15 Acne-Causing Agents And Behaviors To Avoid You Probably Haven’t Thought Of

A commonly held misconception is that acne is caused by eating junk food, but this isn't the whole story. Read on to learn more about several of the possible causes of acne.

By Caitlin Shaw4 min read
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Acne is defined as a “chronic, inflammatory skin disease characterized by the development of pimples, blackheads, whiteheads, nodules, cysts, or other types of pimples.” Over 50 million people in America experience acne annually, making it the number one most common skin condition that dermatologists treat. But what makes acne a bit of an anomaly is that there is no clinically proven way to cure or prevent it. Fortunately, over the past several decades, dermatological researchers have come up with effective treatments and practices to help avoid worsening acne. 

If you struggle with acne, this list of acne-causing agents is a must-read. You may be unknowingly doing some of these things and causing your skin setbacks to worsen. Today, we're here to help you change that.

1. Not Washing Your Linens

Washing your linens, such as pillowcases and towels, regularly is critical to avoiding acne. This is because dirt, sweat, and body oils accumulate in the fabric and cause an overgrowth of bacteria. When bacteria gets into your pores, it can cause breakouts.

2. Not Washing Your Makeup Brushes

Similar to linens, when makeup brushes go unwashed, they collect thousands of bacterial colonies. The American Academy of Dermatology Association recommends washing cosmetic tools every 7-10 days to avoid skin problems like acne, infections, or rashes.

3. Not Shampooing Regularly Enough

According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, when you aren’t shampooing your hair enough, your hair will create a buildup of oil which can lead to acne. This tip is especially applicable to those who struggle with acne on their forehead. 

4. Holding Your Phone to Your Face When Talking

Holding your phone up to your cheek when talking on the phone can worsen acne for lots of reasons. Not only do you spend countless hours of your week touching your phone screen, which then accumulates your fingers’ oil, but you also probably set your phone down on a bunch of dirty surfaces. According to a 2017 University of Michigan study, your phone is 10 times dirtier than a toilet seat! Let that sink in.

5. Your Hormones

Your hormones play a key role in your skin’s oil production and, therefore, could be responsible for your acne. Increased hormone activity during menstruation can cause more oils and, therefore, more acne during this time of the month. Take note if your acne is cyclical, and talk to your doctor about ways to treat this type of acne.

6. Excessively Dry Skin

Growing up, I was under the impression that only people with oily skin got acne. But I could not have been more wrong. Dry skin can be just as prone to acne as oily skin because dry skin lacks moisture and causes dead skin cells to accumulate. This is an issue because the debris can cause pores to become clogged, ultimately leading to acne. Another reason why dry skin is acne-prone is because when your face is too dry, your skin glands will produce more sebum, or oil, to counteract the dryness. Typically this combination of increased oil and dead skin cells causes acne. 

7. Overuse of Off-Setting Products

Sometimes, when it comes to skincare, less is more. The cosmetic and skincare industry will tell you otherwise, but simplicity and consistency are typically the keys to success when it comes to combatting acne. If you find that your skin is worsening after using several new products, they could be interfering with one another in a completely unproductive manner. Too many products can dry out your skin and cause it to create more oil, which in turn, clogs pores and perpetuates acne.

8. Imbalance of Skin Bacteria

Sometimes, acne can be caused by an imbalance of skin bacteria. Our bodies, including our skin, is home to billions of bacteria colonies – both good and bad ones. According to researchers, the composition of the bacteria in the follicles can reflect and influence the skin condition in acne or healthy skin. 

9. Inflammatory Foods

Our bodies react to every single food item, beverage, vitamin, substance, etc. that is put inside it. And since the skin is the largest organ in the body, it’s no wonder that the effects of our diets are apparent. Acne, at its root, is an inflammation issue, so eating foods that cause inflammation, such as breads, pastries, dairy, etc. will worsen your acne. The old myth is that greasy foods and chocolate cause acne, but this has since been proven as untrue. While there’s still plenty of research that needs to be done, a small study discovered that eating a low-glycemic diet could reduce the amount of acne you have. 

10. Pollution

Studies have shown that there is a strong and meaningful association between pollution and inflammatory acne. These findings now lead dermatologists to believe that there are other environmental factors that can cause acne, but more research needs to be done.

11. Genetics

There’s no gene that scientists are aware of that links directly to acne. However, there are genes that can indicate if you will be more acne prone, such as if you have excessively oily skin or easily clogged pores. And research has shown that if both of your parents had acne, you’re much more likely to develop breakouts as well.  

12. Pimple Popping or Excessively Touching Your Face

This may not be an “unlikely” acne-causing agent, but it was too important not to address. If you’ve ever been to a dermatologist for acne solutions, they constantly reiterate avoiding pimple popping or touching your face.

Popping pimples may seem like a good idea to extract the pus or bacteria out of the pore – and in some cases, it is okay. But the vast majority of people don’t do extractions properly. Oftentimes when popping a pimple, oil can get trapped in the open pore, causing more pustules. And popping a pimple that is not ready to be extracted will leave your skin more inflamed, red, and painful than it was before. Another downside to pimple popping is that, when done carelessly, it can lead to increased scars.

Excessive touching of the face will worsen acne because finger oils will seep into the pores and clog them. 

13. Your Man’s Facial Hair

Just like the hair on top of your head, facial hair contains oils too. The friction that results from skin and beard contact can be an acne hazard, so consider this the next time you’re getting cozy with your man.

14. Too Much Sun

Sunlight and skin typically don’t mix well – but it especially isn’t good for acne-prone skin. The main reason is the sun dries out the top layer of your skin, leaving your face to produce extra oil to counter this effect.

Beyond this, many acne products like retinols and benzyl peroxide cancel out the effect of sunscreen, making your skin more sensitive to the sun’s rays. If not properly protected, the sun can cause accelerated scarring and uneven pigmentation, known as “sun spots.”  

15. Stress

While it may sound like “stress” can be a cause of nearly any health issue out there, there is some validity to this one. Stress alone will not cause acne, but it can be a key component in the larger equation of why you may have acne. This is because stress, or increased cortisol levels, triggers the production of cytokines which are small proteins that can lead to increased oil and inflammation.

Closing Thoughts

This list is by no means a comprehensive landscape of all the acne-causing agents that exist. Unfortunately, dermatologists don’t know all the reasons for acne and have yet to figure out why acne affects some people but not others. But fortunately, research is being conducted on this subject matter constantly, and we’re collectively becoming more informed about the complex problem of acne. If you struggle with mild to severe acne, try eliminating some of the problematic behaviors listed here and see if your skin improves.

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