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May 18, 2019

Causes and Triggers of Acne

Causes and Triggers of Acne

Acne is a common skin issue that is caused by your pores getting clogged with dirt, oil and dead skin and getting infected by bacteria (cutibacterium acnes). Acne is a common condition that affects about 10% of the world’s population. [1] Many dermatologists in Singapore say that acne is a largely harmless condition but they indeed can affect your appearance and self-esteem. Let us, at Cambridge Therapeutic, tell you more about the causes for acne. It will help you understand the root cause and tackle the issue better.

Causes of Acne

Hormonal Imbalance

This is probably one of the most common causes of acne amongst women. It occurs during during the childbearing age and also during menopause. During these times, the hormone levels in the body fluctuates.

Firstly, women can get acne when nearing their periods and during pregnancy due to hormones. This is due to the higher levels of testosterone and lower levels of estrogen in the body. High testosterone levels trigger the skin to produce more oil than usual. Also, high levels of progesterone, which maintains the uterus lining and breastfeeding, can cause the pores to trap oil easily. So together with the increase in oil production and the pores trapping more oil, it can cause quite a nasty breakout. [2]

Menopause is another culprit of acne. During menopause, similar to periods, there will be lower levels of estrogen and higher levels of testosterone. Moreover, as you grow older, the skin cannot regenerate as well as before, leading to longer healing times of acne and acne scars.

The Food You Eat

Junk food

Eating a lot of sugary and processed food can cause a breakout due to the role of insulin in the body. Carbohydrates and refined foods increase your blood sugar levels in your body. Your body produces insulin to convert the blood sugar into energy which will be stored until used. However, when the excess energy is not used, the body becomes insulin resistant. To tackle that resistance, the body will produce even more insulin to convert the blood sugar. The more refined food you eat and less energy used, the more insulin produced. [3]

Apart from the risk of diabetes, higher levels of insulin stimulates oil production on the skin which in turn becomes a breeding ground for the acne bacteria. Insulin can also lead to higher production of male hormones which can worsen the condition.


While there is no clear-cut gene that causes acne, it is observed that acne highly hereditary. Meaning that if someone in your family has acne, it can explain why you could be having acne too. Acne susceptible skin runs in the family where it gets easily clogged and overproduces oil. It makes it easier for the acne bacteria to infect your clogged pores and create those blemishes.


Stress, be it chronic or acute, can trigger a breakout. This is because, when we are stressed, our body produces stress hormones. These stress hormones cause a number of changes in your body, for instance, your heart beats faster and you become more alert. However, these stress hormones can also trigger your skin to produce more oil. The hormones can also trigger inflammation on the skin which can worsen pre-existing acne conditions. If you suffer more chronic stress, your breakouts can appear more frequently, last longer and take a longer time to heal. [1]

Stress can also indirectly trigger a breakout. You may get into a habit of touching your face or picking the acne when you are stressed, which introduces more dirt in your already clogged pores. This is will cause acne scars, which can be a bigger problem to deal with. You may also sometimes skip in your routine skin care, eat more unhealthy food or sleep less when you are stressed.

Stressed woman

Pore Clogging substances

Sometimes, the skin care you are using is causing a breakout. They can contain certain ingredients to give it a nicer texture, viscosity or fragrance, but in reality, can stick to your skin and clog up the pores. And even if products say that they do not clog pores, some of them still actually do due to the presence of these ingredients. You may need to ask your dermatologist in Singapore what are some of these ingredients you need to look out for. Some examples include coconut oil and algae extract.

If you are someone who regularly wears makeup, you can also get a breakout. Wearing makeup alone will not trigger the acne, but rather leaving it on for extended periods of time will get it. The makeup covers up your pores and does not allow them to breathe. Moreover, if you do not remove all the makeup properly, it can also trigger a breakout as the makeup remnants can accumulate on the skin.

Bad Habits

Simple acts like constantly touching your face can cause a breakout. You will be introducing new dirt and bacteria onto your face which will cause acne to pop out. Not having a proper skin care routine will also lead to a breakout as you are not washing away excess dirt and oil from your skin. Smoking too increases your risk as the exposure to the smoke and chemicals will clog up the pores and dry up the skin. 

These are the causes and triggers for your acne problems. Knowing what could be the cause can help you tackle the root cause of the issue. While you try to make lifestyle changes and foster good habits, if you need extra help in managing your acne and scars, contact us here.

  1. Tan, J. K., & Bhate, K. (2015). A global perspective on the epidemiology of acne. British Journal of Dermatology172, 3-12.
  2. https://www.healthline.com/health/beauty-skin-care/hormonal-acne
  3. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/foods-that-cause-acne


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