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Skin Saviour: 6 Causes of Breakouts and Spots

Dear spots and breakouts, we hate you. Here’s what might be causing your skin problems!

For some people (myself included) maintaining a blemish-free complexion can feel like mission impossible.  You can end up spending way too much money on products without seeing much improvement.

According to Dermatologist Dr Mervyn, “Acne results from a build-up of sebum and dead skin cells in the entrance to the skin pore.” Hormonal changes affect the sebaceous glands that produce sebum. This explains why our hormones are often linked to spots.

If sebaceous glands are the evil instigator, then how do we keep these under control? If only we could reason with them. Take them to one side, and explain that surely, we can come to some sort of understanding. Granted, that’s never going to happen. So, what’s a girl to do?

Understanding the Potential Causes:

It’s time to get the root of the problem. Sebaceous glands are like an angry cat. They will only cause a fuss if provoked. Turns out there are many reasons why you might kick them into overdrive. By understanding these reasons then you can potentially discover a path to a clearer complexion.

It does sound like an ‘ideal world’ situation but if you don’t try, you’ll never know! So, here are 6 potential causes of breakouts and spots. Read, dissect and maybe see if cutting them out makes a difference:


Sad news for coffee lovers. Coffee has been linked to breakouts and spots. It’s well known that coffee is a stimulant. Many of us depend on it to turn from sleep-deprived zombie to functioning office worker. The caffeine in coffee can also affect our hormones! More specifically, your adrenaline hormones and stress hormones. This, in turn, makes your sebaceous glands produce more sebum. More sebum means more oil on the surface of your skin. This increases the likelihood of a skin blockage.

It might make you feel all jittery, but try cutting down on the coffee. If you need a morning energy boost, or midday pick me up, try a healthier alternative. Wellness bloggers are going mad for turmeric lattes. Turmeric is also anti-inflammatory, meaning it may help improve your skin. You can also make a vegan turmeric latte. I’m definitely sold on this one!

High Glycemic Foods:

Goodbye doughnuts! In many ways, high-glycaemic foods such as sugar, white bread and pasta are associated with acne. Researchers say that foods high in sugar can increase hormones. You guessed it, this hormone disruption stimulates oil production in the sebaceous glands. This topic is still under investigation. Some dermatologists dismiss the link between diet and acne. From my own experience, I can definitely notice a difference in my skin following a weekend of less-healthy snacks. If you’re the same then maybe see if limiting High-Glycemic foods makes a difference!

Try recipes with low GI foods such as legumes, sweet potato and wholegrains. These are also great choices during your period. They limit spikes in blood sugar which can help cut cravings!

Stressful Times:

Hands up, this is not an easy one to ‘cut out.’ Nobody wants to be stressed but it can be difficult to control. Stress is however linked to acne. Cortisol is a stress hormone. When cortisol is released it triggers sebum production. If you’re going through a stressful time, it’s important to practise some selfcare. Remember, stress is bad for your skin and your health. The important thing is to find inner-calmness to keep your body in balance. Alongside stress-busting self-care you could also add sebum reducing skincare into your routine. Look out for ingredients such as Meadowsweet and African Whitewood.

Another fantastic way to combat stress is to routinely exercise. Scientists have found that routine exercise decreases levels of tension and improves mood. If you’re feeling stressed, try going for a run or practising yoga. You will feel better and reduce stress levels in your body.

Synthetic Ingredients In Skincare:

Whilst this is still a scientific ‘grey area’ there are potential links between EDCs and acne.  Science writer, Stephanie Organ explains that ‘EDCs mimic hormones, some are oestrogenic (mimic oestrogen) and others androgenic (mimic hormones like testosterone). We know that high testosterone levels can cause some types of acne so it isn’t much of a stretch to hypothesise that chemicals which mimic testosterone may play a role in acne.’

She continues to explain that ‘EDCs are also known to increase inflammation. This is also known to be a factor in acne’. Taking all this information into account it’s not outrageous to suggest a link between EDCs and acne. This is something that you might not have considered before. If this is of concern, I would recommend avoiding products with synthetic chemicals, additives and finishing agents. Parabens are a key offender in cosmetics. Also, watch out for Resorcinol in acne products. Whilst EDCs can be difficult to avoid (read more about them here) always check cosmetic ingredients. I would also advise looking for products with pure natural ingredients that are also GM-free.


Rather than a cause, this is more of a prevention measure. If you’re suffering with breakouts then your skin is likely producing excess oil. To reduce the number of spots, it’s advisable to change your pillowcases. The mix of dirt and oil that can collect on your pillow while you sleep. This in turn can lead to a vicious cycle. You can end up trapping more bacteria under the skin. To eliminate the problem, change pillowcases every few days.

There are many prevention methods that can help you get your breakouts and spots under control. During times of crisis (when your skin is sprouting spots like flowers in spring) switch to oil-free cosmetics. Try to also keep your skin as clean as possible. If you love a face mask, try a neem face mask. Neem is an acne fighting Ayurvedic herb (find out more about it here).

Too Much Product:

To regulate oil and sebum production the goal is to find balance. If internal factors such as hormones can disrupt this balance, then external factors can play a part too. Using too many skincare products or changing too frequently can aggravate spots and breakouts. Whilst this might not be the root cause, it can elevate the problem. In general, select your products carefully and try to persevere with them (unless you have a bad reaction).  It can be very tempting to see something new online claiming to solve all your skincare troubles. Do your research and determine if you NEED the product. Assess how it fits with your current skincare routine. Also, it’s advisable to avoid harsh, astringent cleansers or exfoliators. These are a nightmare for your skin.

When assessing your skincare routine, also consider how you apply them. Read the packaging before use. For example, some serums are designed to be warmed in the hands and patted onto the skin. Smothering your face in the serum might just leave you with lots of oily residue. Dermatologist Michael Lin says to “apply the products with lower viscosity first, allow to dry, then apply the next layer.” This is really great advice to make the most of your skincare products! At night, always clean your skin and apply moisturiser at least half an hour before bed. This gives your skin time to absorb the product.

These are a few causes to consider. If your breakouts and spots are difficult to control, consider seeing a GP. Factors such as hormonal imbalance and underlying medical conditions can cause acne. Hopefully these tips will help! If you found this article useful, drop us a comment below or share it with your friends online. Don’t forget to tag @totmorganic.

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