Why You’re Breaking Out – 3 Facts and 3 Myths

Everybody experiences the occasional pimple but tracing its cause can be difficult. People, especially women, consume a lot of information about how to achieve perfect skin, but some of this information is more fiction than fact. What you think is causing your pimple may actually be a false claim perpetuated by health bloggers and social media influencers. Below, we’ve outlined three facts and three myths to help you get to the bottom of that obnoxious breakout.

Fact 1: You have pimples because you’re young.

It’s true: younger people develop acne more often than adults. However, this is especially true for women, and sebum, the oily substance that produces acne flare-ups, is likely to blame. In men, sebum production remains stable with increasing age, meaning they are just as likely to develop acne as adults as they are teenagers. This is different for women. Sebum production in women’s skin progressively decreases with age. While this means women will have a higher chance of developing dry skin, they have a lower risk of developing acne.

Young women tend to get acne earlier than men for precisely this reason. If your skin has been breaking out consistently, it may be due to your age. Take comfort in the fact that your skin will eventually clear while your male classmates’ will stay consistent regardless of age. That said, if you have chronic acne past your 20’s, you should consider visiting a medical dermatologist for treatment.

Fact 2: You’re experiencing hormonal changes.

Sebum production alters with hormonal fluctuations, which means these changes can cause or clear acne. Both men and women can be affected by certain imbalances, including insulin, steroids, growth hormones, and adrenaline. Men are more likely to experience testosterone imbalances, while women are more likely to experience estrogen and progesterone level changes.

Several events in a woman’s life can cause these imbalances. This includes but is not limited to puberty, childbirth, menopause, and a monthly menstruation period. If you are experiencing any of these phenomena, it may be what’s causing your breakouts.

Fact 3: You used an abrasive product.

Female skin is slightly thinner than male skin, which means abrasive products are more likely to cause an adverse reaction in female bodies. Most product studies fail to consider sex differences between men and women, which means many skin products are designed for male skin as a default. The physical exfoliator or facial scrub you used probably isn’t designed to account for your naturally thinner skin, so it could be causing your breakout. If you suspect this is the case, cut down abrasive product usage as much as possible and monitor the changes.

Myth 1: You didn’t wash the dirt off your face after spending time outside.

Unless you are experiencing acne mechanica, or acne triggered by friction from clothing, acne develops from inside the skin, not from the outside. Blackheads and whiteheads form when the skin produces too much oil, clogging itself with sebum, bacteria, and skin cells. Dirt and general grime will not cause acne because it does not contribute to pore clogging. 

Myth 2: You only washed your face once. More is better.

In this case, just the opposite is true. Washing your face too much can rob your skin of the natural oils it produces. This, in turn, promotes excess sebum production, which can increase your acne development. Harsh scrubs, exfoliating agents, and toners with an alcohol base should be used sparingly to protect your skin’s natural oil production. In general, wash your face with a mild cleaner twice each day, using spot treatments in the evening if you have breakouts.

Myth 3: You ate too much chocolate.

The link between food and acne, especially the link between chocolate and acne, is extremely tenuous. There are no studies linking chocolate to acne development. That said, we do know that diets high in both sugar and fat can increase sebum production, which can cause inflammatory acne. If a person eats only foods high in fat and sugar, they are more likely to see pimple development, but the causal relationship is difficult to prove. The sugar in chocolate may cause a very small, temporary insulin change, but this won’t be enough to cause a pimple. Go forth and eat as much chocolate as you want!