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What are the Main Causes of Acne in Adults?

Sep 23, 2022
Woman with Acne

“I’m so embarrassed to let others see me without makeup.”

“I’m too old to have such bad skin.”

“I feel like I’m at war with my skin.”

“I hate how gross my skin feels.”

If you’re at your wit’s end struggling with acne, you’re not alone.

Wanting clear, radiant skin is not a vanity issue. Acne or any other skin irritation is often a sign that something deeper is going on. Acne is an inside job.

Getting to the root of the problem rather than using medications like birth control or Accutane is key to addressing acne once and for all.

Individuals are often given Accutane or similar harsh treatments that may help temporarily, but also can pose more harm than good long term.


1. Elevated testosterone levels
Testosterone is a key hormone that’s closely linked to acne. Women with higher testosterone levels have a significantly higher conversion rate to dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a more potent androgen that leads to increased sebum production, blocked pores and acne.

2. Elevated cortisol levels.
During stressful situations, the brain releases a hormone called corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) which tells the adrenals to release cortisol to help us cope with the stress. CRH binds to its receptors on our skin cells, which encourages oil production, and in turn, contributes to the development of acne.

3. Gut imbalances.
So many aspects of gut health can contribute to acne. If digestion isn’t optimal, (think constipation, diarrhea, bloating, gas), it can feed an imbalance microbiome and produce and overgrowth of pro-inflammatory gut bugs. Less than optimal digestion can also make us more susceptible to the persistence of certain infections. Low helpful flora can also lead to more inflammation. All of these factors can be underneath persistent acne.

4. Food sensitivities.
Acne-inducing inflammation and insulin resistance are known to be caused by a high sugar diet, whilst the digestion of dairy can produce an insulin-like hormone known as IGF-1 which can cause breakouts.

5. Nutrient deficiencies.
Vitamin A, vitamin D, omega-3 essential fatty acids, and zinc are all vital nutrients for skin health. They play different roles in skin regeneration, lowering inflammation, and maintaining cell membrane elasticity and structural integrity. A lack of any of these nutrients can contribute to acne.

6. A sluggish liver.
When the liver is not functioning efficiently, there can be a backup of pro-inflammatory chemicals in the body that can aggravate acne.


While I always recommend working one-on-one with a trained practitioner so that you can pinpoint exactly WHY you’re struggling with acne and create a customized treatment plan, there are several natural therapeutic options.

Potential natural therapeutic options include:

Since acne is mostly an inside job, many foods can lead to more irritated or inflamed skin. While it can be different for everyone, common inflammatory foods to avoid include processed foods, simple carbohydrates, dairy, trans fats, and fried foods. Focus on including lots of veggies, fruit, nuts, seeds, fish, clean proteins, and tubers.

Open the emunctories (organs that help to carry off the body’s waste)
This includes sweating, bowel movements, moving circulation/blood + lymph flow, and increasing hydration/elimination through the kidneys. This can be different for every individual.

Clean Products
Step 1: Check skin products are not harmful by checking them out on Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep. I aim for Level 3 or less on the toxicity scale.

Step 2: Make sure your skin isn’t irritated. I love the service Begins With Skin offers. They’ve found clean and effective products and categorized them based on skin type.

Step 3: Try samples before you commit. It costs $ to try out all this stuff right?

Supplements / Nutrients (ask your practitioner before starting any supplements)
Vitamins A, E, C, B6, zinc, selenium, chromium, prebiotics, probiotics all can potentially support optimal skin health.

A well-rounded treatment plan takes work to implement, but it’s worth it.

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