Causes of Acne – How To Get Rid of Acne Series

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This is Part 2 of How To Get Rid of Acne series. It talks about my story and thought process, main causes of acne, six key mistakes I made, my tips for getting clear skin, and, finally, my complete morning and evening skincare routine.

According to Medical News Today, “three quarters of 11 to 30 year olds will get acne at some time”. That’s a terrifying number. What are we doing so terribly wrong? Many things. In fact, most things. Let me explain why.

If you ask different people what causes acne, you will probably get completely different answers. If you ask a doctor, they will probably say it’s all about hormones and genetics. If you ask a naturopath, food and lifestyle will probably be blamed. A cosmetologist will probably say that you are using the wrong skincare and will try to sell you something new. 

We all feel deep down what triggers or aggravates our acne. However, sometimes we try to shush that little voice inside as listening to it could mean having to make difficult choices – changing the way we eat, live our lives, deal with stress, even what kind of people are around us, etc. 

With this post I would like to share with you what I’ve learned about acne triggers from observing and analysing my own body, as well as from extensive research over the years. Some causes might be very well known, and some might surprise you and make you think.

The body is a complex organism and things are connected in more ways than we (or doctors) know or would like to believe. So treat it as a whole – no point in treating separate symptoms while the body is dealing with a systemic issue. 

We All Know What Causes Acne – Or at Least We Would Like to Believe So

Some causes are very well documented and we all seem to be aware of them. For example:

  • Stress – no doubt that stress increases the levels of cortisol and adrenaline, which in turn increases sebum production and causes acne. We all know that we should exercise regularly and find time for relaxation to try and combat stress. But just as important is healthy eating – excessive carbs/sugar make your body react inadequately to even the smallest problems in daily life. Try eating well and you’ll be amazed at your newly found calmness.
  • Genetics – scientists believe that some people are more prone to get acne than others, and that acne usually runs in families. I say it’s more inherited sensitivity to certain foods, insulin or simply skin that’s more sensitive. The cause could also be an “inherited” approach to food and cooking in general. I am generally not a big fan of blaming different health issues on genetics. For example, if everyone in your family has diabetes, you might be more prone to it but, if you change your lifestyle and start eating healthily, you will likely stay healthy. The same applies to many other issues. Sometimes we look for an easy way out and blame something rather than take the responsibility to our own hands, don’t you think?
  • Sex hormones – women generally complain of worsening acne a week or two before that “time of the month” and during pregnancy. The Pill seems to help some, and makes things worse for others. There is also talk about teenage acne being caused by an increase in male hormone androgen during puberty. In my case, I never noticed any connection with my menstrual cycle – my acne always depended more on what the weather was like, what I did to my skin or what I ate. Moreover, sexual hormones aren’t the only hormones at play in our bodies – there are others that aren’t so publicly linked to acne (or at least not until very recently).

How About Chemicals We Put On Our Bodies Daily? 

A while ago, I read about the garlic experiment and I will never be able to look at all kinds of lotions and potions in the same way ever again. Of course, most of us are aware that whatever we put on our skin gets absorbed by the skin. Think of the contraceptive sticker, the nicotin sticker for smokers, etc. 

But have you ever heard of the garlic experiment? Try it out at home and you’ll be shocked. Take a clove of garlic and rub your soles with it – in an hour’s time you will feel taste of garlic in your mouth. If even the humble and natural garlic can travel into the blood stream so easily, think what all those lotions, foundations, chemical sunscreens etc. can cause! 

The moisturizer paradox – the more you use it, the drier your skin is going to feel, and the more you are going to need it.  

The chemicals that are generally used in skincare, such as silicones, glycerin, petrolatum/mineral oil, etc. might make your skin feel smooth and hydrated for a short time but in the long term your skin will get progressively drier and you will be consuming more and more of it. It’s a bit like a drug for your skin.

Companies are smart and they know how to maximise their earnings – if they made products that solved your skin issues, you would need fewer products and would be spending less.

So what do you think is the best way to ensure a steady flow of earnings? Making you hooked!

Think of conventional chapsticks – your lips feel divine as soon as you apply it, but 30 minutes later you’ll be reaching for it again. Try to use a completely natural lip balm with healing oils and you will find that your lips feel perfectly fine even if you forget to apply it. It works for hours. 

Covering up only to have more to cover up tomorrow?

I’ve been there and I know how tempting it is. However, letting your skin breathe freely is priceless. At least purchase natural mineral makeup, preferably without bismuth oxychloride – it is a known cause of acne for some and can cause very uncomfortable itching for others (me included). Look for makeup based on zinc oxide – not only will it smooth out your complexion but will heal your acne as well. Lily Lolo is my favourite – great prices, quality and colours.

Is Dairy Really As Bad As It Is Painted To Be?

Numerous data points to dairy, and, above all, cow milk when talking about causes of acne. I certainly agree with some of it.

At some point, when we were still vegetarian, we got into bodybuilding. Getting enough protein was quite challenging, so we ended up eating fat-free quark a lot – obviously my skin took a massive hit a month later. 

However, I don’t blame all dairy products. If you make smart choices, you can enjoy some dairy without complications (of course if you aren’t dairy intolerant). Here’s my advice: 

  1. Never go for fat-free products – when fat is taken out, the concentration of everything else increases. So you end up ingesting more antibiotics, more lactose, etc. And in general fat is good for you! 
  2. Go for mature cheese (preferably goat or sheep) – the more mature the cheese is, the less lactose (natural sugar) remains. I suspect that the high content of lactose (or insulin triggered by it) is the real reason why dairy is blamed for acne.
  3. Yoghurt is great – go for full-fat Greek yoghurt, and avoid fruity yoghurt at all costs – there is so much sugar in it that it overrides all the benefits of the yohurt itself. Simply put some fresh fruit inside.
  4. If you can get hold of raw dairy, grab it and don’t let it go!  

 Could Insulin Be The Real Cause of Your Acne?

Recent studies have all pointed to a diet high in glycemic diet foods as an important cause of acne. However, when we think of high glycemic foods, we typically think of white sugar or fizzy drinks. Their effects are of course devastating. But there are others that could also play havoc with insulin in our bodies:

  • All kinds of grains, including wholegrains.
  • Starchy foods (especially white potatoes).
  • Additives in our food (e.g. flavour enhancers – monosodium glutamate)
  • Fruit – watch yourself closely. It might be worth limiting or omitting fruit at all at the beginning to see if it helps your skin. For me, fruit is definitely a massive trigger – I have to be very careful.
  • Alcohol – ethanol is nothing else but sugar, and raises insulin just as much as everything else in the list. 

 Your Body Is A Well-Oiled Machine – Let It Be 

And by this I mean that all the hormones in our bodies are working together beautifully – if we interfere by ingesting chemical hormones, i.e. the Pill, the delicate balance will be disturbed. After I stopped taking the Pill, I noticed that I was able to tolerate fruit much better and my sugar levels weren’t spiking up as much. However, it may take up to six months to complete the re-balancing process – don’t expect instant results. Trust me, it’s worth it!

Please check out the video below, which I made on this topic. It briefly touches on all five subjects. 

What do you think of my list of causes? Have you found anything else that triggers or makes your acne worse? Do you agree with the causes I have mentioned? 

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  1. Sabrina Saer says

    I have a question, I take supplements (vitamin D, digestive enzymes and one of those Green + complete, that have a little bit of everything). Do you think this is necessary? You said something very true, which is that our bodies are well-oiled machines and we should not interfere by ingesting chemicals and such, the vitamins i take are supposed to be natural.
    Thanks 🙂

    • I used to be a purist and never really took any kind of supplements all of my life. Look where that got me to. 🙂 Now I’m taking natural supplements and feeling better and better. In theory, our bodies should work like well oiled machines, but the reality is that we all got lots of antibiotics, preservatives, tons of sugar, and all kinds of things that have disrupted our gut flora, digestion, etc. So I don’t think anymore that just eating healthily is enough to re-establish that balance. Natural supplements can be a great help. xx

      • Sabrina Saer says

        You’re so right.. thank you so much!
        Also, I purchased black garlic after watching your video.. but for the life of me I can’t figure out how to incorporate it to my meals.. just like regular garlic? I tend to eat raw garlic sometimes (I know i’m weird, but it tastes so good!) could I do that with black garlic?
        I also read that you use an exfoliating glove to shower, and no soap. I also use no soap and I honestly want to simplify everything more and stop using different DIY body scrubs. Would using a hemp cloth provide good exfoliation? What kind of glove do you have?
        Thanks again 🙂

        • Hi Sabrina, so sorry about such a late reply! I actually just put the black garlic in my salads or blend it with any kind of salad dressings, or simply eat it alone. It’s delicious! I love eating raw garlic as well. You aren’t weird. 🙂 I guess a hemp cloth would be perfect. My glove is a similar material as jerry cloth, but slightly softer. It’s perfect for daily use. I suppose a hemp cloth would be similar. xx

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