Medical science is still not close to deciphering what causes acne, but it’s not for lack of trying. Here I will summarize 9 recent studies that I have read which attempt to get to the bottom of it. Keep in mind that we have no definitive conclusions, just ongoing research. Warning: Big words!
Oxidative stress. Scientists published an article in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology considering the role of oxidation as something that “may be an early event that helps to drive the acne process.” Could it be skin oil (sebum) oxidizing that causes acne? Could antioxidants help?
Growth hormone and IGF-1 (Insulin-like growth factor 1). A study in Iran attempted to evaluate the power of growth hormone and IGF-1 to affect male hormones and thus increase the severity of acne. “The mean serum levels of GH and IGF-1 of severe acne patients were significantly increased when compared with mild-, moderate acne patients, and healthy controls.” A second Turkish study further evaluated the link between IGF-1 and acne. Again a significant link was found between IGF-1 levels and acne severity.
Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus). You may have heard of this in regards to “staph infections.” In the journal North American Journal of Medical Sciences, researchers looked at the Staphylococcus aureus levels in acne patients vs. healthy controls. Results were inconclusive. “S. aureus was detected in 21.7% of the subjects in acne, and in 26.6% of control groups.”
Altitude. An article in the European Journal of Pediatrics looked at 6,200 boys. Interestingly, they found that “the acne frequency decreased with the increasing of the altitude where the boys lived.” Why this might be the case we don’t know.
Inflammation. Three articles looked at inflammation more closely. The first in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology further elucidates the particular sequence of inflammation that leads to acne lesion formation. “An important facet of the new paradigm is that a specific follicular pattern of innate inflammation occurs before and during follicular hyperkeratinization. Moreover, this inflammation persists during the resolution of the macular phase after inflammatory lesions flatten toward the end of their life cycle.” A second article in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology further states this point, “Newer research has shown that inflammation may precede comedo formation. Gene array analysis of acne lesions has elucidated newer inflammatory mediators…” A third study, again published in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology drives home the point, “Recent evidence suggests that subclinical inflammation is the primary event in lesion development and that inflammation persists throughout the lesion life-cycle. Therefore, all types of acne should be considered ‘inflammatory’ acne.”
Genetics and Lifestyle. An study performed in Italy and published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology looked at family history, personal habits, diet, and menstrual history. Their conclusion: “Family history, body mass index, and diet may influence the risk of moderate to severe acne. The influence of environmental and dietetic factors in acne should be further explored.”
Thanks scientists for all your work! Hopefully we will keep getting closer to figuring out what causes acne so we can get to the root of it and wipe it out for good!
- Bowe WP, Patel N, Logan AC. “Acne vulgaris: the role of oxidative stress and the potential therapeutic value of local and systemic antioxidants.” Journal of Drugs in Dermatology. 2012; 11(6): 742-6.
- Saleh BO. “Role of growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor-1 in hyperandrogenism and the severity of acne vulgarism in young males.” Saudi Medical Journal. 2012; 33(11): 1196-200.
- Tasli L, et al. “Insulin-like growth factor-1 gene polymorphism in acne vulgaris.” Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology. 2013; 27(2): 254-7.
- Khorvash F, et al. “Staphylococcus aureus in Acne Pathogenesis: A Case-Control Study.” North American Journal of Medical Science. 2012; 4(11): 573-6.
- Robeva R, et al. “Acne vulgaris is associated with intensive pubertal development and altitude of residence–across-sectional population-based study on 6,200 boys.” European Journal of Pediatrics. 2013; 172(4): 465-71.
- No authors listed. “Decoding Acne: Genetic Markers, Molecules, and Propionibacterium Acnes.” Journal of Drugs in Dermatology. 2013; 12(6): s61-2.
- Weiss JS. “Messages from molecules: deciphering the code.” Journal of Drugs in Dermatology. 2013; 12(6): s70-2.
- Stein Gold LF. “What’s New in Acne and Inflammation?” Journal of Drugs in Dermatology. 2013; 12(6); s67-9.
- Di Landro A, et al. “Family history, body mass index, selected dietary factors, menstrual history, and risk of moderate to severe acne in adolescents and young adults.” Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 2012 67(6):1129-35.