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You’re a mostly happy individual who tries to lead a stress-free lifestyle. You get enough sleep every day, pay close attention to the food you eat, drink plenty of water, exercise regularly throughout the week, and religiously follow your skincare regimen every morning and evening.
But when you still struggle with acne despite all these steps taken in the right direction, you might begin to ask yourself the question: is acne genetically inherited? Because why else would our skin be behaving so downright contrary? And what exactly is genetic acne?
Sadly, the simple answer is: We don’t know the exact or full causes of acne for sure. But what researchers and medics do know is that there could well be a genetic link that makes us predisposed to developing acne.
Studies On The Root Causes Of Acne
Scores of studies are conducted each year to determine the root causes of acne. Specifically, how much of acne is genetic?
While many of these point towards patterns and trends indicating an increase/decrease in the occurrence of acne based on exposure to certain elements, almost none of them have been scientifically proven to be a “root cause” per say.
Most of the elements that affect acne come with explanations that tend to resemble chain reactions. Take sugar as a cause of acne for example. The explanation for that goes something like this:
- Sugar gets absorbed quickly into your bloodstream
- Increased blood sugar then leads to increased insulin levels in the body
- Increased insulin levels lead to more insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) being generated within the body
- Increased IGF-1 generation makes skin cells grow quickly
- Rapid skin cell growth leads to greater sebum production
- Sebum, the oily secretion on your skin, further clogs the hair follicles, which makes your chances of getting acne much worse
Similarly, the explanation for whether or not the tendency for breakouts could have anything to do with your genetic makeup, is not that different either.
Is acne caused by genetics? As a rule of thumb, if either or both of your parents suffered from acne or other skin conditions, it’s rather likely that you’re prone to similar conditions yourself. That said, it in no way indicates that you’re 100% destined to have inherited this condition from your parents.
Some studies have shown that a woman has a higher likelihood of having acne if her mother had acne too. This could perhaps mean that the condition is passed down from generation to generation through the X, or female chromosome.
Other studies have found that adult acne could be caused by genetics, in those who develop the condition over the age of 25. Researchers determined that “heredity played a role in the ability of follicles to become acne resistant in adulthood. People with a first-degree relative who had adult acne, such as a parent or sibling, were shown to be more likely to have it themselves”.
Having a family history of acne has also been shown to be a “predictive factor” for the occurrence of acne breakouts in young adults.
Which all begs the question: Is there an ‘acne gene’ that also gets passed down generations?
The answer: No.
According to Dr Arielle Nagler, MD, an associate professor in the Ronald O. Perelman Department of Dermatology at NYU Langone, “You can have a predisposition to the development of cysts, a genetic disruption in your immune system, excess androgen, or excess sensitivity to androgen that exposes you to acne”.
In other words, while an acne gene cannot be passed down to you from your ancestors, some things that do get affected by genetics are:
- Your immunity to fight acne causing bacteria - Cutibacterium acnes or p. acnes bacteria - which is found on almost all human skin and lives on the sebum secreted there.
- Your ability to shed dead skin cells in a way that doesn’t clog your pores.
- Your skin tone, which determines how apparent the acne is on your skin as opposed to that of a darker skinned person.
- Your skin’s sebum production level. Sebum could in turn combine with dead skin cells to clog pores.
- Your skin’s reaction to stress, hormonal changes and other internal factors that you may not be immediately aware of.
- Hormonal conditions, such as polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, can have a genetic link and tend to run in families. PCOS causes an imbalance in hormones, leading to an excess of androgens that in turn leads to an increase in sebum production. Therefore, acne is a common symptom of having PCOS.
- The environment we live and work in can also significantly affect our skin. For example, air pollution has been shown to be a contributing factor to inflammatory acne.
The frustrating thing about the slightly hereditary nature of acne is that ‘genetics’ is an unpredictable ballgame.
With time, scientists have been able to point to prominent genes and patterns in which these could potentially be passed on to children from their parents. However, they are yet to make any predictions with 100% certainty.
So you can imagine how much more complicated the question of hereditary acne is, especially as there’s no gene as such governing the chances of individuals inheriting the same from older members of their families.
Hereditary or Not, is it Possible to Get Rid of Genetic Acne?
The good news is that you still get to control certain aspects of your skin with precautions and steps such as:
- Avoiding foods that make acne worse - an anti-inflammatory diet is always a good way to go. The alkaline diet, where you consume alkaline foods 80% of the time and acid forming foods 20% of the time is also helpful for the health of the skin.
- Having a consistent skincare routine specially designed for acne prone skin.
- Taking steps to work towards healthy stress management in your daily life.
- Avoiding the tendency to touch your face constantly, thus transferring germs that could further clog your pores.
The onset of acne is something we rarely have control over. As the saying goes, we do not get to choose the hand we are dealt but we do get to play that hand well.
And while there are countless remedies as well as prevention techniques for acne, there is always that small possibility that you’ll never completely be rid of acne. This is where self acceptance becomes key.
Especially among teenagers, acne is known to cause various psychological repercussions. It is important under the circumstances for friends and family to remember that much like the acne, the depression triggered by it could also not be helped by the person suffering.
Working on the psychological effects of something as physical and openly visible as acne can help the individual come to terms with the aspects of it that make it so painful to bear. Sorting out the emotional side of acne could actually lead to improved skin appearance, especially if stress and depression were aggravating the acne.
Acne and Genetics - The Bottom Line
The bottom line is, if your parents or older family members suffered from acne, there is a chance that you will too.
But the key word here is ‘chance’ because even among identical twins, similarities in acne patterns are hard to come by. So take charge of the aspects of this problem that you can in fact control and be sure to share your story with us too!
This article is not meant to treat or diagnose. Please visit your doctor for advice about any health concerns you may have.