Before we tackle the acne aftermath, it’s important to understand what causes acne in the first place. “Acne occurs when your sebaceous glands become plugged with oil and dead skin cells," explains David Bank, MD, a dermatologist in Mt. Kisco, NY. And unfortunately for our skin, there are many different causes.
Blame your parents! “Acne has a genetic component,” says Dr. Bank. “If your parents had or have severe acne, there is an increased chance you will, too.”
Sex Hormones (Testosterone, Estrogen, and Progesterone)
You’ll see big swings in your skin—and sometimes a surge in acne—during what Manjula Jegasothy, MD, a dermatologist in Miami, FL, calls hormonal “flux periods”—puberty, pregnancies, and menopause. And that monthly breakout isn’t a myth: “Hormones increase oil production in the skin,” says New York, NY-based dermatologist, Kristina Goldenberg, MD. “This causes an increase in growth of bacteria and inflammation, resulting in acne.” When that pore ruptures beneath the skin? That’s what causes cystic acne, those tender, “underground” zits that take forever to go away and lead to acne scarring more often than other pimples.
Stress Hormones (Cortisol)
Why does a pimple always seem to show up when your life already feels kinda crazy? “High stress levels lead to the release of a hormone known as cortisol,” says Dr. Goldenberg. “High levels of cortisol will produce more acne.”
While it’s hard to pinpoint specific foods that cause acne, “a high glycemic diet causes spikes in blood sugar levels that will stimulate the release of certain growth factors that in turn lead to increased oil production and acne,” says Dr. Goldenberg. In a nutshell: Too much sugar and processed grains can mess with your skin.
You’ve seen the words “non-comedogenic” on product packaging, and know that it means that it won’t clog your pores. But the products you put on your face that don’t say that—typically ones with heavy oils—can clog pores and create pimples. And never sleep in your makeup; the pressure of your face in your pillow in addition to makeup can earn you a pimple overnight.