There’s a common misconception that things outside the body — like diet, beauty products, environment, and medications — are the main causes of acne. While those things can certainly contribute, what if we told you that the problem likely isn’t your habits or your environment? In reality, the most common causes of breakouts are already inside of us. So instead of looking for what might be causing your acne from the outside, it might be worth looking inward, at the chemicals inside your body for answers.
We know hormone imbalances — like those that occur in endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) patients — can cause breakouts unrelated to the acne-causing culprits around you. But sometimes, the cause of your acne is in your genes. You heard that right — you just might have your parents to blame (at least somewhat, anyway) for your dermatology dilemma.
How can my DNA cause acne?
Think back to middle school biology class. You get half of your genes from each of your parents, which sets the chemical framework for your growth and development. This is how you end up with one parent’s eyes and another parent’s hair. This is also how you end up with your susceptibility to acne. Heredity plays a role in the way a person’s body adjusts to hormonal changes, from puberty to stress to medications. Everyone’s chemical makeup is unique, so symptoms of these changes will vary from person to person. Sometimes, though, that adjustment may include acne. This can be attributed to genetics.
But it’s not only chemical adjustments in the body that can lead to genetic acne. Sometimes, it’s simply the skin you inherited. The epidermis — the outermost layer of your skin — excretes a combination of oils and waxy substances called sebum to protect the skin against all the irritants it comes in contact with every day (sunlight, bacteria, friction, and more). Studies have linked genetic makeup to the amount of sebum a person’s epidermis produces, which could contribute to a person’s acne. There might not be an “acne gene,” but the amount of sebum your skin produces — a characteristic inherited from your parents — could make you more likely to break out.
If both of my parents have acne, am I doomed?
Not necessarily. Nearly everyone experiences some form of acne in their lifetime, but the degree to which they experience it differs from person to person. For example, in the same study, identical twins who had the same exact sebum production rate didn’t always have the same level of acne. This suggests that genetic levels of sebum production can cause a susceptibility to acne, but other factors also determine the severity of your breakouts.
Most times breakouts are pesky, but not much worry about. But if your parents’ acne is caused by a more serious underlying condition like thyroid imbalances or PCOS, you may want to monitor your own symptoms and seek professional care from a physician or gynecologist if you have any concerns.
So how do you treat genetic acne?
Just because some individuals’ genetic makeup makes them more susceptible to acne doesn’t mean their skin health is totally out of their control. Even if you are genetically predisposed to acne, you can still make healthy and informed lifestyle choices that will reduce your chances of breaking out.
You’ll want to focus on taking steps to slow sebum production, kill bacteria (perhaps by washing your face with antibacterial soap or taking antibiotics), and unclog pores (like cleansers with salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide). As always, if you’re worried about potentially adverse side effects or think you might need prescription-strength products for proper treatment, it’s always a good idea to seek professional advice. A dermatologist could help you pinpoint what exactly about your heredity is triggering breakouts and formulate a more focused skincare regimen for you.
At the end of the day, your parents may have contributed some susceptibility to your breakouts, but they don’t bear the sole responsibility for your acne. So the bad news is you can’t place all the blame on them, but the good news is that means you’re not doomed to relive your parents’ acne nightmares, either!