It can be difficult to determine whether acne is caused by genetics or not. In this article, we will go over the basics of acne and genetics and what it means.

Firstly, did you know that your skin breakouts are likely not your fault?

Surprising, but true.

Your unexpected breakouts might come from something you were born with.

According to expert skin therapist Dr. Mark Lees, it’s your genetics that’s at play.

Here’s how it works:

Like a family heirloom, genetic traits are passed down to us from our parents. Hair color, eye color, risk for diseases, and even skin conditions like acne (1, 2).

Unlike family heirlooms, you can’t pawn or reject these traits. What you get from the genetic lottery, you keep for life.

So before you blame yourself (which you shouldn’t), let’s see if you have these genetic traits!

Excess sebum (Oily gals, rise up!)

A glass or two of wine a day is healthy—but chug down a bottle and it becomes waaay too much. We can say the same about sebum.

Sebum is a key ingredient in the complex cocktail of natural body oil (3).

With enough sebum, your skin is happily moisturized. One reason is that  sebum prevents water from escaping the skin (4).

When you have TOO MUCH  sebum, it leads to oilier skin. That’s something genetics brought in (2).

Yes, your overly oily skin is not your fault!

That’s because genes decide:

the amount of sebum you produce;

the size of your sebaceous glands; and,

the number of sebaceous glands you have.

So, if both your parents have oily skin—produce lots of sebum, have large and lots of sebaceous glands. Then you’ll likely have oily skin, too. That’s genetics for ya.

But the problem doesn’t end there.

What’s commonly linked to a lot of excess sebum? You guessed it—breakouts!

When left unmanaged, excess sebum can cause breakouts.

How? The sebum—acne connection is how.

Long version: an increased amount of sebum in the skin is directly correlated with the severity of an individual’s acne condition (2, 4).

Short version: more sebum = more acne.

That’s also why most people with genetically oily skin are acne-prone.

You might be thinking— “All that from excess sebum!?”

Well, the situation gets more interesting  with the next genetic trait.

Dead skin cells failing to shed off (Why u so stubborn tho?)

The skin’s outer layer—aka the epidermis—is where skin cells go to die. Yes, seriously!

We make skin cells in the lower layers of the epidermis (a layer with more layers—it’s a layer-ception!). Then, in 4 weeks, those cells make their way to the surface, where they fall off and die (5).

*ta-da* That’s the life cycle of skin cells! — eh, normally.

Sometimes, your dead skin cells can be so stubborn because instead of falling off, they  build up on the skin’s surface (2).

The result: flakeys, flakeys everywhere.

Not only are flakes annoying to handle (especially if you love powder foundation!). They can also be behind your unexpected breakouts.

Read on.

Dead skin cells buildup plus excess sebum clog the pores—creating the perfect environment—like a home sweet home—for acne bacteria to thrive.

This home is where little to no oxygen at all exists. Acne bacteria loves that ‘coz it’s anaerobic.[3]

And when the acne bacteria (small numbers already in the pores) get trapped in a no-air environment, they’ll multiply and create the blemishes we oh so despise.

While that’s obviously bad, the good news is…

There’s something you can do about it.

Mistakes when managing genetics for breakouts

The best place to start is by avoiding a few common mistakes. Avoid these and you’re well on your way to healthier, clearer skin.

Managing Excess Sebum

1. Over-washing

Cleansing your face is a must if you have excess sebum to manage.

The general rule is to cleanse twice a day.

At night to wash-off all the dirt, sunscreen, and makeup. And in the morning to wash-off left-overs from your PM skincare routine, plus the sweat and oils you produced overnight.

But it’s common for oily skin peeps to overdo it by cleansing more than twice a day. The urge to wash your face when you see it shining is hard to resist.

But please, resist it with all your might!

Why?

Over-washing your face will strip you of all your natural oils.

Yes, all—even the oils keeping your skin moisturized. When oil is stripped, your body starts producing even MORE sebum to lubricate and protect.

So keep the washing to twice a day max.

2. Using hot water

Stepping in a hot shower after being out in the cold is so nice. Especially in the winter. So relaxing!

While hot showers feel nice, it’s a straight up bad idea for your skin.

Here’s why: using hot water strips your face of its natural oils!

You know the drill—stripping natural oils dries out your face and urges your skin to produce more sebum.

So stay away from using hot water. If you really must, opt for warm showers and don’t stay under too long.

3. Using harsh cleansers

Cleansing twice a day is enough, yes. But you also need to pick the right cleanser for the job.

Is your current cleanser making your skin feel squeaky-clean and tight?

Then that cleanser might be too harsh.

Squeaky-clean usually means your skin has been stripped of all its natural oils. And that—say it with me—makes your skin dry and produce more sebum!

That effect is often thanks—in this case, no thanks—to harsh cleansing agents (like Sodium Lauryl Sulfate). They are too harsh for the face and even the body, at times.

Harsh cleansers also straight up damage the skin’s barrier function.

And let me tell you why that’s bad news.

Think of the skin’s barrier function as a shield.

It protects the skin from baddies like irritating and drying things. It also keeps all the goodies inside our skin, to keep it moisturized and healthy.

That shield gets destroyed when you use harsh cleansers.[4]

All the good bacteria that balance and keep the skin healthy, plus the moisture-locking oils disappear — which leaves your skin vulnerable to attack. So remember these things when picking your cleanser, deal?

Managing dead skin cells buildup

Exfoliation is your best friend against the flakeys. But some exfoliation methods are better than others.

1. Using physical exfoliators

Using a physical exfoliator means you’re manually removing dead skin cells.

You do this with the help of grainy-textured products (like facial scrubs).

By rubbing the exfoliating product on your face, the flakes cling to the grainy product and get removed. Exactly what you need for managing the flaking, right?  

Well, no.

Consider facial scrubs. This type of exfoliator typically uses microbeads.

Microbeads often come in uneven, jagged pieces.

Imagine rubbing that on your face. That’s a one-way ticket to cracked-skin[5] city. It gives me the shivers just imagining a piece of microbead tugging on a blemish. Yikes!

Okay, so what about other physical exfoliators?

Gentler options for this type of exfoliators are konjac sponges.

But even with these, it’s easy to get carried away, just because it looks and feels satisfying.

So be careful or you might pay for that satisfaction in the long run—when your skin finally shows the wear and tear of using physical exfoliators for years.

2. Not exfoliating

You’re already aware you have a genetic trait making dead skin cells buildup.

With that, not exfoliating is the last thing you should do.

Without a big ‘ol push to those stubborn flakeys, they’ll be overstaying their welcome for a long, long time.

Not only will the flakeys look bad under makeup. They’ll also be a key ingredient in clogging  your pores.

So remember that before you dismiss exfoliation as a tiresome addition to your skincare ritual .

3. Exfoliating too much

While you shouldn’t skip exfoliation, doing it waaay too much is also a no-no for managing the flakes.

Here are reasons why over-exfoliation is a no-no:

Can cause more flaking, which is  the opposite of what we’re trying to achieve...

Can lead to drier skin, making your skin produce more sebum...

Can lead to inflamed skin that hurts and itches... 

Can damage your skin’s barrier function, which leads to other more serious issues.

From here, you can see why it’s not worth risking your skin’s health by going overboard with exfoliation.

 

Aaaand, we’re done!

If you reached all the way here, you can give yourself a big pat on the back.

You are now knowledgeable in the genetic causes of breakouts. Hopefully, enough to keep those pesky breakouts at bay.

If you want to learn more about acne, you might find our Acne Myths and Truths Guide an interesting read.

It's easy to fall prey to false info when you're surfing the web. A lot of what you read about acne may be farther from truth and closer to myth.

With the help of this guide, you can clear the confusion and separate fact from fiction.

And it’s yours for a price of...totally 0$!

It’s just a ‘lil sumthin’ sumthin’ you can read if you want a fun and informative read about acne.

With that, thanks for reading and I hope we meet again soon!

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