Acne is the most common skin disease – and, while it’s often associated with younger people, affecting an estimated 80 percent of those who are between the ages of 11 and 30, people who are well into their thirties, forties and even fifties can still experience breakouts.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, acne affects 40 to 50 million Americans, so you’re definitely not alone if you suffer from frequent breakouts. The primary cause of acne is the overproduction of oil; blocked hair follicles that don’t allow that oil to leave the pores, which often results in clogged pores as well as the growth of bacteria inside the hair follicles. But what causes this to happen? Knowing the reason behind it is the first step to preventing breakouts.
While genetic factors play a role in how the body reacts to various hormones that can cause acne, there are a number of habits and patterns that could be causing you to break out, or exacerbate this already extremely annoying issue, including these triggers, some of which may be rather surprising.
7 Reasons Your Skin Might Be Breaking Out
1. Your makeup and other personal care products
While you probably think you’re doing something good for your skin when applying those pricey beauty products, they may be doing more harm than good, especially if they contain certain ingredients. When your skin is healthy, it will lift dead skin cells up and out through the pore in a process that allows it to exfoliate itself and make new skin and collagen. But many store-bought chemical-filled products tend to dehydrate the skin, and when the skin is dehydrated it starts to trap dead skin cells, along with the chemical junk in the products you’re using right inside your pores.
Those chemicals can increase sensitivity in the skin and remove its protective barrier, which makes it more reactive to things you put on it. In response to even the slightest external stimuli, it begins to send more blood flow to the area, making your skin red and blotchy as well as contributing to breakouts.
While there are a long list of ingredients that should be avoided to prevent this, these are some of the most common:
- Silicones (listed as methicone, dimethicone, trimethicone, cyclomethicone, siloxane, cyclopentasiloxane, cyclotetrasiloxane, cyclohexasiloxane, silsesquioxane, trimethylsiloxysilicate, methylpolysiloxane, stearoxytrimethylsilane) are meant to make the skin feel smooth and silky, they’re actually one of the worst offenders when it comes to clogging the pores and dehydrating skin.
- Petrochemicals (listed as benzene, petrolatum, paraffin wax, mineral oil and anything else that contains the words polyethylene glycol (PEG), ethanolamine (MEA), triethanolamine (TEA), diethanolamine (DEA), butyl, propyl, ethyl, methyl and ethanol) are used as a preservative or to lock in moisture. But these petroleum derived ingredients are not only pore clogging, they may also produce a carcinogen and neurotoxin known as 1,4-dioxane.
- Dyes and perfumes (listed as parfum, fragrance, FD&C or D&C followed by a number, such as FD&C Red No. 6 or D&C Green No. 6) are meant to make the product look and smell nice, but they’re well-documented as being very irritating and known to increase skin sensitivity. Most artificial colorants also tend to clog the pores.
- Parabens (methylparaben, propylparaben, ethylparaben, or butylparaben) are included to extend the shelf life of the product, but they’re widely known to be highly toxic and disrupt the endocrine system, which wreaks havoc on hormones. As a hormone imbalance can worsen or cause acne, that’s the last thing anyone who suffers from breakouts wants to have.
- Alcohols (D alcohol, isopropyl alcohol, denatured alcohol (alcohol denat.), cetyl alcohol, stearyl alcohol, cetearyl alcohol, hexadecyl alcohol, isocetyl alcohol, oleyl alcohol, acetylated lanolin alcohol) are meant to increase penetration into the skin, they tend to be very dehydrating, cause irritation and even trigger free radical damage.
- Acrylics (acrylic/acrylates copolymer, acrylic/acrylate crosspolymer, acrylic acid, methacrylic acid, 2-ethylhexyl-acrylate) are what’s used to make those plastic, fake nails. They’re used in many other products to bind ingredients together, but they cause the pores to become clogged.
If you’re using products that contain any of these ingredients, consider using a more natural alternative – you might be surprised to find how quickly your skin clears.
2. Your diet
What you eat has a huge impact on your body, both mentally and physically, so it’s not surprising that it also has a significant impact on your skin. Many people are confused by this, thanks to a couple of very flawed studies conducted several decades ago which concluded that food doesn’t influence acne, but that research couldn’t have been more wrong. Author of a Journal of the Academy of Nutrition review on diet and acne Jennifer Burris noted that the studies were so popular that people believed diet had nothing to do with breakouts, and stopped researching the topic for the next 40 years, but Burris and her team of experts found that there is a definite connection. In 2014, they looked at the diets of over 200 people and found that those who ate more sugary foods, dairy products, and unhealthy fats, as well as less fish, were more likely to have moderate to severe acne.
According to OneGreenPlanet, dairy is frequently the culprit behind breakouts. While that’s probably news you don’t want to hear, the reason behind this belief is that dairy only comes from pregnant cows. That means that when you consume dairy, you’re getting hormones from the male and the female involved in the reproduction process – there are said to be more than 60 hormones in the average glass of milk – and that even includes the raw, organic, bovine growth hormone-free milk. Other dairy products are likely to contain a similar amount.
If you suspect your diet could be causing your breakouts, try eliminating dairy products, sugar-filled foods as well as processed and fast foods that typically contain unhealthy fats.
3. You’re stressed out
Have you ever noticed that you suddenly breakout after undertaking a massive work project or getting into a serious argument with your significant other? There’s a reason behind it: stress causes acne. That’s because stress causes an inflammatory response in the body, and can result in the walls of the pores breaking. When that happens, the body responds with redness around that broken pore, resulting in a pimple. When we undergo stress, the adrenal gland is put into overdrive and hormones known as androgens increase. A higher level of androgens can lead to more acne, which is especially true for women. When hormones are all over the place, the skin emits more oils.
If you believe stress is the main cause of your breakouts, the good news is there is something you can do about it, other than quitting your job. As long as you don’t overdo it, exercise is the very best way to combat stress – aim to workout three to five times a week for 30 minutes or more. You can also use stress-fighting essential oils on a daily basis to help you remain calm (such as lavender, bergamot, sandalwood, frankincense and ylang-ylang), as well as practice deep breathing and ensuring that you get a good night’s rest as often as possible.
4. You smoke
By now, you have to know how bad smoking cigarettes is for you, but if you’re doing it anyway, you should be aware that each time you light up you’re decreasing the amount of oxygen that gets to your face. That not only sets you up for a higher risk of cancer, but it causes the breakdown of elastin and collagen that can lead to increased pore size and wrinkles. Plus, because there are carcinogens in the smoke, those also irritate and dehydrate the skin, which triggers it to produce more oil and potentially more breakouts. Cigarette smoking also depletes many nutrients, including vitamin C, which helps protect and repair skin damage.
This one is a no-brainer! Quit now and save your health as well as your skin.
5. You aren’t properly cleaning your skin
How you care for your skin also has a significant impact on its appearance, including breakouts. As acne.org notes, acne is caused by the clogging of pores that leads to irritation, which shows up in the form of a pimple. Logically, if you’re not washing all of that dirt, oil, and makeup off your face each day, you’re increasing the odds of a breakout. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you may be scrubbing your skin too much. A lot of people prone to frequent breakouts think that the more you scrub your skin, the smoother it will be, but in reality, the problem only gets worse. That’s because you’re scrubbing the active acne and the blemish bacteria is then spread across the skin, worsening the condition.
The best way to prevent breakouts is to gently wash your face twice each day, in the morning and at night, using a gentle, hydrating cleanser. Instead of spending your hard-earned money on expensive products, put together your own using natural ingredients, like a honey and lemon cleanser. When combined, they make the ideal natural moisturizer and antiseptic. The citric acid from the lemon kills pimple-causing bacteria, and the enzymes in the citrus help to clear away dead skin. Honey is naturally antibacterial and loaded with powerful antioxidants that have been shown not only to slow down the skin’s aging process, but to prevent acne. All you have to do is combine two teaspoons of raw honey with a teaspoon fresh lemon juice. Warm it between your fingers, and then smooth a thin layer onto your face and neck. Allow it to dry for a few minutes and then rinse with warm water. Pat your face dry – don’t rub it, as that can cause irritation which triggers the acne cycle.
6. You spend a lot of time in the sun
If you’re spending your days soaking up the sunshine, all of that sun exposure could be to blame for your breakouts. Limited exposure (about 15 minutes for those with fair skin, and up to 30 minutes for those with darker skin), can be good for your skin, as well as helping the body to produce vitamin D, but if you spend more time outside in the sun than that, it’s likely to have negative effects. Some people are under the impression that it actually helps breakouts, but that’s because when your face becomes red from the sun, it makes pimples that you already have blend in, which creates the appearance of clearer skin. The reality is that the sun causes the skin to dry out, triggering an overproduction of oil which can lead to breakouts.
7. You aren’t getting enough sleep
Many, if not most, people don’t get a full eight hours of quality sleep on a regular basis. Being sleep deprived is well-known to cause a wide range of health issues, from memory impairment to a significantly higher risk of mortality, according to WebMD. And, sleep deprivation also may be one of the reasons you’re suffering from frequent breakouts. A lack of quality rest affects the body negatively in many ways, as sleep is food for your brain, body, and skin, and if you don’t get enough, you deprive each of its nourishment. It affects the moisture levels in the skin, reducing them and also lowering the skin’s pH levels, which is why your skin looks less youthful when you’ve stayed up all night working on that project. When the skin’s pH levels drop, this creates an imbalance that harms the skin’s ability to produce the moisture it needs, making it look drier. This can also trigger breakouts as a lack of sleep often results in the adrenal glands producing an excessive amount of oil which clogs pores when combined with dead skin cells.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults should get between seven and nine hours of sleep each night. If you’re sleep deprived, aim to change that and your skin will likely thank you for it. Those that have trouble falling asleep might want to consider practicing deep breathing or meditation just before bedtime, blocking out all light or wearing an eye mask and taking other steps to ensure a better night’s rest.
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