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Your Genes And Acne – Is There A Connection?

By Megan Griffith

Reviewed for medical accuracy by Dr. Jaggi Rao,
MD, FRCPC Double board-certified dermatologist

If you struggle with acne, you have probably not only looked for a solution but also for an explanation for its occurrence. You have likely heard about all kinds of possible causes for your breakouts, including your lifestyle, your diet and your skin care routine. But did you know that acne can also be caused by your genes1?

Don’t worry, our first reaction was one of shock, too – does this mean that once you have acne, you can’t get rid of it? Luckily, that is not necessarily the case. This article will proceed to elaborate on the essence of genes’ relationship to breakouts, and will also provide some proof that acne can be genetically transmitted. We wrap it up with a bit of advice for those stuck in a ferocious battle with acne.

Is acne genetic
Your acne can be influenced by your genes as it can change the physiology of your skin which leads you to develop acne.

Acne-causing Genes

Many types of genes hold some relevance to whether or not you will develop acne at any point of your life. Basically, your genes can regulate your skin’s sensitivity and its proneness to infection. If your body becomes easily inflamed, particularly, by the bacteria P. Acnes, then that is likely to be caused by your genetic makeup. Moreover, if your complexion is rich in sebum, that may be the result of a genetic sensitivity to androgen hormones. Essentially, possessing a concrete combination of genes can increase the probability that at some point in your life you may have to invest some time and effort into healing your skin due to acne.

This may sound dooming but there are certainly things you can do to decrease the effect of your hereditary buildup onto your appearance. Altering your lifestyle to benefit your health can do wonders for your skin. Eat healthier, exercise more, cleanse your complexion thoroughly2 and do so on a daily basis. Surprisingly, caffeine can diminish the androgen-caused effect on your skin’s inflammation rate. Green tea, in particular, is an excellent fighter against irritation and infection. You can either drink it or apply it as an ointment.

Scientific Proof

One experiment investigated3 the similarities in the skin conditions of 40 pairs of twins. It turned out that the skin of fraternal twins produced sebum at differing rates. The seriousness of their condition also differed significantly. In regards to the identical twins, their sebaceous glands produced sebum at a remarkably similar rate. However, the extent to which they were affected by acne differed. This study served to show that while the exact severity of acne is not controlled by genes, the rate of oil production is.

Another experiment measured4 the acne rate of the first-degree relatives of 348 persons. More than half of the test subjects suffered from acne. The conclusion of the study represented a finding stating that if your immediate relatives experienced frequent breakouts, there was a quadruple probability that you would, as well.

The largest of these experiments examined5 1557 pairs of twins, determining that more than 80 percent of them could potentially develop acne because of their genetic makeup. The rest were at risk based on their lifestyle.

Nevertheless, previous experiments on the same topic have sometimes turned out to bring different results to the table. Such studies often pinpoint patients’ diets as the culprit, while others specifically focus on their sugar intake. More than that, another scientific study discovered6 the possibility that one’s geographical location could be to blame. The results were astounding. It turned out that people from less-developed countries had much lower acne rates. For instance, members of rural, tribal communities appeared to not suffer from acne at all. In fact, those who migrated from poorer locations to the Western world often seemed to begin developing acne after the move.

Still, it must be remarked that while these experiments investigated whether or not acne-suffering relatives shared common genes, they did not remark on shared diets and lifestyle. For example, if a family lives together, it is likely that its members will eat the same things; if their foods of choice possess a high sugar content, it is not unlikely that they will all have troublesome skin, regardless of the genes they share.

The conclusion of our research is that although genes can have a strong influence on whether or not you’ll be battling zits throughout your life, they are not the only relevant factor. Significantly, it appears that your environment can affect your skin just as much.

The Verdict

What does all of this mean for you? Should you drop everything, quit all treatment procedures and stop trying to heal your acne? The answer lies somewhere between yes and no. Inheriting acne means that it is probable that you will never actually completely rid yourself of the issue. That is not to say that you will spend your entire life battling pimples, infections and blemishes. It is possible that you will experience only a mild apparent consequence of your acne-causing genes.

The truth is that your genes may have provided you with a proneness toward breaking out. Yet, this doesn’t have to be a fatal verdict. Your lifestyle choices have the potential to essentially regulate the real extent to which your complexion will be affected. Lifestyle refers to your daily habits, the food and drink that you choose to ingest, whether or not you exercise, etc. Particularly, concrete choices such as whether or not you smoke, can really worsen your situation. Smoking dries out your skin and makes it appear dull and lusterless.

There are also things you may be doing in your daily life that have lesser known skin-related effects. Chlorine, for instance, can have incredibly deteriorating consequences7 on your complexion. This means that frequently swimming in highly chlorinated waters can not only cause your skin to dry out but it can lead to severe breakouts. There are also factors whose relationship with acne is still controversial, in regards to whether or not they negatively impact your skin. For example, sunlight, of all things, divides scientists on the question of the harm, or the benefits, that it can contribute to your complexion. Basically, you can try to follow skincare advice provided by specialists but this is in no way guaranteed to solve your problem – especially as some of this advice tends to be rooted in controversy and uncertainty.

The Best Possible Path Of Action

The bottom line is that the best possible advice for you and your skin is to simply not focus on it too much. Firstly, chances are that your acne is a result of your genetic history, so it is most likely that you will not be able to completely rid yourself of it. Secondly, simple lifestyle choices can contribute8 to whether or not your breakouts will fully flare up or stay put.

However, most importantly, your skin doesn’t define who you are. It is important to remember that your skin problems are completely irrelevant to your worth as a person and to your human experience. In essence, the more you focus on its appearance, the more it will bother you! So, stop paying so much attention to it and get on with your life. If there is not much you can do about a few pimples, what is the point of stressing out over them? Indeed, stress is another major element, proven to add gravity to skin conditions. So, keep that in mind as you relax and enjoy your life without spending most of it worrying about something that you may simply not be able to change.


  1. Wolkenstein P., Machovcová A., Szepietowski J.C., Tennstedt D., Veraldi S.5., Delarue A. Acne prevalence and associations with lifestyle: a cross-sectional online survey of adolescents/young adults in 7 European countries. Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology. 2018;32(2):298-306.
  2. Draelos Z.D. The effect of a daily facial cleanser for normal to oily skin on the skin barrier of subjects with acne. Cutis. 2006;78(1Suppl):34-40.
  3. Walton S., Wyatt E.H., Cunliffe W.J. Genetic control of sebum excretion and acne–a twin study. The British Journal of Dermatology. 1988;118(3):393-6.
  4. Goulden V., McGeown C.H., Cunliffe W.J. The familial risk of adult acne: a comparison between first-degree relatives of affected and unaffected individuals. The British Journal of Dermatology. 1999;141(2):297-300.
  5. Bataille V., Snieder H., MacGregor A.J., Sasieni P., Spector T.D. The influence of genetics and environmental factors in the pathogenesis of acne: a twin study of acne in women. The Journal of Investigative Dermatology. 2002;119(6):1317-22.
  6. Kucharska A., Szmurło A., Sińska B. Significance of diet in treated and untreated acne vulgaris. Postȩpy dermatologii i alergologii. 2016;33(2):81–86.
  7. Li J., Wang Z., Zhu X., Deng Z., Cai C., Qiu L., Chen W., Lin Y. Health Effects from Swimming Training in Chlorinated Pools and the Corresponding Metabolic Stress Pathways. PLoS One. 2015;10(3):e0119241.
  8. Chlebus E., Chlebus M. Factors affecting the course and severity of adult acne. Observational cohort study. The Journal of Dermatological Treatment. 2017;28(8):737-744.
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