How Clear Is Your Skin? 6 Common Culprits

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Clear skin doesn’t just magically happen. A multitude of factors converge to determine whether your complexion is bright and smooth, or dull and bumpy.

“Age, hormones, stress and medications can all affect your skin’s appearance,” explains Anna Axelson, M.D., a dermatologist at Henry Ford Health System. “Other things that people commonly link with acne or oily skin, like greasy food, for example, don’t make much of a difference.”

Clearing the Skin You’re In

Think stress causes breakouts or guzzling water throughout the day will give you clear skin? Here, Dr. Axelson explains which factors actually impact your complexion:

1. Medications.

Medications ranging from statins (for high cholesterol) to birth control pills can affect your skin. Some drugs make your skin oily, while others dry it out. For example, cholesterol acts as a natural moisturizer, so if you’re taking meds to keep it in check, your skin may dry out. Other drugs that can take a toll on skin include steroids (such as prednisone), which can lead to acne and skin thinning as well as impaired wound healing. Lithium (for mood disorders) and anticonvulsants (for seizures) can also lead to tough-to-treat acne. However, the majority of cases of acne are not medication-related.

2. Medical conditions.

Medical conditions, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)and other hormone-related conditions can make skin more prone to acne. Other conditions, such as allergies, psoriasis and eczema, show up first on the skin.

3. Hormones.

Whether you’re pregnant, going through puberty or hitting menopause, shifting hormones increase the amount of oil (also called sebum) your skin produces. Unfortunately, sebum clogs pores and causes pimples.

4. Diet.

There’s no solid evidence to suggest that chocolate, fried food or anything else we eat contributes to acne. That said, there are a few dietary culprits when it comes to your skin’s appearance. A few studies suggest that diets high in carbohydrates can worsen acne for some people. Dairy can be problematic, too, since dairy products naturally contain hormones, which stimulate skin glands to produce sebum. Skim milk and low-fat dairy products have been shown to contribute more to acne flares than higher-fat dairy.

5. Stress.

Stress can worsen nearly every skin condition. Not only does stress wreak havoc on your hormones, but it also interferes with your sleep. Add it all together and stress can exacerbate inflammation in the skin and cause previously well-controlled conditions to flare.

6. Moisture.

Moisture helps make the skin appear soft and supple. The dryer the air, the more likely your skin is to dry out. Unfortunately, drinking water doesn’t replace lost skin moisture. For that, you need to apply a thick cream or ointment to trap moisture. Use oil-free creams for your face if you have acne-prone skin.

Be Smart About Your Skin Care

Your genes play the biggest role in whether your skin is baby-smooth or rough and prone to acne. But no matter what genetic deck you were dealt, there are always things you can do to improve your skin’s appearance.

“Wash your face twice a day using gentle products and always wear sunscreen,” says Dr. Axelson. “To soften skin that’s rough, dry or bumpy, use products that contain a gentle acid like salicylic acid, urea or ammonium lactate.” No matter which products you use, always apply medicated products first, then top off with moisturizer and sunscreen.

Most important, talk to a dermatologist if you have concerns about acne, wrinkles and other skin imperfections. In almost every case, treatments can improve the appearance of your skin.


To find a doctor or dermatologist at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).

Dr. Anna Axelson is a board-certified dermatologist who sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Centers in Detroit and Grosse Pointe Farms.

Categories: FeelWell

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