Tackling the Age Old Question: Is Acne Genetic?
Acne. We all have had it, and we all hate it. But there are so many products, treatments, and techniques that claim to “cure” acne. If you’re like me, you’ve given all of them a try. From every acne product on the shelf to even cutting out gluten and dairy, absolutely nothing worked or helped. So it makes you wonder: is acne genetic?
- While there is no real acne gene, there have been multiple studies relating the severity of acne to genetics or hereditary components, but it’s only correlation
- Hormones have a large influence on acne. If you suffer from PCOS, acne may be a symptom
- You are more likely to develop acne if your parents had it, and especially if both parents had acne
- There are several factors that contribute to acne, and while genetics may be one, it’s not one that can be controlled, so it’s best to see a dermatologist and do your best to keep the other factors in check
Is acne genetic?
According to HealthLine, there is no proven link between acne and a specific gene or genes. However, experts do find that there is a correlation between the two.
One of the first things experts mention when discussing the link between acne and genetics is that genetics overall determine how effective your immune system is. While most people associate their immune system with fighting off illnesses such as the flu or the common cold, your immune system is responsible for fighting off all bacteria, including the acne-causing bacteria.
Propionibacterium acnes otherwise known as P acnes are the main acne-causing bacterias that live on or within our skin. Just like any other, your immune system is responsible for fighting these P acnes and therefore leaving you with clear skin. So, if you are immunocompromised or your family has a history of immunodeficiency, you may not have the ability to fight off acne as well as others. If your immune system is immunocompromised then these P acnes stimulate the production of oil in hair follicles and can increase inflammation which causes the red, inflamed pimples.
As if being a woman isn’t hard enough on us, our hormones play a role in our acne as well. Most people, but especially women, don’t typically start to experience breakouts until they enter puberty, which is typically around 12 or 13. We all learned in school that getting pimples is part of being a teenager and a part of growing up. But, girls have it a bit harder.
Another huge component of hormonal influences on acne is polycystic ovary syndrome or PCOS. This is a hormonal disorder or condition that causes infrequent or prolonged menstruation or an excess of the male hormone androgen. PCOS occurs when the ovaries develop small follicles or cysts and fail to regularly release eggs. PCOS can be asymptomatic but for many women, one of the biggest symptoms is acne. Because PCOS tends to be a genetic disorder that is shown to cluster in families with many women, this may be another reason why experts may say that acne is genetic.
The Department of Dermatology did conduct a study in 1999 to see if adult acne specifically stemmed from a genetic component. The results show that 204 out of 348 adults over the age of 25 had a family history of adult acne. The study concluded that people with a first-degree relative who had adult acne were shown to be more likely to have it themselves. While this cannot technically be written off as proof that acne is hereditary, it is a solid study to prove a correlation.
The researchers involved in the study determined that genetics played a role in how resistant your hair follicles are to acne-causing oils and bacteria. This is a really fancy way of saying that while genetics may not directly cause your skin to break out, your genes do play a role in how effective your body is at fighting acne.
It has also been concluded through studies that chances of teens and even adults having acne, are higher if their mother did rather than their father. Because of these findings, dermatologists and researchers suspect that if acne were to be genetically influenced, it is most likely passed down through the X chromosome received by the mother.
What if my parents had acne?
I think every teen or even adult has asked at least one of their parents about their experience with acne, whether it was to ease their mind or to try and determine if their breakouts were hereditary. And the truth is, you probably did find a link between the two. Again, while there is no true acne gene, studies and research show that there is a fairly large correlation. Experts say that oftentimes the strength of the correlation depends on the severity of both your acne and your parents’ acne. For example, if both your parents had severe, cystic acne, your risk of having a similar experience with acne is higher than an individual with parents who never struggled with breakouts.
You may be confused after talking with your parents only to realize that just one of them struggled with very mild pimples. Unfortunately, acne is a bit more complicated than that because it is extremely dependent on several factors. For example, maybe only your Mom struggled with some hormonal breakouts here and there, but your Dad has a weak inflammatory response. It is very possible that you inherited both of those aspects, which combine to make for an unfortunate experience with acne. Yet, if only one or none of your parents had zits growing up, this may lower your chances of developing acne in your teens or as an adult.
While scientists may have not proved that acne is genetic, there are several other factors that are shown to affect your chances of developing acne or making existing acne worse. While some factors may be more obvious than others, it’s always recommended that you see a dermatologist before trying to self-diagnose your breakouts. We’ve all been there, where we try one too many actives or exfoliators on our face only to wake up the next morning and our skin is worse. To avoid this or any unnecessary irritation, talk to your doctor about your specific breakouts, your habits, and your skincare routine before spending money on over the counter treatments.
Some of the more common factors that cause acne are:
- Skincare products
While there may not be scientific data to prove that your parents’ acne is the root cause of yours, there is a strong correlation between the two and certain factors can increase the strength of the correlation. While genetics is the one aspect we cannot control, it’s important to remember that no matter how severe your acne is, there is always hope. Talking to your dermatologist is the most important and beneficial thing you can do for your skin. There are several treatments and medication options if over the counter products aren’t working for you. Stay hopeful and remember that regardless of acne or anything else, you are always beautiful!
Written by Jordan Hammaren