Take hormones, for example—they stimulate our oil glands to rev up production of a substance called sebum, which clogs pores and feeds acne-causing bacteria, says Zeichner. But we don’t all wind up clogged. “Some women are likely more sensitive to the effects of hormones than others,” he says, adding that this explains why some of us see pimples pop up even when our hormone levels are normal. Sigh.
Get ALL the facts about adult acne, and learn how to kick it to the curb in this video:
Truth be told, docs don’t fully understand the complexity of just how genetics impacts breakouts, but Zeichner is leading a first-of-its-kind research project at Mount Sinai to study the topic. (So hopefully we’ll have a better answer for you soon!) In the meantime? There are some easy steps you can take to sidestep rotton genetic luck.
Watch Your Sugars
Foods that are super high in sugar and starch (think: white breads and sweets) raise your blood sugar and promote inflammation throughout the body and in the skin, which can cause breakouts (particularly if you’re predisposed to acne in the first place), says Zeichner.
An unexpected culprit: “Cow’s milk, particularly skim milk, is high in sugar and may contain hormones that cross-react in our bodies, promoting breakouts,” he says. If you’re worried, swap out your cereal staple for almond milk, he suggests.
There’s a time and place for exfoliation, true. But over-washing and scrubbing on the reg can leave your skin dry and irritated, making acne treatment difficult, says Zeichner. So think gentle—some cleansers and moisturizers are softer and have been shown to help treat acne, likely because of their skin-soothing abilities which reduce inflammation, says Zeichner. A good option: Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser ($ 7, amazon.com).
Stay Cool, Calm, and Collected
No one wants to be hot and bothered—especially not your skin. Both stress (hello, cortisol and inflammation!) and heat and humidity (which can increase oil accumulation on your skin) can lead to breakouts, says Zeichner. So go ahead, take a few deep breaths and splurge on the cute, breathable Lulu top—for the sake of your skin, of course.