Can Acne Be Caused By Allergies?
Acne breakouts aren't a symptom of the immune response behind allergic reactions nor a direct outcome of coming into contact with an allergen. Some food allergies and food intolerances are associated with similar skin reactions but likely aren't an immediate cause of acne breakouts.
It is worth noting, however, that allergies may aggravate existing acne lesions or make them worse. This might be because the inflammation caused by the immune response leads to more irritation and swelling of the skin. Additionally, certain allergens might be comedogenic (pore-blocking substances) which could potentially lead to blocked pores and acne breakouts.
What Foods Cause Acne?
Certain foods may cause acne flare-ups. Dairy and processed foods, in particular, may contribute to inflammation in the body and exacerbate acne. Other foods that may trigger an inflammatory response and lead to breakouts are sugary snacks, fried foods, white bread, and processed meats.
Additionally, foods with a high glycemic index—including white flour-based products, processed grains, and refined sugars—can cause an increase in hormones that can cause acne.
How Do Allergies Cause Acne?
While allergies don't cause acne as a direct symptom, they can in a secondary way. Allergies cause inflammation in the body, which can lead to swelling and skin irritation. This inflammation may then trigger an immune response, resulting in the release of hormones that can worsen acne.
What Else Causes Acne?
Acne can develop as the result of a range of factors, but virtually always develops for the same reason: excess sebum production and bacteria. Excess sebum can clog pores and hair follicles, trapping bacteria and ultimately leading to inflamed skin and acne breakouts.
There is no single cause for acne, and a person may develop it from a combination of causes. Below are just some of the most common predispositions and triggers of acne breakouts:
Hormonal changes—such as those experienced during puberty and pregnancy—can cause an increase in sebum production, leading to clogged pores and breakouts.
Stress can trigger an increase in hormones, such as cortisol, which can lead to inflammation and sebum production, resulting in acne breakouts. Additionally, stress can hamper the body's ability to fight off bacteria that cause acne.
Cosmetic and Hair Products
Products such as moisturizers, makeup, and pomades that contain heavy oils can clog pores, lead to breakouts and worsen acne.
Certain drugs and pharmaceutical products, such as steroids, estrogen, testosterone, phenytoin, and birth control devices like IUDs, can make acne worse.
Excessive Sweating and Humidity
Excessive sweating and high humidity can cause an increase in sebum production, leading to clogged pores.
Repetitive Skin Rubbing
Repeatedly rubbing or touching the skin can irritate existing acne lesions and lead to further inflammation. In many cases, this can make acne a self-perpetuating problem, as people seek to address their symptoms by touching the skin but only worsen the acne’s severity by doing so.
Acne is first and foremost identified visually, through the development of lesions on the skin. These can appear in a range of places, but most often occur on the face, shoulders, arms, chest, legs, and buttocks.
The lesions that make up acne outbreaks themselves can be broken up into several different categories. Not everyone who develops acne will experience all of them, but they tend to mix and vary in degree.
The most common types of acne include:
Blackheads are a type of small bump that can develop on the skin's surface when its hair follicles become clogged. As their name suggests, blackheads appear darker than the surrounding skin, often with a dark, bumpy appearance. This is due to the oxidation of melanin, a pigment naturally present in the skin.
Whiteheads, also known as closed comedones, are a type of acne lesion that appears as small, whitish bumps on the skin's surface. Unlike blackheads, whiteheads are typically smaller and covered with a thin layer of skin. They occur when dead skin cells and sebum become trapped in the hair follicle, creating closed comedones.
Cysts are large, deep-seated acne lesions that appear as swollen bumps on the skin. They tend to be filled with pus and can be painful to the touch. Cysts form when bacteria become trapped deep in the skin, leading to swelling and inflammation.
Papules are small, red bumps that may appear on the skin when the pore becomes infected with bacteria. They often appear in clusters and can be painful to the touch. Papules tend to develop more quickly than other types of acne and can last for an extended period if left untreated.
Pustules are small red bumps that contain white or yellow pus. They occur when bacteria and sebum become trapped in the hair follicle, creating a pustular infection.
Nodules are large, hard bumps that appear on the skin's surface as a result of excess oil, bacteria, and dead skin cells clogging the pores. They are typically painful to the touch and can be deep within the skin's surface.
Beyond the types of acne lesions that can develop, there are other signs and symptoms associated with acne. These include:
Redness Around Skin Eruptions
Skin eruptions caused by acne are often accompanied by redness and inflammation. This is due to the body's inflammatory response as it tries to fight off the bacteria that has caused the acne breakout.
Crusting of Skin Bumps
Crusting of skin bumps can occur when a lesion becomes irritated, often due to scratching or picking.
Scarring of the Skin
Scarring can occur in some cases of acne, particularly when deep cysts or nodules become infected and cause damage to the skin. The scarring can range from small, shallow depressions in the skin to deep indentations or raised bumps.
How Long Does Acne Last?
This is a question that's undoubtedly asked by almost everyone who has acne. Unfortunately, there is no single answer, as every individual's experience with acne is different. In general, mild to moderate forms of acne can often resolve within a few weeks or months with the right treatment plan.
However, more severe forms of acne such as cysts and nodules can take several months or even years to fade away completely. It is important to note that acne can be a recurrent condition, and thus it may require ongoing maintenance even after the initial breakout has been cleared.
Acne Treatment Options
Once the cause of your acne has been determined, you can consider a variety of treatment options. These will vary depending on the severity and type of acne you are experiencing.
Topical medications such as retinoids, benzoyl peroxide, and antibiotics can be used to help reduce inflammation and fight acne bacteria. These medications are often available over-the-counter and may help to clear mild to moderate acne.
Oral medications can be prescribed by a doctor for more severe forms of acne. These typically contain antibiotics, hormones, and/or isotretinoin.
When to See a Doctor
Although many cases of acne can be managed at home, it is important to seek medical attention if the condition does not improve with over-the-counter treatments or becomes increasingly severe. A dermatologist or qualified healthcare provider will be able to recommend the best course of treatment for your individual needs.
How Is Acne From Allergies Diagnosed?
To diagnose acne, a dermatologist will typically perform a physical examination of the affected area. They may also take a sample of skin for testing, to determine the type of bacteria causing the acne breakout and the factors enabling it.
Once a diagnosis has been made, an appropriate treatment plan can be formulated. This may include topical medications, as well as mitigatory buffers for things that may be worsening the condition.
If you suspect allergies are playing a vital role in the severity of your acne breakouts, you can test for allergies using either a skin prick test or an at-home allergy test kit from Wyndly. The first is exactly what it sounds like — a doctor (usually an allergist) will use a small needle to prick the skin and then analyze the response.
Meanwhile, Wyndly's at-home allergy test only requires a small finger prick that can be done from the comfort of your home. The sample gets sent to a laboratory for testing, and one of our allergy doctors interprets the results. Knowing what allergies you have can help you determine if any lifestyle changes need to be made, and how you can treat all of your allergy symptoms effectively.
Allergy Treatment Options
If you find yourself struggling with allergies and the symptoms that come along with them, there are a few things you can do to get some relief.
Limiting exposure to your allergy triggers is one of the most effective ways to prevent allergy symptoms. While some allergens are difficult to completely avoid, there are ways to reduce your exposure.
- Check pollen counts: Pollen is the most common allergy trigger. Unfortunately, there's no way to avoid it completely. However, you can keep an eye on pollen levels in your area and try to limit your time outdoors on high-pollen days.
- Watch your outdoor hours: Pollen levels fluctuate throughout the day and are often highest in the early morning and afternoon. If you're planning on going outside during the day, doing so during the evening is safest.
- Keep windows closed: Pollen is airborne and can easily enter your home through an open window. Be sure to keep your windows shut and opt for A/C, especially during high-pollen count days.
- Take shoes off: When you come in from outside, take your shoes off at the door to avoid tracking pollen and other allergens inside.
- Wipe-off pets: If you have pets that spend time outdoors, wipe them down with a damp cloth when they come inside to remove any pollen they may be carrying.
- Clean your home: Pollen can also come into your home on clothing, hair, and skin, so it's important to keep any surfaces you touch or interact with clean. Use a HEPA filter-equipped vacuum regularly and dust with a damp cloth.
- Do laundry more often: Wash bedding, towels, and clothing frequently to remove any pollen that may have accumulated.
If limiting your exposure to allergens isn't enough, there are a variety of OTC medications that can help with short-term symptom relief.
- Antihistamines: Antihistamines work by temporarily blocking histamine, a chemical that your body releases in response to an allergic trigger. This relieves symptoms like itchiness, sneezing, and a runny nose.
- Eye drops: If you tend to experience red, watery, or itchy eyes with allergies, then eye drops can provide you with short-term relief from these symptoms.
- Nasal sprays: Nasal sprays clear pollen and other allergens from your nasal passages and reduce inflammation. This relieves symptoms like congestion.
Sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT) can be an effective treatment option for long-term relief. SLIT is an allergy treatment where your immune system is exposed to small doses of your allergy triggers. Over time, your body becomes desensitized, reducing the severity of your allergies, and eventually providing lifelong relief.
Take Our Allergy Assessment
At Wyndly, our allergy doctors will work with you to get long-term relief from your allergy symptoms through a personalized treatment plan using sublingual immunotherapy. Take our quick assessment today to find out if Wyndly is right for you!