Acne: What’s Causing Your Acne?

skin quench

What’s Causing Your Acne?

It’s time to get into the nitty gritty, and get started on my acne series. If you’ve been keeping up with me, you know that I’ve struggled with acne and breakouts since I was about 11 years old. Dealing with acne can be extremely frustrating and demoralizing. Not only can it be painful, but it’s right on your face which is the first thing people see.

There is a misconception that people with acne are dirty or don’t take care of themselves, and that is not always true. Acne is caused by so many different factors.

Another misconception is that only teens get acne, and once you’re done with your schooling it magically disappears. I’m here to tell you this is a lie and we need to break this stigma! People of all ages struggle with acne for many reasons.

It’s important to get to know your body and what is causing your acne before you can treat it. Sometimes you can put an end to breakouts with something as simple as taking dairy out of your diet, or exfoliating a couple times a week.

While I still struggle with breakouts, I feel that I finally have a good handle on what my causes are and how to deal with them. Over time and with many hours of research under my belt, here are the key causes of acne that I’ve discovered:


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Hormones seem to be the number one cause of acne. Since the day puberty strikes, your body is constantly going through changes on a hormonal level. For some people, acne may come to a halt once they are done developing. Unfortunately, this is not always the case, especially for people who menstruate.

If you get a period, your estrogen, progesterone, and even testosterone (androgen) levels are constantly moving up and down throughout your cycle. This effects your insides as well as your outsides. It just so happens on the outside, it’s often manifested in breakouts.

There are also more severe causes such as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, or PCOS. People with this diagnosis often times experience severe, cystic acne due to excess androgen, amongst many other symptoms.

Hormonal birth control is often used to help get rid of acne, but sometimes this can have the opposite effect. Certain methods can cause severe breakouts, especially along the jaw line. Some options are to talk to your OBGYN and switch your method or get off completely. I have my own qualms with hormonal birth control, but that’s a story for another day.

With the proper treatments and care, hormonal acne typically subsides once your period has passed. If you’re experiencing something more severe or prolonged, I would contact a dermatologist, skincare specialist, or your primary care provider.


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The idea of stress related acne was difficult for me to grasp. It gets a little scientific here, so bare with me. Your body contains a hormone (yes, another one) that helps you deal with stress. That hormone is called cortisol. It’s normal to have a certain amount of cortisol in your body, for coping with short term stressful situations. When you are under increased stress, for a longer period of time? That’s when things get out of whack.

A spike in your cortisol levels can negatively effect your skin, which often translates to whiteheads or cystic breakouts. I’ve experienced this many times and I know the frustration, but as difficult as it is, it’s important not to freak out. The more you stress, the worse a breakout can get. The best thing you can do is treat the breakouts you have in a gentle way, try not to touch your face, and destress.

We all have different ways of returning to homeostasis and calming down emotionally, mentally, and physically. I personally like to drink tea, throw on a sheet mask, take a moment for some deep breathing, and read a book in silence or throw on YouTube. Other times, I destress by going to the gym, creating pottery, or practicing yoga. It really depends on what relaxes you, so figure out what that is and give it a try.


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What you eat really effects your body. This may sound like common sense, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t put two and two together. You may be familiar with the idea of Chinese food therapy, derived from traditional Chinese medicine. It’s based on the idea that all foods are either Yin or Yang, meaning certain foods are considered “cold” (Yin) and others are considered “hot” (Yang). Keep in mind this might not always be taken literally. It is believed that hot foods like spicy foods or certain meats can result in breakouts. Having a balance of hot and cold is what keeps us neutral.

This is definitely an intriguing way of thinking about what you eat, but the main idea is to understand that what goes inside manifests on the outside. If you struggle with acne, something that would be wise to try is researching foods you tend to eat and seeing how they might be affecting you. Many people have found that foods in the dairy, gluten, or sugar category tend to cause breakouts.

I always notice that if I’m eating too much processed sugar, or even sugar from bread and certain fruits, I tend to breakout. It’s an instant reaction, often times as soon as that evening. Some people like to eliminate these foods all together, but I’m a believer in moderation. What’s the moral here? Take note of what you put in your body, and adjust to any diet changes that are better suited for your skin.

Side note: Drinking about half your weight in water everyday is ideal to keep your skin hydrated and healthy. Another way to measure this is by the color of your pee. Yes, you read that correctly. Your body is always giving you signs about what’s going on inside! If your urine is a darker yellow or orange, this means you are dehydrated and not drinking enough water. If it’s a faint yellow or clear, you’re on the right track.


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Unfortunately, sometimes we can’t control what causes irritation on our skin. I occasionally go to New York City to visit family or hang out in Manhattan, so whenever I venture over there, I can feel all the pollutants on my skin at the end of the day. I kid you not, there have been times that I’ve washed my face at night and the water turns black. Ugh.

Not only can the particles flying around in the air cause breakouts, but different factors in your home can as well. I recently learned the tap water in my house was having a tremendous effect on the texture of my skin, as well as causing breakouts. It’s hard water with high levels of iron and other minerals, no bueno. While the water issue is being solved, I have adjusted by boiling filtered water from my fridge. Even though it can be a pain, I’ve seen a huge change in my skin since doing this.

Your skin can get irritated by the detergent you use when doing laundry as well. If you are getting breakouts on your face and body, this could be something to look into. It’s also important to change your sheets, especially your pillowcase, frequently. Bacteria and dead skin cells build up on your pillowcase. Keep in mind that you are rolling in that every night that you don’t change it. You’re welcome.

Lack of Skincare

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You might find that you break out because of your lack of skincare. Some people might simply be able to splash cold water on their face and go, but everyone’s skin is different. It’s extremely important to cleanse your skin morning and night, and follow up with steps that suit your skin type and condition. I always emphasize moisturizing and using SPF as well, because those are key steps that will protect your skin from further damage.

If you read my post on exfoliation, you know how important it is. Exfoliating removes dead skin cells which can cause clogged pores, leading to breakouts. Remember to exfoliate at least once a week!

Skincare after the gym is a must. Think about it, all that salty sweat is sitting in your pores when your workout is over. Definitely not cute. Make sure you wash your face (with skincare) as soon as you can after exercising. It’s not quite cleansing, but I often carry an essence mist like the Caudalíe Beauty Elixir, in my bag. It’s a great refresher for balancing your skin and adding some nutrition and hydration back in.

Skincare Products

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While skincare can really help prevent and treat acne, using too many products, or the wrong products for your skin type, can give you some setbacks. When trying new products, it’s so important to slowly integrate them in. Try adding only one new product for a week and see how it goes. If you start seeing improvements, then it’s safe to add something else in. Just pay attention to your skin, it will communicate with you.

When using a new product, especially targeted for acne, your skin may go through a purging phase. This just means it will get worse before it gets better. You may start having more breakouts, because the product is doing it’s magic by pulling out all the gunk in your pores. Purging can last anywhere from two weeks to about three months depending on the product. The general rule of thumb is if you are still breaking out or your skin is getting worse after three months, it’s time to stop using that product.

Other Products

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Did you ever think about how your other beauty products are affecting your skin? Products you use for your makeup and hair could be the answer to your acne question. Not all makeup is created equal, so make sure you are doing your research about ingredients. Be diligent and check out what your make up is made of and if it should really be on your face. Trust me, you’d be surprised what beauty companies can get away with in the states.

Hair care is a little different. I have kinky/coily natural hair and mostly use hair products with natural ingredients. Even wholesome hair products can cause issues for your skin. Shampoos, conditioners, and stylers often have heavier creams and oils that are super nourishing for your hair, but can really mess up your pores.

When washing or styling your hair, always wash your face last to make sure there is no hair product on your skin. I also wear a satin lined hat to bed, to protect my hair and keep any oils from getting on my pillow and face. Satin caps or scarves aren’t just for black girls either! I highly recommend this to anyone. You’ll have less breakage, split-ends, and your hair will retain more moisture and shine.

Whether you’re dealing with a random breakout, or it’s an on-going struggle, understanding the root of the issue is always the best place to start. Have you guys ever experienced breakouts from one of these causes? Or, have you gotten a breakout from something I didn’t cover? I’d love to know, leave me a comment below!

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