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What Causes Acne?

July 19, 2019

Acne bumming you out? We feel you. If it seems like you’ve tried just about everything to get clearer-looking skin with little to no positive results, it’s time to take a deeper look at your skin care routine and what causes acne. While you may be trying every skin care product under the sun in an attempt to get rid of acne, sometimes less is actually more. Before you start putting together a skin care routine for acne-prone skin, it’s important to understand what may be bringing about your breakouts to begin with. Keep reading to learn exactly that, as well as tips for managing acne, including avoiding foods that cause acne. 


There are a few different factors that can lead to acne. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), when your oil glands are overactive, they can produce too much oil—and this oil can mix with skin cells on skin’s surface, effectively clogging your pores. When pores are clogged, the bacteria on your skin multiplies, which can result in acne breakouts. 


We hate to break it to you, but it turns out that acne is actually pretty common, so there’s a good chance you’ll spot a pimple or two on your complexion at one point or another. According to the AAD, up to 50 million people in the U.S. experience acne breakouts each year. Talk about a big club! 


There are a few steps you can take to help avoid future breakouts. Take the following skin care tips into consideration if you have acne, as you could be unknowingly causing your pimples.

1. Give acne products a chance to work. If you find yourself switching up your skin care routine frequently because you don’t see immediate results, it’s time to have a little more patience. According to the AAD, it can often take four to eight weeks to see results from using skin care products formulated for acne-prone skin.

2. Look for salicylic acid. Speaking of skin care products, the AAD says that if you have acne, one of the best ingredients you can look for in your products is salicylic acid. (Read What Is Salicylic Acid? to learn more about adding this ingredient to your skin care routine.)

3. Be diligent about changing your pillowcase. Haven’t done laundry in a while? Get to it! According to the AAD, by the end of the week, your pillowcase will be loaded with dead skin cells. The AAD recommends that if you have acne you should change your pillowcase twice a week and your sheets once a week. You should also clean your makeup sponges and brushes regularly.

4. Always wash your face before bed. When you sleep in your makeup, it can mix with the dirt and oil on your face, leading to clogged pores. To make things easy on yourself, stash a micellar water on your nightstand so that you can remove your makeup without having to leave your bedroom. This will help prevent that dreaded forehead acne, as well as acne on other parts of your face.

5. Wear non-comedogenic makeup. Speaking of forehead acne causes, pay attention to the makeup you’re putting on your face. According to the Food and Drug Administration, non-comedogenic makeup won’t clog pores, so it’s a good bet for those with acne. Here’s our article, What Does Non-Comedogenic Mean, Plus Our Best Non-Comedogenic Products, for everything you need to know about non-comedogenic products.

6. Be mindful of your diet. Chances are, you’ve heard somewhere, or from someone, that certain foods cause acne. And there are even certain food groups that get a lot of hate for this reason. Let’s cut to the chase—does dairy cause acne? The answer is yes, depending on the type of dairy. According to the AAD, there have been several studies that link whole, low-fat, and skim milk to increased acne breakouts. That being said, there has been no evidence that products made from milk, such as cheese or yogurt, cause increased breakouts.

If you have a sweet tooth, you may be left wondering, “Does chocolate cause acne?” The Cleveland Clinic states that further research needs to be done to prove a correlation between eating chocolate and increased breakouts. However, according to the Cleveland Clinic, people typically eat chocolate when stressed, which could actually be the cause of unwanted acne.

7. Consider your outfit. Wearing tight clothes while working out, an activity that causes your body to produce excess oil, can often lead to clogged pores and thus breakouts. This is a common chest and back acne cause. To help avoid body breakouts, the AAD suggests wearing loose-fitting workout clothes and showering and changing clothes as soon as possible after working out.

8. Don’t pick at acne. Hands off! Don’t pick or squeeze a pimple on your skin if you notice one. We can’t stress this enough! This can cause scarring and take the blemish even longer to go away. Besides, it can spread bacteria to other pores, making even more blemishes.


Breakouts don’t just occur between the ages of 12 and 17; they can happen even after you’ve reached adulthood. In fact, according to the AAD, some people still experience acne in their 30s, 40s, and 50s. It’s even possible to get breakouts for the first time as an adult, and adult acne causes are the same as those listed above.

Ready for more acne skin care advice? Read our article, What Is Cystic Acne?, next to learn more about cystic acne causes specifically.

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