumption of dairy products and acne. Some studies have found that milk and dairy products, particularly those with a high glycemic index, may increase the risk of developing acne. It is believed that hormones present in dairy products, as well as its potential to increase insulin levels, may contribute to acne formation.

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Fast Food and Junk Food

Diets high in fast food and junk food, which are often high in unhealthy fats, sugars, and processed ingredients, may also contribute to acne breakouts. These foods can promote inflammation in the body, including the skin, and alter hormonal balance, leading to increased sebum production and the development of acne.


The relationship between chocolate consumption and acne is still a topic of debate. While some studies have suggested a connection, it remains unclear whether chocolate itself directly causes acne. However, it is possible that the high sugar and fat content in some chocolate products, combined with individual susceptibility, may contribute to acne development in some individuals.


Hormonal Response

Stress can have various effects on the body, including the release of stress hormones, such as cortisol. These hormones can influence hormonal balance and trigger biological responses that may aggravate acne. Stress hormones can stimulate the sebaceous glands to produce more sebum, potentially leading to an increased risk of acne breakouts.

Increased Sebum Production

As mentioned earlier, stress hormones can stimulate excessive sebum production. When there is an increase in sebum, it can mix with dead skin cells and bacteria, leading to clogged hair follicles and acne development.

Flare-ups or Worsening of Existing Acne

Stress can also exacerbate existing acne or cause flare-ups. The psychological and physiological effects of stress can disrupt the skin’s balance, making it more susceptible to inflammation and aggravating existing acne lesions. Additionally, stress may also contribute to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as picking or touching the skin, which can further worsen acne.

Environmental Factors


High humidity levels can contribute to acne breakouts. In humid conditions, the skin is more likely to become sweaty and oily, creating an environment favorable for bacterial growth and clogged hair follicles. Additionally, excess humidity can also disrupt the skin’s natural pH balance and barrier function, making it more prone to inflammation and acne formation.


Exposure to environmental pollutants, such as particulate matter and chemicals, can also impact the skin and contribute to acne. Pollutants can clog the pores and increase oxidative stress, leading to inflammation and acne breakouts. Additionally, pollutants may also disrupt the skin’s natural barrier function, making it more susceptible to bacterial invasion and acne development.

Irritants in the Air

Certain irritants in the air, such as cigarette smoke or strong fragrances, can irritate the skin and potentially trigger acne breakouts. These irritants can lead to inflammation and disruption of the skin’s natural balance, increasing the risk of clogged hair follicles and bacterial growth.

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Corticosteroids, whether in oral, topical, or injectable form, can influence hormonal balance and contribute to acne development. These medications can increase sebum production, suppress the immune system, and disrupt the skin’s natural barrier function. As a result, acne breakouts may occur as a side effect of corticosteroid therapy.


Lithium is a medication commonly used for the treatment of bipolar disorder. Unfortunately, it is also known to be associated with acne development as a potential side effect. The exact mechanism of how lithium induces acne is unclear, but it may involve its influence on hormonal balance and sebum production.

Anti-epileptic Drugs

Some anti-epileptic drugs, such as phenytoin and carbamazepine, have been associated with acneiform eruptions. These eruptions resemble acne and may develop as a side effect of the medication. The underlying mechanism of these drug-induced eruptions is not fully understood but is thought to involve hormonal changes and altered sebum production.


Certain antidepressant medications, particularly those in the class of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), have been reported to cause acne as a potential side effect. These medications can affect hormonal balance and influence sebum production, leading to acne formation.

Friction and Pressure

Tight Clothing

Wearing tight clothing, such as tight-fitting bras or shirts, can create friction and pressure against the skin. This friction can irritate the skin, leading to inflammation and potentially clogging the hair follicles. It is important to wear breathable and loose-fitting clothing to minimize the risk of acne development.

Helmets or Hats

Wearing helmets or hats for extended periods can also contribute to acne breakouts. The tight fit and pressure from these headwear items can trap sweat and oil against the skin, creating an ideal environment for bacteria to thrive. It is crucial to regularly clean and sanitize these items to minimize the risk of acne formation.

Sports Equipment

Certain sports equipment, such as helmets, chin straps, or shoulder pads, may cause friction and pressure against the skin. This can lead to skin irritation, inflammation, and potential acne breakouts. It is essential to maintain good hygiene practices and clean the equipment regularly to minimize the risk of acne development.

Overwashing or Harsh Cleansing

Stripping Natural Oils

Overwashing the skin or using harsh cleansing products can disrupt the skin’s natural balance and strip away its protective oils. This can lead to dryness, irritation, and potentially trigger an overproduction of sebum as the skin tries to compensate for the loss of natural oils. It is advisable to use gentle cleansers and avoid excessive washing to maintain a healthy skin barrier.

Skin Irritation or Inflammation

Harsh cleansing practices, such as scrubbing the skin aggressively or using abrasive exfoliants, can cause skin irritation and inflammation. This can weaken the skin’s barrier function and increase the risk of bacterial invasion and acne formation. It is important to be gentle when cleansing the skin and avoid products that aggravate or irritate the skin.

Disruption of Skin’s Barrier

Using harsh cleansing products or overwashing can disrupt the skin’s natural barrier function. The skin’s barrier is responsible for keeping moisture in and irritants out. When this barrier is compromised, it can make the skin more susceptible to inflammation, bacterial invasion, and the development of acne. It is crucial to choose skincare products that support and maintain the skin’s barrier function.