The Science Behind Acne: What Causes It and How To Treat It

Discover the science behind acne, its causes, and effective treatment options in this comprehensive article. Understand the biology of acne, including the overproduction of oil and irregular shedding of dead skin cells. Explore external factors that can worsen acne, such as diet and stress. Learn about over-the-counter and prescription treatment options, including retinoids and antibiotics. Gain insights on managing acne and consult a dermatologist for personalized guidance.

Medriva Correspondents
New Update

The Science Behind Acne: Unraveling the Causes and Exploring Treatment Options


Acne is a common skin condition that affects people of all ages, with teenagers and young adults being the most frequent sufferers. Despite its prevalence, the root causes of acne and its effective treatment options remain a mystery to many. This article delves into the science behind acne, its causes, and how it can be treated.

Understanding Acne: A Brief Overview

Acne, medically known as Acne Vulgaris, is a skin condition that occurs when your hair follicles become plugged with oil and dead skin cells. It often leads to whiteheads, blackheads, or pimples, and usually appears on the face, forehead, upper back, shoulders, and chest.


Biology of Acne: The Underlying Causes

Acne occurs when the sebaceous glands attached to the hair follicles are stimulated at the time of puberty or due to other hormonal changes. Here are the primary biological factors that contribute to acne:

  1. Overproduction of oil (sebum): An increase in androgen levels, a type of hormone, leads to the enlargement of oil glands under your skin. These enlarged glands produce an excess amount of oil.
  2. Irregular shedding of dead skin cells: This irregular shedding leads to irritation of the hair follicles in your skin.
  3. Buildup of bacteria: Excess sebum and dead skin cells create a suitable environment for Propionibacterium acnes, a bacteria that resides on the skin, to multiply uncontrollably.

These factors lead to the formation of lesions or pimples. There are different types of lesions, including whiteheads, blackheads, papules, pustules, nodules, and cysts, each varying in appearance and severity.

External Factors Impacting Acne

Besides the biological causes, certain external factors can also exacerbate acne. These include:

  • Diet: Certain dietary factors, including dairy products and carbohydrate-rich foods ó such as bread, bagels, and chips ó may trigger acne.
  • Stress: Stress doesn't cause acne, but if you have acne already, stress may make it worse.
  • Certain medications: Examples include drugs containing corticosteroids, testosterone or lithium.

Treatment Options for Acne

Over-the-counter (OTC) medications are often the initial treatment for mild acne. These include topical creams, gels, and lotions that you apply directly to your skin. They work by killing bacteria, reducing inflammation, or promoting the skin to peel.


If OTC treatments aren't effective, a dermatologist may recommend prescription medications, such as:

  1. Retinoids: These are derived from vitamin A and work by preventing the plugging of hair follicles.
  2. Antibiotics: They work by reducing bacteria and inflammation in the skin.
  3. Oral contraceptives: They can help balance hormones, reducing the severity of acne for some women.
  4. Isotretinoin: A potent medication for severe, cystic acne that hasn't responded to other treatments.

Conclusion: Understanding and Managing Acne

Acne is a complex skin condition influenced by a myriad of factors, including hormones, bacteria, certain dietary habits, and stress levels. While there's no outright cure for acne, understanding its root causes can help manage the condition better. With various OTC and prescription treatments available, it's possible to control acne effectively. However, it's essential to consult with a dermatologist or a healthcare provider for a treatment plan tailored to your specific needs.

Dermatology Skin Health Hormonal Changes Acne Acne Treatments