What causes acne?

20th February 2020

Acne is a common skin condition that causes spots to appear in the form of whiteheads, blackheads, nodules, pustules or cysts. The spots can often be painful but people with acne mainly suffer from a psychological point of view as it can cause embarrassment and self-consciousness.

What causes acne?

Acne spots appear when tiny pores in your skin (called hair follicles) become clogged or blocked, and this then bulges outwards to form a spot.

All of your hair follicles have tiny glands called sebaceous glands attached to them. The sebaceous glands are responsible for producing oil to lubricate the skin and hair and it from drying out,

However, sometimes the sebaceous glands become overactive and the excess oil (mixed with dead skin cells) blocks the hair follicle. Depending on how close to the skin the blockage is will determine whether the spot appears as a blackhead or a whitehead.

More aggressive forms of acne spots (such as pustules and cysts) develop from blackheads or whiteheads when bacteria that lives on the skin (which is normally harmless) contaminates and aggravates the plugged hair follicle.


While the actual cause of acne spots is the overactive sebaceous glands, there are a number of factors that can lead to these glands working overtime.

The sebaceous glands are extremely sensitive to hormones, especially androgens (like testosterone). This is why acne is so common in teenagers when they hit puberty; because the sudden spike in hormones can unbalance the sebaceous glands and cause oily skin and spots.


There’s also something to be said for genetics. Like a lot of other conditions, acne can run in families. So if your parents had acne, it’s likely that you could develop it too. This is also true for differentiating between teenage acne and adult acne; if a parent has adult acne then it’s more likely that you will too.

Female-only factors

Although teenage acne appears more common in boys (due to the testosterone factor and the fact that males produce more of it), adult acne is a lot more common in women.

This can be due to a number of reasons, including the menstrual cycle, pregnancy and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). All of these things are heavily linked to hormones and most women who suffer with acne will notice a pattern between acne flare-ups and hormone level fluctuations.

Other triggers

Although not direct causes, there are a number of things that can trigger an acne flareup. This includes certain cosmetic products (which usually varies from one person to another) or regularly wearing items that rub on the affected area.

Smoking and certain medications can also trigger acne, particularly medications used to treat epilepsy, depression and bipolar disorder.

What doesn’t cause acne

Acne is one of the most widespread skin conditions and yet there are still a lot of myths surrounding it. People often misunderstand its causes and there are two main things that people believe cause acne.


Everyone’s heard that eating chocolate gives you spots but when it comes to the research, no particular foods have been found to cause acne.

There are nutrients (and foods that contain them) that are good for your skin. But this is more to do with skin hydration, suppleness and collagen more than being able to cause or counteract acne.


The most damaging myth about acne for its sufferers is the idea that acne is somehow caused by poor hygiene or having dirty skin. Mostly, the spots caused by acne begin below the surface of the skin, so the cleanliness of the surface won’t have any effect.

In fact, if you wash your skin too often, this could wash away too much sebum and leave your skin feeling dry and aggravated.

Treating acne

Treatment for acne is not a one-size-fits-all and many sufferers have to try multiple different treatment options before finding one that works for them. There are topical options such as Acnecide gel or Treclin gel, or antibiotic tablets like Lymecycline or Oxytetracycline. Women also have the option of certain anti-androgen contraceptive pills like Dianette and Clairette.

Effective prescription treatments for acne can be bought from UK Meds without an existing prescription, by simply starting an online consultation.