Group of friends with diverse skin types all susceptible to acne

Who Gets Acne?

About 80% of the people on our planet will experience acne at some point. But exactly why does acne strike — and when? Why do some people seem more prone to breakouts, while others escape relatively pimple free? Is it possible to determine who gets acne? We’re answering all your acne questions.


3 minute read

We’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating: acne is human. Unique to our species, as a matter of fact. But that’s where the rarity ends — because the vast majority of people on this planet (around 80%, actually) will encounter the skin condition at some point in their lives.

But exactly why does acne strike — and when? Why do some people seem more prone to breakouts, while others escape relatively pimple free? We’re answering all your acne questions.

Why do people get acne?

Breakouts are caused by clogged pores: when skin’s natural oils, plus dirt and dead skin cells, get trapped within a pore or group of pores. An open clog can oxidize and form a blackhead, while a closed clog remains covered with a thin layer of skin as a whitehead. This is called non-inflammatory acne, and if you’ve got skin, it can happen to you.

Sometimes, a common skin bacteria called P acnes gets trapped in the mix, creating a more intense skin reaction known as inflammatory acne: papules, pustules, nodules and cysts. Surprisingly, scientists know relatively little about why some people get more clogged pores, or seem more susceptible to acne-causing bacteria.

Why do teens get more acne?

One of the key factors in acne formation is increased sebum, or oil production. Higher levels of oil on the skin simply increase your chances of having clogged pores and in turn, acne. Because teens are more likely to have oily skin due to hormonal changes, they’re more likely to have acne. And since testosterone stimulates sebum production, teenage boys tend to have more acne than teen girls.

Is acne genetic?

Scientists believe that acne is ultimately caused by a complex interplay between four main factors:

  • Genetics: if your parents had/have acne, your chances increase.
  • Hormones: fluctuations can lead to breakouts in teens and adults.
  • Environment: damage from UV rays and pollution can leave skin more susceptible to acne.
  • Lifestyle: stress, diet, sleep habits and skincare choices all factor into your skin health.

Why do some adults still get acne?

Post-puberty breakouts are becoming more and more common with both women and men. Though no one is exactly sure why, it may be related to the stress and pollution of our modern world.

Hormones likely play a role: as testosterone fluctuates, acne can appear. In women, this is most often related to their monthly cycle or menopause, whereas in men, it could be any number of factors affecting testosterone levels.

What’s the best way to treat acne?

Controlling excess oil and keeping pores clear are two essential ways to manage acne. There are several active ingredients that dermatologists recommend:

  • Salicylic acid: this beta hydroxy acid exfoliates and unclogs pores, helping to prevent blackheads and whiteheads. Find it in SLMD Salicylic Acid Cleanser, a powerful face wash that’s gentle enough for everyday use. For body, fan favorite Salicylic Acid Body Spray features a 360º sprayer to reach all of your acne prone areas.
  • Benzoyl peroxide: a powerful active that kills acne causing bacteria while calming inflammation. For inflammatory acne on the face, try SLMD Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Lotion. For below-the-neck breakouts, BP Body Wash is a maximum strength formula that’s suitable for daily use.
  • Sulfur: a natural mineral with antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that also helps exfoliate and absorb excess oil.
  • Retinol: derived from vitamin A, it promotes cell turnover, which helps keep pores clear and minimizes hyperpigmentation. Try it in SLMD Retinol Resurfacing Serum, a time-release formula that also contains hyaluronic acid and allantoin to soothe skin.

To manage chronic breakouts, try SLMD Acne System, which contains proven acne-fighters combined in a simple, 3 step system.

For body breakouts, try the two-step SLMD Body Acne System.

Dr. Lee’s last word

Acne is by far the most common skin condition we dermatologists treat. I always remind patients that it’s not life threatening — but I understand how disruptive it can be. Our first line of defense is to start a regimen containing over-the-counter actives and follow it consistently (that’s the key). In more stubborn cases, we can try a variety of prescription topicals, as well as oral medications. Remember to be patient and kind to your skin, and be reassured that acne can be managed.

—Dr. Sandra Lee


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