What causes acne?

November 12, 2012

What causes acne?

You may not realise it, but there are many factors that cause acne. Being aware of the cause can often help in knowing the best way it should be treated.

Acne is swelling and redness of the skin caused by a ruptured hair follicle that releases oil and debris, leading to irritation of the skin. What causes this rupture and therefore what causes acne is abnormal development of the cells within a hair follicle. The cells end up creating a plug on the follicle in the form of a black head. This prevents the movement of hair, grease and skin cells, eventually causing the hair follicle to enlarge and finally rupture. There are a number of things that can trigger this chain of events, which causes acne:

Propionibacterium acnes

This is a type of bacteria that lives in the hair follicles and causes acne through producing enzymes that react with the sebum from the oil glands causing the sebum to dissolve, replacing it with substances that irritate the skin and cause inflammation.


These are male hormones, that whilst present in both men and women, are of higher quantities in men. There is a dramatic increase in the production of androgens during puberty and this results in an increase in the amount of sebum released. The extra sebum feeds the bacteria causing more plugs to be formed and therefore causes acne to develop more excessively.


Oestrogen is the female hormone but unlike the make one, oestrogen improves acne in girls. It is for this reason that girls tend to find that the severity of the acne varies depending on her menstrual cycle and also why doctors sometimes prescribe the contraceptive pill as treatment for acne.


Although the exact gene or genetic combination that may cause acne has not yet been discovered, genetics are thought to play a role as acne often runs in families.

Anatomy of the hair follicle

The skin, face and back are the areas most prone to acne as the skin in these areas contain the most sebaceous glands. It is these glands, (which enter near the surface of the hair follicle) from which sebum is released more or less constantly. Sebum is important to keep the skin lubricated to prevent dryness and to act as a protective barrier.


If over the counter treatments fail to work, then medical attention may be required. A doctor will have a better idea of what causes acne and the best way in which it should be treated. Anyone who suffers from a sudden worsening of his or her acne accompanied with a fever, or a woman who begins to develop facial hair or have irregular periods should make an appointment with the doctor.


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