Can Acne Be Passed from Parent to Child?

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

What’s the link between acne and genetics?

Even though there’s no one gene that makes you more likely to have acne breakouts, research has shown that genetics can have an impact upon your chances of having acne.

Genetics can determine how effectively you ward off acne

For example, genetics can determine how effective your immune system is at warding off Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes), a bacteria that promotes acne. When left unchecked, P. acnes stimulates the production of oil in the follicle and causes inflammation.

Hormonal conditions, such as PCOS, can cluster in families
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Certain hormonal conditions, such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) have been shown to cluster in families. Acne is a common symptom of PCOS.

Family history may play a role in adult and adolescent acne

Adult acne was shown to have a genetic component, in an older study of 204 people age 25 and over.

Researchers determined that heredity played a role in the ability of follicles to become acne resistant in adulthood. People with a first-degree relative who had adult acne, such as a parent or sibling, were shown to be more likely to have it themselves.

A family history of acne has also been shown to be a predictive factor on acne breakouts in adolescents.

Your risk of acne is higher if both parents had it

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If both of your parents had severe acne, either in adolescence or in adulthood, your risk for having acne breakouts may be higher.

Both parents may possess the same genetic components for acne, or varying ones. For example, one parent may pass on a hormonal condition which makes you acne- prone, while the other passes on a stronger inflammatory response to bacteria or other genetic factors.

If just one parent had acne, that may lower your risk.

What other factors influence whether I’m at risk of acne?

Keep in mind that genetics isn’t the only factor that contributes to acne, even within families. Here are some other contributors:

  • Diet. If you and your parents typically eat greasy, fast food, or acne trigger foods such as dairy, your acne risk may increase.
  • Environment. Environmental factors such as pollution have been shown to cause inflammatory acne. If you and your family live in an area with poor air quality, you may all experience skin irritation or acne breakouts.
  • Hormones. Fluctuating hormones can also play a role, especially in women. Hormonal acne eruptions may occur during puberty, and at various points during the menstrual cycle. Some women also find that perimenopause or menopause trigger acne breakouts.

What can I do if I’m at risk of acne?

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You can’t control your genetics, but you can control some lifestyle factors which contribute to acne breakouts. These include:

  • Hygiene. Washing your face at least twice a day and keeping your hands away from your face can help reduce breakouts.
  • Product choices. Using oil-free or noncomedogenic products on acne-prone areas, rather than those that clog pores, can help.
  • Diet. Greasy food, fast food, and foods that cause insulin spikes, such as refined sugar or carbohydrates, can promote acne. Some people also find that dairy products make them more prone to breakouts. Keep a food diary and opt for unprocessed foods and vegetables.
  • Medications. Certain prescription drugs may exacerbate acne. These include some antidepressants, anti-epileptics, and anti-tuberculosis drugs. B-vitamins may also play a role. Don’t stop taking any medication you’ve been prescribed without discussing it with your doctor first. In some instances, the benefits of taking the drug will outweigh the risk of getting acne. In others, you may be able to swap out your prescription for something more tolerable.
  • Stress. Stress won’t cause acne, but it can make it worse. Stress-busters vary from person to person. You can try exercise, yoga, hobbies, and cuddling with your favorite, four-legged friend.

See a doctor

No matter what the cause, acne can be treated effectively.

If at-home treatments aren’t enough, see your doctor, especially if your breakouts are painful or prone to scarring. A doctor or a dermatologist can prescribe medication and work with you on a treatment plan for clearing up your skin.

Key takeaways

There’s no specific acne gene. However, genetics can play a role in whether you’re prone to acne.

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In addition to genetics, hormones and lifestyle factors can also affect skin and breakouts.

No matter what’s causing your acne, it can be treated. Over-the-counter topical medications, noncomedogenic products, and lifestyle changes may all help. If none are effective, see a doctor. They can prescribe a more rigorous treatment plan geared toward your skin.

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