What May Trigger An Acne Flare Up?

Have you ever wondered why your skin suddenly erupts with acne, seemingly out of nowhere? Well, there are a variety of factors that can trigger an acne flare-up, and understanding them can help you manage and prevent future breakouts. From hormonal fluctuations to certain dietary choices, the causes of acne flare-ups can vary from person to person. In this article, we’ll explore the common triggers that may be lurking behind those frustrating breakouts, offering insight to help you achieve clearer, healthier skin. So, let’s dive in and discover what may be causing your acne flare-ups!

Hormonal Changes


During puberty, your body undergoes significant hormonal changes. The increase in androgens, particularly testosterone, can trigger an acne flare-up. These hormones stimulate the oil glands in your skin, causing them to produce more oil. This excess oil, along with dead skin cells, can clog your pores and lead to the formation of acne.


For many women, hormonal fluctuations during the menstrual cycle can worsen acne. In the days leading up to your period, the levels of estrogen and progesterone decrease while the level of testosterone remains relatively high. This hormonal imbalance can result in increased oil production and inflammation, making your skin more susceptible to breakouts.


Pregnancy brings about significant hormonal changes in your body. The surge in hormones, such as progesterone, can contribute to the development or worsening of acne. Additionally, some women may experience a condition called pregnancy acne, which occurs specifically during pregnancy due to these hormonal changes.

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

PCOS is a hormonal disorder that affects women of reproductive age. It is characterized by the overproduction of androgens, insulin resistance, and irregular periods. These hormonal imbalances can lead to acne breakouts, particularly in the jawline, chin, and upper neck area. Managing PCOS through medication and lifestyle changes can help improve acne symptoms.

Dietary Factors

High Glycemic Index Foods

Consuming a diet high in refined carbohydrates, such as white bread, sugary treats, and sugary drinks, can increase your blood sugar levels and trigger an inflammatory response in your body. This can lead to an increase in oil production and the development of acne. Opting for low glycemic index foods, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, can help maintain steady blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of acne flare-ups.

Dairy Products

Some studies suggest a link between dairy consumption and acne. Dairy products, particularly those with high levels of hormones, such as cow’s milk, can potentially worsen acne in certain individuals. The hormones present in dairy products can stimulate oil production and clog pores, leading to the formation of acne. Experimenting with eliminating or reducing dairy consumption may help determine if it affects your acne.

Fast Food and Junk Food

Frequent consumption of fast food and junk food, which are often high in unhealthy fats and processed ingredients, can contribute to acne breakouts. These foods can increase inflammation in the body and affect hormone levels, leading to an increased risk of developing acne. Choosing a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats can support overall skin health.

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Processed and Refined Foods

Processed and refined foods, such as packaged snacks, sugary cereals, and instant meals, contain artificial additives and preservatives that can potentially trigger acne breakouts. These ingredients can disrupt the natural balance of your skin and contribute to inflammation. Opting for whole, unprocessed foods can support your skin’s health and reduce the risk of acne flare-ups.

Sugar and Sweets

Consuming excessive amounts of sugar and sugary treats can lead to blood sugar spikes, which can contribute to acne breakouts. High sugar intake can also trigger inflammation in the body and increase oil production in the skin. Limiting your consumption of sugary foods and opting for natural sweeteners or alternatives can help maintain healthier skin.

Stress and Emotional Factors


When you’re under stress, your body produces more stress hormones, such as cortisol. These hormones can stimulate your oil glands to produce more oil, leading to clogged pores and acne breakouts. Additionally, stress can weaken your immune system, making it more difficult for your body to fight off acne-causing bacteria. Managing stress through relaxation techniques, exercise, and self-care practices can help reduce the likelihood of acne flare-ups.


Anxiety can affect your hormonal balance and trigger inflammation in your body, which can worsen acne. The production of stress hormones, like cortisol, during anxious moments can lead to increased oil production and clogged pores. Managing anxiety through therapy, meditation, and stress-reducing activities can support healthy skin.


Depression is often linked to increased inflammation in the body, which can impact the severity of acne. The hormonal imbalances associated with depression can contribute to inflammation and skin issues. Seeking therapy, medication, or other appropriate treatments for depression can potentially improve acne symptoms.

Emotional Upset

Strong emotions, such as anger, sadness, or frustration, can trigger stress responses in your body. These responses can lead to hormonal imbalances and increased oil production, making your skin more prone to acne flare-ups. Practicing emotional regulation techniques, seeking support from loved ones, or engaging in activities that help you relax can help manage emotional upset and reduce the risk of acne breakouts.

Environmental Factors


High levels of humidity can increase sweat and oil production on your skin, resulting in clogged pores and acne breakouts. The excess moisture in the air can also contribute to bacteria growth, further exacerbating acne symptoms. Maintaining good hygiene, using non-comedogenic products, and keeping your skin clean and dry can help mitigate the effects of humidity on your skin.


Exposure to pollution, such as smog, dirt, and toxins in the air, can clog your pores and cause inflammation, leading to acne breakouts. Air pollutants can also disrupt the skin’s natural barrier, making it more susceptible to bacteria and irritations. Protecting your skin with antioxidants, using gentle cleansers, and regularly cleansing your face can help minimize the impact of pollution on your skin.

Occupational Hazards

Certain occupations expose individuals to elements that can trigger acne breakouts. For instance, individuals working in environments with high levels of oil or grease, such as kitchens or industrial settings, may experience acne due to prolonged exposure. Taking appropriate precautions, such as wearing protective clothing and cleansing skin thoroughly after work, can help prevent acne flare-ups.

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Exposure to Oil or Grease

Direct contact with oil or grease, whether through work or other activities, can clog your pores and lead to acne breakouts. It is important to cleanse your skin thoroughly after exposure to these substances to prevent the accumulation of oil and debris on your skin’s surface.

Skin Irritants

Cosmetics and Skincare Products

Certain cosmetics and skincare products may contain ingredients that can clog your pores and worsen acne. Comedogenic ingredients, such as certain oils and some types of silicones, have a higher likelihood of causing breakouts. Look for non-comedogenic or oil-free products and consider patch testing new products on a small area of your skin before applying them to your face.

Hair Products

Styling products, such as hair spray, gels, and certain oils, can potentially come into contact with your skin and trigger acne breakouts, particularly along the hairline, forehead, and cheeks. Avoid applying these products directly onto your skin and consider using non-comedogenic or water-based alternatives.

Harsh Cleansers

Using harsh cleansers can strip your skin of its natural oils and disrupt its pH balance, leading to increased oil production and potential acne breakouts. Opt for gentle cleansers that effectively remove dirt and impurities without causing excessive dryness or irritation.

Cleaning Products

Cleaning products, especially those containing harsh chemicals, can irritate your skin and contribute to acne breakouts. When using cleaning products, make sure to wear protective gloves to minimize direct skin contact and wash your hands thoroughly afterward.

Excessive Scrubbing

Overly aggressive or frequent scrubbing can irritate and damage your skin, causing inflammation and potentially triggering acne. Gentle exfoliation using mild exfoliants and avoiding excessive scrubbing can help maintain a healthy skin barrier.



Corticosteroids, such as prednisone, can contribute to acne breakouts due to their hormonal effects. These medications can increase oil production and reduce the skin’s ability to fight off bacteria. If you’re prescribed corticosteroids, it’s important to discuss the potential side effects with your healthcare provider and determine the best course of action to minimize the impact on your skin.

Oral Contraceptives

Oral contraceptives can impact hormone levels and potentially affect acne. While some birth control pills can help improve acne symptoms, others may worsen them. If you’re considering oral contraceptives as a potential acne treatment, it’s essential to discuss your options with a healthcare professional who can recommend the most suitable contraceptive for your specific needs.


Certain antidepressant medications, such as lithium and certain selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), can affect hormone levels and contribute to acne breakouts. If you’re taking antidepressant medication and notice changes in your skin, consult your healthcare provider to explore alternative treatment options or discuss strategies to manage the impact on your skin.


Antibiotics can disrupt the balance of bacteria in your gut and on your skin, which can lead to acne breakouts. Long-term or frequent use of antibiotics can contribute to antibiotic resistance and may not be the most sustainable approach for managing acne. Consulting with a dermatologist can help determine if antibiotics are the best course of action for your specific acne concerns.


Lithium, a medication commonly used to treat bipolar disorder, has been associated with the development or worsening of acne. If you’re taking lithium and experiencing acne breakouts, it’s important to discuss this side effect with your healthcare provider and explore alternative treatment options.


Family History

Genetics plays a role in determining your skin type and its susceptibility to acne. If you have a family history of acne, it increases the likelihood that you may also experience acne breakouts. While you cannot change your genetic predisposition to acne, understanding your family history can help inform your skincare routine and treatment options.

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Genetic Predisposition

Certain genetic factors can influence your skin’s sebum production, follicular structure, and immune response, all of which can contribute to the development and severity of acne. Researchers continue to explore the genetic links to acne to better understand its causes and develop personalized treatment approaches.

Physical Factors

Friction and Pressure on the Skin

Constant friction or pressure on the skin, such as from tight-fitting clothing, helmets, or chin straps, can irritate your skin and contribute to acne breakouts. It’s important to wear comfortable clothing and protective gear that fits properly to minimize friction and pressure on your skin.

Wearing Helmets or Chin Straps

Wearing helmets, headbands, or chin straps for extended periods can trap sweat, dirt, and oil against your skin, leading to clogged pores and acne breakouts. Taking breaks, cleaning your gear regularly, and cleansing your skin thoroughly after removing protective equipment can help prevent acne caused by these physical factors.

Tight Clothing

Tight clothing, especially in areas prone to sweating, can create an environment where bacteria thrive and oils get trapped against your skin. This can contribute to the development of acne. Opting for loose-fitting, breathable clothing can help reduce the risk of acne breakouts.

Prolonged Contact with Sports Equipment

For individuals involved in activities where they come into prolonged contact with sports equipment, such as football helmets or shoulder pads, the constant pressure and friction can aggravate the skin and lead to acne breakouts. Maintaining proper hygiene, cleansing the skin after activities, and using non-comedogenic protective equipment can minimize the impact on your skin.

Poor Skincare Habits

Not Cleansing Properly

Failure to cleanse your skin properly can result in the accumulation of dirt, oil, and bacteria, which can clog your pores and lead to acne breakouts. Establishing a consistent skincare routine that includes gentle cleansing can help remove impurities and maintain clear skin.

Failure to Exfoliate

Exfoliating helps remove dead skin cells, unclog pores, and promote cell turnover. Neglecting to exfoliate regularly can result in a buildup of dead skin cells, leading to dull skin and potential acne breakouts. However, it’s important to avoid over-exfoliating, as this can irritate your skin and worsen acne symptoms. Using gentle exfoliants a few times a week can help maintain a healthy complexion.

Sleeping with Makeup On

Sleeping with makeup on can clog your pores and prevent your skin from properly regenerating overnight. This can lead to an increased risk of acne breakouts. Establishing a habit of removing makeup before bed and following a nightly skincare routine can help keep your skin clear and healthy.

Using Dirty Makeup Brushes

When you use dirty makeup brushes, you transfer accumulated bacteria, oil, and old makeup onto your skin, which can contribute to clogged pores and acne breakouts. Regularly cleaning your makeup brushes and sponges can help maintain a hygienic application and reduce the risk of acne caused by dirty tools.

Not Moisturizing or Hydrating the Skin

Contrary to popular belief, moisturizing is essential, even if you have oily or acne-prone skin. Failing to moisturize can lead to dryness and irritation, prompting your skin to produce more oil to compensate. This can potentially result in clogged pores and breakouts. Opt for non-comedogenic moisturizers and hydrating ingredients to keep your skin balanced.

Smoking and Exposure to Smoke

Cigarette Smoking

Smoking and exposure to cigarette smoke have been associated with the development and aggravation of acne. Smoking reduces blood flow to the skin, depriving it of oxygen and essential nutrients. This can impair the skin’s natural healing process and contribute to clogged pores and inflammation.

Secondhand Smoke

Secondhand smoke, particularly in enclosed spaces, can expose your skin to harmful chemicals and irritants that can trigger acne breakouts. It’s important to limit your exposure to secondhand smoke and ensure proper ventilation in living and working environments.

In conclusion, acne flare-ups can be triggered by a variety of factors, ranging from hormonal changes to environmental influences and poor skincare habits. Understanding these triggers and implementing appropriate measures can help manage and reduce the frequency and severity of acne breakouts. Remember to consult with a healthcare professional or dermatologist for personalized advice and treatment options tailored to your specific needs.