You’ve probably had those days. You wake up, look in the mirror, and see that your skin is breaking out: whiteheads, blackheads, milia, pustules, cysts, or other acne formations (both inflammatory and comedonal). 
In that case, your first question would be “How to get rid of those skin imperfections?” But before you get to that, it’s important to identify the cause of these breakouts.
This article will look into the 4 most common reasons why your skin might be suddenly breaking out.
Take those causes with a pinch of salt, as there might be more than one factor for your condition, and your skin may require the attention of an expert. In that sense, if you experience severe acne symptoms, inflammation, or persistent breakouts, it’s a good idea to visit your dermatologist or health care provider.
Let’s dive in!
Table of Contents
Can hormonal changes trigger acne?
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, fluctuation in the hormone levels is a leading cause of acne in adults.
In fact, acne formation is closely related to increased levels of a steroid hormone, referred to as androgens (i.e., male hormones).  Even though these hormones are considered “male” hormones, they are present in both males and females at varying levels, which may fluctuate during one’s lifetime.
Hormones that are responsible for pubertal changes, skin and hair changes are secreted in the reproductive organs (ovaries in a female and testicles in a male), as well as in the adrenal gland. The adrenal gland is responsible for hormone secretion in response to stressful situations, including emotional and physical stressors. 
In that sense, some factors which trigger androgen changes include:
- Hormonal therapy (intake of medications and birth control)
- Stage of life ((pre)menopause, pregnancy, menstrual cycle, or puberty)
- Stressful situations (or chronic stress)
What foods cause acne?
Several studies have looked into the importance of diet on skin health. According to a 2015 research that examined the links between Western diet, comedones, and acne in adolescents, 3 different food groups may stimulate skin breakouts. 
Those foods cause sharp spikes in blood sugar levels, stimulate insulin production, increase sebum secretion, and change its consistency. Such foods are with very high glycemic index and are often processed, high in refined and added sugars, and low in fiber.
Milk and dairy
Such foods may cause enlargement of the sebaceous glands and stimulate the production of “inflammasome,” which is a multiprotein that activates a robust inflammatory skin reaction through a cascade of events.
Saturated and trans fats
Foods rich in those types of fats are associated with high concentrations of insulin-like growth factor (IGF), which may cause changes in the secretion of androgens. As a result, the excessive consumption of saturated and trans fats may trigger sudden skin breakouts. 
The specific foods to watch out for are processed, packaged products with long shelf life, lots of red meat, and dairy.
Learn more about the specific foods that cause acne in our dedicated article!
Why is skin cleansing important?
The skin is the largest organ in your body, which has “direct contact” with the external environment (air, sunlight, makeup, cosmetics, etc.). For that reason, the outer skin layer is continuously damaged by free radicals such as air pollution, UV radiation (i.e., sun damage), allergens (i.e., cosmetic and skincare ingredients), and other physical stressors.
For example, if you sleep with your makeup on or don’t cleanse your skin (properly) in the evening, the debris and excess oil adheres to the top layer of the skin (i.e., the epidermis) and may clog pores (i.e., opening of hair follicles), leading to cosmetically displeasing acne breakouts.
Can new cosmetic products cause breakouts?
New cosmetics are not always a solution to our problems. Sometimes they even CAUSE us skin issues.
Trying out new ingredients or product combinations may have irritating effects, causing breakouts, burning, rash, itching, etc. But there’s one crucial thing to mention here.
While in the majority of cases such skin reaction indicates an allergy, there are some active ingredients that help further cleanse or “purge” your skin from harmful skin debris. Those include AHA and BHA acids, retinoids, and vitamin C. By increasing cell turnover, our body is able to unclog pores and promote new, healthy skin cells. These ingredients have an added benefit of treating various types of acne as well as a noninvasive method to target aging skin.
Some of the most common reasons for skin breakouts are hormonal changes, overeating with acne-causing foods, poor skin cleansing, and new cosmetic products. But behind those 4 causes, there are thousands of other factors that trigger acne formations.
In that sense, to effectively prevent and get rid of skin blemishes, it’s important to identify the cause for your skin condition.