Acne is one of the top three most common skin disorders in the US. Approximately 85% of people aged between 12 and 24 years¹ in the US experience acne.
It’s not only adolescents that struggle with acne. Adult acne is acne that occurs in people over the age of 25. A study that evaluated randomly selected individuals with similar demographic characteristics found the prevalence² of adult acne to be around 3% in men and 12% in women.
Some people are more acne-prone than others. If your skin seems to be constantly breaking out, you may have acne-prone skin. Read on to find out why what causes acne-prone skin and best to care for it to prevent acne flare-ups.
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Acne develops when hair follicles or pores become blocked with sebum (the oil that your body naturally secretes to lubricate your skin and hair), dead skin cells, and bacteria (Cutibacterium acnes).
The following imbalances can make it more likely that you will develop acne:
Excess sebum production
Excess dead skin cells that accumulate in your pores
Acne lesions³ can be categorized as comedones, pustules, cysts, or nodules that can either be inflamed or not inflamed.
Your skin type can also contribute to whether or not you are prone to developing acne. Skin can be classified as oily, dry, or combination.
Oily skin can appear shiny and greasy. It is characterized by high levels of sebum production (more than 1.5mg per 10cm2 of skin every three hours)⁴.
Excess sebum production is known to cause acne. Not only does it contribute to clogged pores, but Cutibacterium acnes thrives in an environment that has high sebum levels⁵. There is also some evidence that the specific composition of sebum⁶ may also influence acne formation.
Dry skin can appear flaky, rough, or reddened. Although acne is less likely to occur if you have dry skin, it is still possible.
Combination skin can appear to be dry on the cheeks but shiny on the forehead, nose, and chin. Acne is more likely to occur in the oily zone if you have combination skin.
There are various factors that can contribute to you having acne-prone skin.
Genetics⁵ play a large role in whether you develop acne, since the amount of sebum your skin produces is partly controlled by your genes. Twin studies have shown that genetics play a role in determining how much sebum your skin produces and, as a result, how oily your skin is.
During puberty³, you are at a higher risk of developing acne. Increased hormones, especially androgens, stimulate the sebaceous gland which leads to increased sebum production.
Your lifestyle can also make you more susceptible to developing acne. Although exercise in itself doesn’t cause acne, sweating can cause bacterial overgrowth which may lead to acne flare-ups. The American Academy of Dermatology Association⁷ recommends washing your face right after exercising or wiping it down with salicylic acid pads to decrease the risk of developing acne.
Wearing the wrong makeup or using occlusive face products that clog your pores can also increase your risk of developing acne, or worsen existing acne. Choose makeup and skin products that are specifically tailored for acne-prone skin.
Certain medications may also make your skin more acne-prone. The most common culprits are corticosteroids, testosterone, progesterone, anti-epileptic medication, some anti-tuberculosis medications, and lithium. Although not a medication, anabolic steroids also increase your risk of developing acne because they stimulate sebum production.
If you are concerned that you may have acne-prone skin, or feel as though you’re always battling breakouts, try the following skincare routine to see if it helps prevent your acne from flaring up.
1. Wash your face with lukewarm water and a gentle cleanser twice a day
Washing your face twice a day⁸ in the morning and evening will help to remove any excess sebum, as well as makeup, sunscreen, or any other face products that may clog your pores.
2. Wash your face with a gentle cleanser immediately after exercising or sweating
If you aren’t able to properly wash your face after exercising or sweating, you can use a salicylic acid wipe⁷ to help kill bacteria and unclog pores.
3. Use your fingertips to apply your face cleanser
Using a washcloth or mesh sponge can irritate your skin and worsen acne⁸, as can excessive scrubbing or rubbing of your face. It is best to use your fingertips only and not to apply too much pressure.
4. Choose a gentle cleanser
It is recommended that you choose a cleanser that is non-comedogenic (doesn’t clog pores), non-acnegenic, and oil-free. A gentle cleanser is less likely to cause dryness or irritation, which can worsen your acne.
5. Wash your hair regularly
If you have oily hair or use hair products that could clog your pores, make sure to wash your hair regularly. When oily hair comes into contact with your skin, it can trigger acne breakouts.
6. Avoid picking or squeezing pimples
Touching your pimples can introduce bacteria to your skin environment, which can worsen your acne. Picking or squeezing damages the area and increases your chance of developing acne scars and dark spots.
7. Avoid products that clog your pores
Ensure that any products you use on your face, such as makeup, sunscreen, and moisturizers, are non-comedogenic (won’t clog your pores), non-acnegenic, and oil-free. Using products that potentially clog your pores or that are excessively oily can worsen acne.
8. Try topical treatments
Topical treatments⁸ for acne-prone skin include:
Salicylic acid — Unclogs pores and decreases inflammation.
Benzoyl peroxide — Kills acne-causing bacteria.
Retinoids — Unclog pores, remove dead skin cells, and decrease inflammation.
These topical treatments are available over-the-counter and can be added to your daily routine to prevent further acne breakouts.
Acne is a common skin disorder faced by both adolescents and adults, but if you have acne-prone skin, you may feel like you are always struggling with breakouts.
Acne-prone skin can be caused by your genetics (that predispose you to increased sebum production), puberty and hormones, certain medications, using makeup or face products that clog pores, or if you exercise and sweat frequently.
If you do have acne-prone skin, following a good skincare routine, like the step-by-step guide outlined above, can help to reduce further breakouts.
If these measures don’t keep your acne under control, it may be worth seeing your doctor or dermatologist for a more comprehensive treatment plan.
Acne | MSD Manual Consumer Version
The role of sebum (skin oil) in acne | Acne.org
Is your workout causing your acne? | American Academy of Dermatology Association
Management of acne (2011)