Acne 101: Unraveling Fact vs Fiction (Part 1)

Acne 101: Unraveling Fact vs Fiction (Part 1)

Acne is a common skin condition that affects millions of people worldwide. It can be frustrating, and even embarrassing, but understanding how acne forms and the common root causes is the first step in taking control of your skin health. In this post, we'll find out what science actually says about acne and learn more about what's happening underneath the surface.

What even is acne?

Acne is one of the most misunderstood skin conditions around. Acne primarily refers to a disorder of the skin where the follicles become easily plugged & congested leading to the formation of various acne lesions (pimples) such as Blackheads, Cysts, Papules, etc. 

While anyone can develop acne at any age (yes, unfortunately acne is not just limited to the teen years like many would have you believe!), there is a difference between having truly acne-prone skin and having transient acne that resolves on its own. This is because acne is largely genetic, which means if there is a history of acne in your family, you will likely be more predisposed to developing acne (and sometimes more severe acne) compared to others who may simply have acne due to the use of the wrong products or other temporary factors such as hormonal fluctuations.

What causes acne?

The popular opinion for many years has been that acne is caused by overly oily skin, not cleansing enough, and the shedding of too many skin cells leading to congestion. While this continues to be a popular way to view acne, it's not quite accurate. Newer research shows that the issues above are as a result of the actual cause of acne: Inflammation (both internally and in your skin). This Inflammation will often interact with other factors such as dietary triggers, the wrong skincare products, etc. and together result in acne.

Those with truly acne-prone skin have naturally over-reactive follicles that are triggered by any source of inflammation (e.g. comedogenic products, harsh/stripping products, hormones in skin, etc). This leads to them over-producing skin cells & oil and ultimately leads to acne forming.

How do I figure out what's causing my acne?

This tends to be the tricky part of getting clearer skin. Contrary to popular thought, there usually isn't just ONE factor that is causing your acne. It can be near impossible to narrow it down to one root cause so the best way to tackle your acne is to identify all possible triggers with the help of your skin professional and try to control each one to give your skin the best chance at clearing.

How does acne form?

Acne tends to follow a very predictable process. It's important to remember that the pimple you notice on your skin did not form overnight. It likely began as what's called a "micro-comedone". This means it started forming as a plug of dead skin cells & sebum (oil) under your skin undetected quite a while ago. This plug builds up over time and starts to become obvious on your skin as blackheads & whiteheads. Eventually, this build up will start to irritate the follicle more, leading to the more red & painful pimples (papules & pustules) we tend to see. In unhealthy skin (such as skin that has been over-exfoliated or is using harsh skincare products), your follicles are weaker and therefore easier to rupture. When the pressure from the plug inside the follicle builds up too much or you try to pop your pimple, you can actually rupture the follicle, allowing the contents inside to leak into the surrounding tissues. This combination of pus, bacteria, dead skin cells & oil cause further irritation to the tissues around your original pimple. This is typically when we tend to see things like cysts and nodules form.

Our skin operates on a bit of a lag; this means pimples you see now likely started forming 30-90 days before. This is why it's also so important to be patient during your acne-clearing journey. Changes made today will likely only start showing effects in about that same period of time. When you quit products early because you see a worsening or no change, you risk resetting your entire timeline and setting your skin progress back.

What are some common triggers for acne?

Acne is incredibly individual! Certain triggers may be huge for some people while they don't affect the next person at all. This is a huge reason I encourage clients not to rely on their friends' or familys' recommendations on skincare or other changes to make when trying to control acne. It's simply too individual to generalize treatment; what works for them may actually make your skin worse. While every trigger affects people differently, there are still some common triggers to watch out for that could make your acne worse:

  • Dairy: Dairy & Whey-based products contain a certain hormone that can make skin oilier & produce more skin cells which leads to increased congestion.
  • Skin Inflammation: This can be caused by use of stripping/harsh products like cleansers, over-exfoliating with acids or scrubs, chemical peels and other aggressive skin treatments such as lasers.
  • Stress: It seems common sense that stress impacts our health, but did you know it can have a huge effect on acne as well? Stress releases a certain hormone in our body that can absolutely wreak havoc in skin too.
  • Vitamins, Supplements & Greens: While certain supplements can have a helpful effect on skin, there are some common vitamins/supplements that are well known for worsening acne. The biggest culprits tend to be B6, B12, Biotin, Iodine & other seaweed based ingredients such as Spirulina. Always confirm with your doctor that you are actually deficient in certain vitamins before supplementing and when in doubt, opt to include more nutritious foods in your diet instead of over-relying on supplements & greens


In Part 2 of this topic, we'll review the best way to tackle and treat acne. When it comes to teasing out the triggers and causes of your acne, I always recommend working with a qualified, educated skin therapist who can guide you through the often tricky acne clearance journey. This in-depth monitoring and guidance is available through Cocoa Esthetiques' Full Program. If you're ready to get to the bottom of your acne, click above to learn more about what this program can look like for you.


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