Beauty & Skincare

What Causes Acne Breakouts?

Acne breakouts can be quite frustrating and irritating to your skin if there is no proper care given. They can be due to hormones, age, food, stress, using the wrong skincare products and many more. In this blog, I will be sharing my Top 8 reasons that has caused me breakouts and how I identified them as the culprits. No. 7 surprised me a little!

#1 Hormones
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During menstruation, the level of male hormone called testosterone is higher than female hormones like oestrogen and progesterone. This causes sebaceous glands to go into overdrive and produce even more sebum. The overproduction of sebum can lead to clogged pores and build up of dead skin cells. This creates good environment for bacteria growth and eventually causes acne.

No kidding. When it is almost the time of the month, I could feel my pores produce more oil and I have to do prepare myself by fight against acne breakouts. Or when there is a sudden breakout, I would guess if my period is coming.

#2 Diet


Food that causes my skin to breakout are diary, oily fried food, spicy food, excessive carbs especially white bread and sugary food. Dairy and sugary food are a bit tricky for me as I prefer milk in my coffee or tea and I am sweet tooth. Moderation is key. My skin is fine if I only indulge these foods once in a while like milk, cheese, ice cream, pizza, doughnuts and the list goes on… Another thing is dehydration! Consuming food that are high in sodium or not drinking enough water will cause acne breakouts too.

#3 Sleep Deprivation and Stress
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I put these two reasons together as they have similar causes. I realise when I did not get enough sleep or when I am stressed out, my skin tends to get oily. After reading some article, cortisol a.k.a. the stress hormone increases when you sleep late or less. High level of this hormone will cause overproduction of sebum which results in acne and inflammation. A study also suggested poor sleeping habits will increase insulin resistance. Glucose or sugar level will then increase in the body which is another cause of acne. This explains why I always get breakouts during stressful exam period.

#4 Skincare Products
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Trying new skincare products that are not suitable for my skin will cause me breakout too even though some might claim to be suitable for acne-prone skin. Every skin is different so I recommend doing a patch test on your wrist or a part of your face first. Read and identify the ingredients of the product that has a high chance to cause acne. Some ingredients that my skin reacts to are heavy oils like coconut oil or almond oil and few types of essential oils. They will clog my pores and cause acne.

Your skin might also experience purging after trying a new product which is different from breakouts. Purging basically means your skin will breakout while it is trying to adjust and get use to the new product. If your skin does not get better over 4 weeks, ditch that product!

Michelle from Labmuffin shares good information about purging and the difference with a reactive breakout very. Click here to read or watch her video.

#5 Hygiene


I notice some bad habits has caused me to have breakouts. For example, not changing my pillow case after a week, resting my head on my hand, touching or cleansing my face without washing my hands. Therefore, I always make sure I clean my hands with soap and change my pillow case often.

#6 Makeup

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I am not really good in makeup and I always go for a natural look. However, sometimes, I would like to doll up myself for a change with pink blushes, highlighter and contour. As a result, I got small pimples especially around my cheek area whenever I apply blush. This scares me a little and I only own one blush in my vanity which caused me to breakout. For now, I am not so willing to try other products yet. Any recommendations for blushes that are suitable for acne-prone skin?

#7 Hand creams!

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I had a breakout recently and I was thinking really hard what caused it as I did not change anything in my skincare routine or lifestyle until I read an article saying that hand cream causes breakout. It then got me realised I have been using my mom’s hand cream! I looked up the ingredients of the hand cream and it contains essential oil. This is good for my dry hands but not for my face as it clogs my pores and causes breakouts. My other hand creams also contain essential oil and shea butter that will clog my pores. This is quite annoying as I use hand cream to bed sometimes. Nevertheless, I have been trying to be more careful for not touching my face after applying hand cream.

Click here to see pore clogging ingredients found in beauty products. Can’t entirely avoid all of these ingredients? You should try to or completely avoid those that are highly comodegenic such as acetylated lanolin, algae extract, almond oil, coconut oil, benzaldehyde, butyl stearate, D & C Red, isopropyl palmitate, lauric acid, linseed oil, sodium lauryl sulfate, soybean oil, stearic acid, wheat germ oil, shea butter and xylene.

#8 Travel
Hot humid climate can cause acne breakouts

I love travelling but apparently my skin does not really like it. It can be due to the long flights, change in climate, food, stress, environment, polluted air and many more other possibilities. I will share how I try to prevent acne breakouts while travelling in a later post. Stay tuned!

My final thoughts

After years of experience since my teens, these are my most obvious causes to acne breakouts but do take note that every skin is different. I have friends who consume dairy products everyday, went through exams, wear heavy makeup and their skin still looks amazing. It is important that you pay attention to your lifestyle and routine to find your personal acne breakout culprits so that you can do preventive measures. However, after trying your best to do all that and what not, sometimes, one or two pimples will still pop out unexpectedly. This is normal and please do not be too stressed out. One little pimple should not ruin your mood or day because you are beautiful no matter what. 🙂

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Thanks for reading!

Disclaimer: I am not a dermatologist or a qualified cosmetic chemist. The information I provide in this blog is purely based on my experience and knowledge, therefore, I cannot guarantee the information is error-free. I welcome feedback for any misleading information so feel free to contact me or comment below. I hold copyrights use of the images and content of this blog unless credited otherwise.  


2 thoughts on “What Causes Acne Breakouts?

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