When I started breaking out for the first time ever in my mid-20s, my mental health went downhill fast. Not only was I not a teenager when I had the worst acne of my life, but I was totally inexperienced with it and had no idea where to start when it came to treating it. I tried every over-the-counter product I could get my hands on, but spot treatments and OTC retinol didn’t do it for me.
Whether you’re experiencing acne for the first time or if you’ve been dealing with it for decades, you have options. First, start by identifying what type of breakout you’re experiencing. Knowing how and where different types of acne appear can help give you a better understanding of how to heal them. From there, you can try over-the-counter products or, depending on severity and frequency, seek a prescription from a dermatologist. Read on to learn about the different types of breakouts, how to clear them, and what to do when those first pesky zits appear.
What Triggers Acne?
Before diving in, it’s important to know what acne actually is. “Acne is a common chronic inflammatory condition,” explains Dr. Naana Boakye, M.D., founder of Bergen Dermatology, “that occurs in the pilosebaceous unit, which is the hair follicle and sebaceous gland.”
The exact causes of acne are complex and specific to individuals. Research is still being done around acne, and the medical understanding of what causes it is still evolving, but Boakye explains that, by and large, acne is usually rooted in “excess sebum, an excess of bacteria, an increase in inflammatory markers, and proliferation of the skin cells.”
It’s important to manage your expectations when seeking help for acne. Because everyone is different, all treatments and causes will be different. While there’s no one-size-fits-all cause, treatment, or trigger for acne, Boakye points out the most common triggers below.
Genetics: “This is very complicated,” says Boakye. “Certain hormones such as excessive amounts of testosterone and progesterone can trigger acne. It is also important to look at estrogen, insulin, and cortisol levels when ovulating.”
Hormones: Hormonal acne is essentially adult acne that can occur anywhere on the body around [patients’] menstrual cycles,” says Dr. Corey L. Hartman, M.D., founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology. Hormonal acne can look like whiteheads, blackheads, papules, or pustules. “Oftentimes, patients see a full stop in [hormonal] acne or a great reduction, with prescription, topical, and, sometimes, oral medication,” says Hartman.