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’, as the source of blocked pores can come from inside the body when the sebaceous glands produce too much oil. A spot, of which there are different types, develops when the blocked pore is infected by the normal bacteria living on the skin. Acne often affects the face because there are lots of sebaceous glands located there.

Some people tried to reduce the chances of bacteria getting into the blocked pore by doing things like frequently washing their pillowcases and keeping hair off their face. Other things, such as dried skin flakes, can add to blocking pores.

Marga thought the eczema she had in winter also contributed to her acne becoming more severe.

Dr McPherson talks about what happens in skin with acne.

There can be different reasons for developing acne i.e. when the sebaceous glands in their skin start to over-produce oil, such as changes in hormones during puberty. Some people find their acne continued after puberty and into adulthood, but the principle, that the pores become blocked, is the same.

Deborah talks about how her acne has changed over time.

Age at interview 25

Gender Female

Age at diagnosis 12

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Women sometimes have acne flare-ups around their menstrual cycle (periods) and when trying out a new hormonal contraceptive in a pill or implant. Abbie no longer has acne after taking isotretinoin (e.g. Roaccutane), but she worries that it might return when she gets some spots around her period. Some women, like Marga, found that taking the combined contraceptive pill helped ‘balance’ their hormones.

Naomi’s acne returned when she tried the implant (hormonal contraceptive). She had recently stopped taking isotretinoin (Roaccutane) and so didn’t want the contraceptive pill.

Age at interview 22

Gender Female

Age at diagnosis 9

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Marga takes the combined pill to help with her acne. Although there is no clear link between diet and acne, she thinks dairy is a dietary trigger of hers and wonders about hormonal links to this.

Age at interview 24

Gender Female

Age at diagnosis 18

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Sometimes acne is related to another health condition which causes changes in hormones and can have other symptoms too, such as polycystic ovary syndrome.

Some people thought there was a genetic factor to their acne as they knew of others in their family (parents, siblings) who had had similar experiences to their own.

Acne triggers: what flares up acne?

A trigger (things which can irritate and make acne worse) for one person's acne may not be a trigger for another person's. In general, anything...