Acne Breakouts: What’s Causing Them? What Can I Do?

Posted by on 9/2/2019

If you suffer from acne, you know that it can feel like the most isolating condition in the world. It may surprise you to find that it’s actually the most common. 

Acne affects up to 50 million Americans every year. While it normally begins in puberty, it can occur at any stage in life and last into your 30s and 40s. If you find yourself picking, pushing and stressing in front of the mirror trying to keep your bumps at bay, it’s time to find some answers.

Today, we’re diving deep into what causes acne breakouts, how you can soothe them, and why vitamins play a bigger role in the equation than you might think. Ready to learn more? Let’s get started!

What is Acne?

Before we explore how to treat it, let’s establish what acne is and why it appears. 

Acne is a skin condition that occurs when our hair follicles plug up with excessive amounts of oil and dead skin cells. What is that oil and how does it factor in? It all starts in your sebaceous glands. 

The Role of Sebaceous Glands

We all have sebaceous glands, or oil glands, in our skin. They’re found almost everywhere on our bodies, except for the palms of our hands and the soles of our feet. These glands tend to cluster in higher concentrations in three primary places, including our:

  • Face (forehead and chin)

  • Back (middle)

  • Genital area

These glands produce a greasy substance called sebum to keep our skin and hair moisturized. Light yellow in color, sebum consists of the following components:

  • Triglycerides

  • Wax esters

  • Free fatty acids

  • Squalene

  • Cholesterol esters

  • Cholesterol

While sebum is responsible for most of the oil on our skin, it isn’t the only oil there. Your face and body are also covered in lipids from your skin cells, as well as perspiration and environmental matter. 

Most sebaceous glands connect to a hair follicle. However, some, like the glands on our eyelids, open up directly onto the surface of our skin. 

The Sebum Production Process

Before it makes its way to the surface of our skin, sebum mixes with the dead skin cells in our hair follicles that are preparing to slough off. When those follicles become full, the sebum moves to the surface of our skin, where it spreads out to make those areas soft and healthy. 

In addition to acting as a natural moisturizer, sebum also helps keep our skin flexible and acts as a protective barrier against bacterial and fungal infections. 

What happens when your skin produces too much or too little sebum? Let’s explore.

What Affects Sebum Levels?

All of us have a unique level of sebum. This is because our hormones, specifically androgens like testosterone, control production levels. Testosterone, in particular, triggers our sebaceous glands to increase sebum production. 

When we’re teenagers, our sebaceous glands enlarge and our hormones become more active, ramping up sebum production. That’s why acne and adolescence tend to go hand-in-hand, especially for teenage males. Research shows that they produce up to five times more sebum during puberty than females do, likely because they also produce 10 times the amount of testosterone. 

Around the age of 20, sebum production starts to slow down and continues to decrease as you age.

Apart from hormones, there are other factors that can affect how much or how little sebum your body creates. If you have a disease or disorder that affects your pituitary or adrenal glands, ovaries, or testicles, you might notice fluctuations in your levels. In addition, the following substances are known to reduce sebum production:

  • Oral contraceptives

  • Antiandrogens

  • Vitamin A derivatives (isotretinoin)

Conversely, if you’re taking testosterone or progesterone, you may notice an uptick in sebum. 

On the other side of the equation, if your skin doesn’t produce enough sebum, you could experience dry, red, flaky skin as it’s lacking adequate amounts of natural moisturizer. 

The Different Types of Acne

You might associate acne with those pesky pimples that tend to pop up at the most inopportune time. However, it’s important to understand that not all acne causes pimples. 

Acne forms when dead skin cells collect in our pores and mix with sebum, which causes the cells to lump together. This mixture becomes trapped inside the pore, along with a type of bacteria called Propionibacterium acnes (P.acnes) that lives on the skin. If these bacteria enter into your pores and infect them, you’ll notice a blemish. 

The four main kinds of acne include:

  • Whiteheads

  • Blackheads

  • Pustules (pimples)

  • Papules

  • Cysts 

  • Nodules

Let’s explore each in detail

Non-Inflammatory Acne: Whiteheads and Blackheads

If your skin creates too much sebum, it lingers in your pores. While there, it also mixes with dead skin cells and dirt. If those hair follicles become clogged, bumps called comedones appear. These are noninflammatory acne lesions.

A comedone that opens to the surface and darkens is called a blackhead, characterized as a small, flat dot with a black center. Note that the black color isn’t dirt. Rather, it’s surface pigment called melanin.

If the follicle wall becomes completely blocked, it will bulge instead of opening up, creating a closed comedone. In this case, you’ll see a whitehead, which looks like a small, flesh-colored bump with a white center and a round circle on the outside. Sometimes, you’ll notice a hair in the middle of the bump or near it.

Non-inflammatory acne might be a little sensitive to touch, but it normally isn’t as painful or tender as inflammatory acne. In addition, most non-inflammatory acne doesn’t cause scarring. 

Inflammatory Acne

Types of inflammatory acne include pustules, papules, cysts and nodules. Let’s take a look at each.

Mild to Moderate: Papules

Have you ever tried your hardest to bring a pimple to the surface only to realize it isn’t going anywhere? That’s a papule, otherwise known as an under-the-skin bump. These develop when a whitehead or blackhead creates so much irritation that it damages surrounding skin.

The surface of the papule will appear pink, raised, and solid, while nearby skin will swell a little and turn red. Unlike whiteheads, you’ll notice that papules don’t have a visible center. Nor do they appear to be widened, like blackheads.

Mild to Moderate: Pustule

If the follicles become inflamed or infected with bacteria will you see an actual pimple, which looks like a small red bump with a defined white center. This is a pustule.

If you’ve ever popped one, you know that inside a pimple lies white or yellowish pus, created when immune cells and bacterial cells combine. Though similar to whiteheads, pustules are larger and more inflamed. 

Moderate to Severe: Nodules

Nodules are hard, painful bumps located deep beneath your skin’s surface. They are essentially bigger, deeper papules that lack a defined center. 

Nodules form when clogged pores become irritated, damaging nearby skin cells and tissue. These are a moderate to severe form of acne that can lead to permanent scarring if you attempt to extract them on your own.

Moderate to Severe: Cysts

Cystic acne is the most severe form of acne blemish. These cysts are large, painful bumps located deeper under your skin than nodules. Filled with pus, the bumps themselves can be white or red.

What Triggers Acne?

As discussed, acne is a normal physiologic occurrence that occurs when sebum mixes with dead skin cells, dirt or bacteria. However, there are some triggers that can occur and aggravate the condition. These include:

  • Fluctuating hormones

  • Picking and prodding at acne lesions

  • Clothing and headgear

  • Stress

Fluctuating Hormones

Are you a woman who breaks out before and during her menstrual cycle every month? If so, it’s likely that fluctuating hormones are to blame. Just as hormones trigger acne during puberty, they also do so during this time.

You’ll first notice skin breakouts about 10 days before your period actually begins. This is the time when your estrogen levels are at their lowest, and this drop puts your testosterone levels at their highest. This imbalance leads to premenstrual acne or PMS acne, a condition that affects around 50% to 80% of women. 

Manipulating Acne Lesions

We get it. When you see a pimple that looks ripe for the picking, you can’t help put spend a few minutes trying to get it out. The same goes for those papules that you swear you can extract with enough squeezing. 

The only problem? We have around 1,500 bacteria living on every square centimeter of our hands. As you lean against your palm and press your fingers into the bump, you’re only adding to the bacteria that created the lesion in the first place. Rather than curing your acne, you’ll notice that this makes it worse, leaving you with an inflamed sore in the process. 

Clothing and Headgear

Like exercise, tight and unwashed clothing or headgear can create sweat on our bodies, which triggers an uptick in bacteria production. In addition, the items themselves might have bacteria from multiple wears. 

Keep all intimate items, such as bras, washed on a regular basis to prevent back and chest acne. In addition, resist swapping hats or other headgear to avoid germ sharing, and keep those clean, too. Tiny bumps around your hairline can pop up when you sweat under your hat.


Though stress does not cause acne, it might worsen existing symptoms. This is because when we feel overwhelmed, our bodies produce a hormone called CRH, or corticotrophin-releasing hormone. This hormone binds to our sebaceous glands and can drive up oil production. 

How Can I Treat My Acne?

Those with acne know that there are myriad treatment options available that can help keep symptoms at bay and improve their complexion.


While some people swear that greasy, high-sugar foods such as pizza or chocolate can lead to acne, there is no definitive research that supports this claim. While these foods might not be the best for your health, they won’t increase your sebum production or cause bacteria to build up inside of your pores.

However, there are some foods that cause acne symptoms to worsen. These include dairy products and those high on the glycemic index (such as white bread). The latter creates an increase in your blood sugar, which can result in inflammation. Eliminating or reducing these foods from your diet can make a difference. 

Face Washes

Sweat does not cause acne. However, exercise can lead to an excessive buildup of bacteria on your skin. Commit to washing your face with a mild cleanser every morning and night, as well as after a workout, to keep those germs at bay. Be cautious not to over-wash, though, as this can dry out your skin.

Hormone Therapy

While some oral contraceptives can help treat acne, others make it worse. Your doctor might be able to prescribe a kind that can help mitigate those monthly changes. These will likely be low-dose estrogen and progesterone pills. 

If you exhibit signs of excessive androgens (male hormones), such as thinning hair and irregular periods, your doctor can also prescribe anti-androgen treatments, such as spironolactone.

Natural Cosmetics

Look for skincare and cosmetic products labeled “non-comedogenic. This means they’re specially formulated not to clog your pores. The best ones are also labeled as “oil-free” or “water-based.”


You can apply these to your skin or take them orally. In either case, they’re designed to help control surface bacteria and reduce skin inflammation. They are most effective when taken in combination with benzoyl peroxide or retinoids.

Benzoyl Peroxide

Available over the counter or in prescription-strength, benzoyl peroxide targets that surface bacteria that aggravate acne. Though effective in some cases, this treatment can lead to irritation and dryness at the area of application. 


Retinoids are vitamin A derivatives. They’re designed to treat blackheads and whiteheads. Though there is one over-the-counter version available, most are reserved for prescription only. Like benzoyl peroxide, these can cause skin irritation and dryness.

The oral retinoid isotretinoin shrinks the size of your oil glands and is reserved only for those who suffer from severe, cystic acne. It can lead to the following adverse conditions:

  • Dry skin

  • Elevated cholesterol levels

  • Elevated triglycerides

  • Birth defects

As such, those considering it will undergo extensive testing before starting a regimen. A dermatologist will want to examine your:

  • Cholesterol levels

  • Chance of pregnancy

  • Triglyceride levels

  • Liver function

  • Bone marrow function

After the prescribed period, they’ll report for follow-up exams for five months or longer to analyze results. 

Other Topical Treatments

If your case is mild-to-moderate, there is a slew of over-the-counter products aimed at smoothing your skin and drying out your bumps. Yet, these can take four to eight weeks before you’ll notice any real results. Moreover, most are full of harsh chemicals that can exacerbate skin conditions and make it more susceptible to sun damage. 

Some of the most common ingredients found in the acne treatments at your local pharmacy include:

  • Salicylic acid

  • Glycolic acid

  • Alpha hydroxy acids

Dermatologist Care

If you’ve used these products to no avail, your doctor can prescribe your stronger, prescription-strength products to reduce inflammation and speed healing. These can have painful side effects, ranging from skin irritation to liver damage, and are only recommended in cases of severe acne.

Book an appointment if you’re suffering from acne scars, painful nodules or deep cysts. Your dermatologist can remove persistent, large lesions, as well as those that don’t respond to other kinds of treatment. 

Vitamins for Acne

Not seeing the results you want, but unsure where to turn? The good news is you have another option.

If you’ve grown frustrated with harsh topical ointments and expensive dermatologist treatments, have you considered taking vitamins for acne prone skin? 

Some of the most effective vitamins and minerals proven to help control and prevent acne include:

  • Zinc

  • Vitamin A

  • Vitamin C

  • Vitamin D3

  • Vitamin K

  • Selenium

One study examined the levels of vitamin A, vitamin C and zinc in people with and without acne. Researchers found that those with acne had significantly lower levels of these essential vitamins and minerals, concluding that a diet rich in these nutrients could help combat the condition. 

Knowing there is a major link between vitamin A and acne, what about the others? Does vitamin E help acne? The answer is a definitive “yes.”

These vitamins, along with the others listed, help to block P. acnes from affecting your skin cells. While your body can produce some amounts of them naturally, it’s difficult to get high enough levels from your diet alone. And, chances are high that you don’t want to take a pill cocktail full of supplements for acne every morning.

That’s where a vitamin patch can make all the difference. 

Our Keep Klear Prevention Patch is chocked-full of all of the above-listed ingredients, delivering a powerful and effective dose of vitamins to clear acne right into your system. Let’s review how this innovative patch works.

The Keep Klear Prevention Patch

Want to keep acne away and encourage brighter, smoother skin without the use of damaging cleansers that only serve to strip your skin of its natural oils? The Keep Klear Prevention Patch is the ideal solution. 

Our patch is filled with 100% natural, skin-loving acne vitamins. In one application, you’ll receive the following daily value (DV) percent of natural supplements for acne, including:

  • Vitamin A: 100%

  • Vitamin C: 417%

  • Vitamin D3: 250%

  • Vitamin E: 1333%

  • Vitamin K: 125%

  • Vitamin K2-MK7: 125%

  • Selenium: 286%

  • Zinc: 100%

In addition to reducing the swelling and inflammation associated with acne, these vitamins for clear skin help minimize symptoms related to boils, abscesses, and eczema. The patch also includes our PMD Complex, which consists of the following natural ingredients:

  • Evening primrose oil

  • Type II Collagen

  • L-Carnitine

  • N-acetyl Glucosamine

  • Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM)

  • Glucosamine sulfate

  • Chaste tree berry

  • Curcumin

How does it work?

You’ll apply the patch every day to an area on your body that has little to no hair, such as your shoulder or hip. Like our other PatchMD patches, you only need to leave it on for eight hours to get the full effect. You can even leave it on overnight while you sleep, waking up to skin that looks better than ever before. 

While it’s on, the patch allows these vitamins to penetrate deeply into your system, delivering robust effects that you can’t get with topical treatments alone. Each pack contains 30 patches, and you can wear up to three patches a time for maximum results. 

An Innovative Solution to Your Acne Breakouts

When you struggle with acne breakouts, you’ll try anything to keep your skin clear. While there are plenty of treatment options on the market, most are irritating and come with a laundry list of fine-print concerns.

Instead of swiping on drying lotions or swallowing chemicals, why not fill your body with proven, powerful vitamins? Our Keep Klear Prevention Patch delivers a straight shot of all the nutrients your body needs to clear up that stubborn acne for good. With regular use, you’ll find that you can toss that container of pills and potions on your bathroom counter.

Want more information on how the patch works? Interested in trying it for yourself? Contact us today and let’s connect. 

 If you are vitamin deficient or are simply looking to ensure you are getting all the vitamins and nutrients you need in this fast-paced world, read on.

Why Do You Need Vitamin and Nutrient Supplementation

Here is the reality, farming practices today have to lead to less nutrient-dense food. This is part of the reason why the FDA increased the recommended number of fruits and vegetables a day from 5-7 to 7-9. 

As we age, our bodies struggle to absorb nutrients, we also need less food/calories, so we eat less, meaning we get fewer nutrients in our food. Combine all of this will the availability of low nutrient dense, processed, and easy to eat fast food, and most American are lacking key nutrients. Everyone should focus on eating a healthy and balanced diet, but even if you do, you may still be missing out. 

Certain medications and chronic diseases will also affect your body's ability to absorb the needed vitamin and mineral. 

So even if you focus on eating healthy, it can still be a challenge to get all the vitamins and minerals you need to for your health. The solution for many people is to take supplements.

Supplements, alone, are not the solution but along with a balanced diet and exercise, can help to improve your health. But remembering to take a pill every day can be challenging if you lead a busy life. If you have a sensitive stomach, the pills themselves may leave you feeling nauseated and increase non-adherence.

One solution that is gaining followers is the use of a vitamin patch to deliver the nutrients your body needs. They are cost-effective and easy to use. You simply put it on once a day and your body absorbs the nutrients it needs. 

Patch Success Stories

You are probably aware that the Nicoderm Patch is effective for individuals who are looking to stop smoking. Did you also know that you can also deliver estrogen through the skin? The transdermal estrogen patch is commonly prescribed for women who have had their uterus removed, or are experiencing the negative symptoms of menopause. While estrogen can be prescribed and taken in many ways (pills, gels, or creams) the patch is a simple one preferred by many women. Pills can upset your stomach, and it is hard to get the correct dosage with gels or creams. 

New technology has also allowed for non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAID) to be delivered through the skin. The benefit of this delivery mechanism is i is its ability to reduce some of the negative side effects of prolonged NSAID use. NSAIDs, taken orally, for a long period of time can cause stomach ulcers. Delivering the same benefits through the skin eliminates this risk. 

Current Research on Bariatric Patients

Individuals who seek out weight loss surgery, do so because they have exhausted every other avenue to improve their health through weight loss. It is generally accepted that after you reach a certain weight, you can not lose the weight through traditional diet and exercise. The extra weight shortens your life span and must be addressed.

The side effect of weight loss surgery, especially gastric bypass, is a vitamin deficiency. Vitamin patches, specifically for weight loss surgery, have been successful in observational studies. Currently, the National Institutes of Health is exploring just how effective these patches are for Bariatric Surgery Patients

How Do Vitamin Patches Work

The skin is designed to be a natural barrier. It protects us from harmful bacteria in the world around us. So can you absorb nutrients through the skin? The short answer is yes. Current technology allows for transdermal absorption by breaking down molecules into smaller forms for easier absorption. The technology is also improving every day. Everything from the adhesive that attaches the patch to the skin promotes the time-released supply of the nutrients your body needs.

All you need to do is open the package, apply to an area of the body with little hair, and go on about your day. Wherever you apply the patch be sure to avoid using lotions or perfumes on that area as they may impact the effectiveness of the patch. Most vitamins patches only need to stay on for 8 hours, so you can apply for daytime, or nighttime use, depending on your preference.

Are You Ready to Ensure You are Getting All the Nutrients You Need?

Should you consider adding a vitamin or mineral supplement to your lifestyle? The answer is probably, yes, but you should check with your healthcare provider to ensure that you are taking the right supplements for you. They can do blood tests to ensure that you are focusing on your specific needs.

Do vitamin patches work? The answer is yes, and they support the actions you are already taking by eating healthy and exercising. Whether you are looking for overall nutritional support or have a known deficiency, explore the transdermal patch for your supplemental needs.

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