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What Can Trigger Acne

what can trigger acne 3 common triggers plus how to avoid triggering acne breakouts

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Let’s talk about what can trigger acne!

There are A LOT of acne triggers, but in this blog post, I’ll address 3 of the triggers that have come up repeatedly in my 14 years of helping people with their skin.

What Can Trigger Acne: 3 Common Triggers

1) Pollution can trigger acne 🏭🌫️

  • This trigger is often worse for oily skin types, though particles floating around made by car exhaust fumes, factories, cooking, aerosol sprays, fires, candles, and more, land on the skin (and oily skin, unfortunately, does a great job of gluing that dirt to your skin).
  • The debris triggers inflammation, and since acne is an inflammatory skin condition, pollution can quickly make acne worse.
What to do about it:
  • Don’t skimp out on cleansing your skin in the evening. You want to ensure your skin can do its evening repair work unhindered by pollution and increased inflammation levels. Find the best cleanser for your skin with this quiz.
  • If you’re in an area with a lot of pollution, consider wearing a tinted cc cream or light foundation to help form a protective barrier that pollution settles on instead of directly on your skin.
  • Sun exposure can cause increased inflammation levels which heightens the effects of pollution. Protect your skin from unprotected sun exposure with nature’s sunscreen: zinc oxide skincare.

2) Over Cleansing can trigger acne 🧼🧹

  • Excessive cleansing, especially with aggressive cleansers (foaming cleaners are common culprits), makes your skin an extra appealing environment for acne-causing bacteria.
  • When we over-cleanse or use a cleanser with a high pH level, the normal bacteria populations on our skin (the healthy ones that help keep harmful bacteria from running amuck) get sent packing, leaving your skin wide open to opportunistic baddies to flourish.
What to do about it:
  • Use a cleanser that’s not too harsh for your skin (find the best option with this handy quiz).
  • Avoid harsh cleansers with high pH levels (you’re in good hands with Grounded Sage cleansers as they are all pH balanced).
  • Don’t wash your face more than absolutely necessary. If you’re currently cleansing more than in the morning and at night, for example, mid-day due to working out or having a job that exposures your skin to a lot of debris, consider switching to a micellar cleanser for at least your morning routine.
  • Support your skin if you’ve been over-cleansing with this toner to promote pH balance and this moisturizer.

3) Sticky Cells can trigger acne 🦠🧱

  • What’s sticky is sebum (the oil on our skin) after it oxidizes (aka becomes damaged – we’ll talk more about this next week)
  • The sticky sebum glues dead skin cells that are supposed to shed off to our skin – including inside the walls of our pores (because skin sheds there too).
  • Dead skin cells that stick around (literally) absorb oil and become a hard plug that attracts bacteria. This process already sparks inflammation (and remember, acne is an inflammatory condition. More inflammation = more acne). Once bacteria show up, more inflammation is triggered, and we have a full-blown bad-news situation on our skin.
What to do about it:
  • Exfoliate regularly to give your skin a helping hand and slough off dead skin cells.
  • Combat sticky sebum (that glue that keeps dead skin cells hanging around) using skincare high in linoleic-containing oils.
  • Linoleic acid is an essential fatty acid that acne-prone skin is deficient in. Providing it to acne-prone skin calms inflammation, encourages natural exfoliation, and can inhibit activity from 5α-reductase (an enzyme that encourages your skin to pump out more oil).
  • Oils high in linoleic acid + skincare products you’ll find them in:

Next week, we’ll discuss the most pore-clogging substance your skin will face. And you won’t find it in skincare!

If you want to know more about how to combat acne, you’ll want to watch for that email if you’re a subscriber to the newsletter (or watch for my next blog post)  – it will explain what happens to our skin to start the cycle of acne breakouts before bacteria even show up!

See you then,



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why washing your face could trigger acne. over cleansing can be a common trigger for acne breakouts and here's why plus what to do about it


why sticky sebum can cause acne dead skin cell glue that should shed off but causes oil plugs that attract bacteria


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Jamie Sabot, Author, Grounded Sage Skincare

Jamie Sabot

Jamie Sabot is the founder of Grounded Sage Skincare. Since she started in 2009, Grounded Sage Skincare has helped thousands of customers with their skin by creating handcrafted skincare products, online workshops, and this blog, which has been a trusted resource for straightforward natural skincare information to over 2 million readers and counting.

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