The difference between causes and triggers of acne: overview

Acne causes (see why do I have acne?) and triggers ( see what makes my acne worse?) were key questions for many young people we talked to. Some had ideas about the causes and triggers, but many were unsure or had heard confusing things. Knowledge about causes and triggers came from various sources including doctors, friends and parents, and looking online. Deborah used the internet to research possible triggers, including certain chemicals in beauty/bath products, which had sometimes been helpful.

Rachael learnt more about acne causes when she saw her GP.

Age at interview 18

Gender Female

Age at diagnosis 16

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Dr McPherson talks about acne causes and triggers.

Abbie was confused about acne causes at first.

Age at interview 17

Gender Female

Age at diagnosis 13

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A few people pointed out that causes and triggers were often confused with each other, but that there is an important difference. Doing things like wearing makeup doesn’t cause acne, but some people found certain products irritated their skin and made them more prone to spots (a trigger). Washing his face before sleep was seen by Will as ‘laying the groundwork’ for better skin but not a ‘cure’ in itself for acne (see also the section on skin care).

Misconceptions about acne causes and triggers

There are myths and misconceptions about acne causes and triggers. Often people had believed these myths themselves early on. Tom was surprised to hear from his GP that there’s no evidence linking diet and acne, even though his friends said there was. Emma thinks it would be good for young people to learn more about acne at school and stop the myths.

Hearing that acne is not caused by the person doing something wrong can make some people feel better – they are relieved to know it’s not their fault. Others felt frustrated that they couldn’t control their skin or change something to help the acne clear up. Naomi felt her skin ‘just seemed to be bad all the time’ and says she ‘would have done anything to stop that but there was nothing [in terms of triggers] I was aware of.’ Abbie wasn’t comforted by knowing that her acne was caused by changing hormones. She thinks that often teenagers ‘don’t care about hormones or puberty – they just don’t want to have spots any more’.

It can be hurtful when other people unfairly blame the person with acne for having the condition. People worried that their peers would think they were dirty or didn’t wash properly. Devan thinks adults are more understanding than his peers were from primary and secondary school who didn’t ‘seem to understand that it’s not your fault’.

Naomi was upset by others giving incorrect and unwanted advice about acne causes and triggers.

Age at interview 22

Gender Female

Age at diagnosis 9

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Marga finds it annoying when other people imply acne can be easily fixed.

Age at interview 24

Gender Female

Age at diagnosis 18

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Hester talks about other people’s misconceptions about acne.Hester talks about other people’s misconceptions about acne.

Age at interview 21

Gender Female

Age at diagnosis 15

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General health

Having a ‘healthy lifestyle’ was mentioned as important by some people. This included things like getting enough rest/sleep, drinking lots of water, fresh air, and having a balanced diet (e.g. with vegetable and fruit). However, as Chris added, a healthy lifestyle might be good for the skin but it alone is unlikely to clear up acne. Some felt that GP’s should tell young people with acne more about how to have a healthy lifestyle as well as offering medical treatments. Although Sarah’s and Harriet’s doctors both reassured them that diet and acne were not linked, they felt that diet might be relevant in their cases.

What causes acne?

The medical explanation for acne is that it is caused when skin pores/follicles become blocked. This doesn't mean that the person with acne is 'dirty',...