Acne Causes

Acne is often considered to be an adolescent problem — after all, the vast majority of teenagers suffer from some degree of the condition. Usually, acne has cleared up by a person’s mid-twenties. This isn’t always the case, however, and adult acne plagues some people throughout their adult lives unless they seek treatment. Receiving treatment is especially important with adults, as the chance of scarring is higher than it is for adolescents and young adults.

And just to prove it’s not what you eat, many babies have been born with infant acne. This condition has been linked to hormones that have passed into the baby’s system through the placenta. Generally, it isn’t serious and clears up quickly.

Infant acne can develop between the ages of 3 to 6 months, and usually clears up by the third year. Boys are more likely to develop the condition than girls. While the infant variety usually doesn’t lead to scarring, a severe case may require treatment and increases the likelihood of developing acne vulgaris during puberty.

Clogged Pores, Sebaceous Glands and Zits

We’re mammals, so our skin is covered in hair. Much of that hair is hardly noticeable, but it is there. Hair follicles in our skin contain sebaceous glands, which produce an oil called sebum. If dead skin cells block the hair follicles, sebum builds up in the clogged pores.

The sebaceous glands continue to produce sebum, but it has nowhere to go. The sebum becomes infected with bacteria, which causes the clogged pores to become inflamed and swollen. Suddenly, you’ve got zits.

Because of the internal pressure, zits left untreated will eventually burst. The mixture of bacteria, oil and dead skin cells is spread across the surrounding skin. This creates areas of oily skin with plenty of material to plug up more hair follicles and start the whole process over again.

Acen Blocked Hair Folicle

Causes of Acne

Poor hygiene or eating habits do not cause acne, no matter what popular culture may think.

Research suggests that hormones are to blame. The male hormone androgen is present in both male and female bodies, especially during puberty. Androgen can enlarge the sebaceous glands in hair follicles, leading to greater amounts of oily sebum being produced.

Heredity is also one of the causes of acne. If a parent had acne as a teenager, chances are good his/her child will too. And the more severe the parents’ condition, the greater the likelihood that the children’s acne will also be severe.

Stress and Acne

Whether stress plays a role in acne or not is an issue of considerable debate. Severe emotional stress has been linked to acne, although the relationship is not clear. Some doctors blame anti-stress and depression medications for acne in these cases, rather than stress itself.

Who’s at Risk?

Teenagers comprise the largest risk group: ninety percent of teenagers develop acne, and forty percent of them receive some form of medical treatment. Adult women are also a high-risk group — as many as fifty percent have acne problems.

Pregnant women may suddenly develop acne, or existing instances may worsen during pregnancy. On the flip side, it’s also possible for pre-pregnancy acne to clear up during a pregnancy.

Adolescent girls and adult women may also experience sudden flare-ups two to seven days before menstruation. Starting or stopping birth control pills can also result in breakouts.

Using certain medications and drugs can cause acne breakouts — androgen therapy, barbiturates, testosterone and lithium all list acne as possible side effects. Users of illegal anabolic steroids can develop severe acne.


American Academy of Dermatology. (2001). Expecting a baby? Expect some changes in your hair, skin and nails. Retrieved March 20, 2002, from

National Skin Centre (Singapore). (nd). Information on common skin diseases. Retrieved March 19, 2002, from