When Acne Is All in the Family

The tendency for breakouts can be genetic

You wash your face religiously with a gentle cleanser and keep the number of products you use on your skin to a bare minimum. In fact, you could be the poster child for perfect anti-acne skincare. And yet you can't quite seem to keep blemishes at bay. What could you be doing wrong?

In all likelihood, you're doing nothing wrong. It could be that your breakouts aren't the result of your lifestyle, but rather a product of your genetic makeup.

Young woman examining her skin in the bathroom mirror
Image Source / Getty Images

Is There an Acne "Gene?"

In a word, no. But there definitely is a tendency for acne to run in families. If either (or both) of your parents are acne-prone, that may be one reason you are as well. Some studies have shown a person's likelihood of developing acne if her mother had acne at any point in her life is especially high. This suggests that the propensity for developing acne may be passed down through the X chromosome.

Even so, there are many other factors that contribute to acne besides family history such as fluctuations in hormones (during puberty and even later in life, during menopause), cosmetics, and even stress. And that's good news because it means that even though you weren't able to choose the DNA you inherited from your parents, you can choose how to care for the skin you were dealt in order to keep it as blemish-free as possible.

Zapping Zits

If acne runs in your family, this doesn't mean you're facing a lifetime of blemishes and breakouts. But if you do, you may find they're tougher to treat than someone else's. Be realistic about this, and then do all you can to help ward off breakouts and clear up blemishes:

  • Revisit your routine. Make sure you truly are washing your face with a cleanser that's right for you. Your best guidance here: a dermatologist, who not only can recommend products but also techniques for getting your skin clean without over-scrubbing or traumatizing it.
  • Read labels. There is a dizzying array of over-the-counter acne treatments. The ones likely to work best will include at least one of these ingredients: salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, sulfur, glycolic acid.
  • Look for the word "noncomedogenic" on makeup and other products you put on your skin. This means formulated to not clog pores or provoke pimples.
  • Don't delay. If acne, especially severe acne, runs in your family and you start to get blemishes, treat them right away. It's easier to get breakouts under control when they're relatively mild, rather than waiting until pimples become is stubbornly inflamed.
  • See a doctor. OTC products can be very effective for mild blemishes, but if your acne becomes severe you may need a prescription medication. Head back to your dermatologist. He'll be able to put together a treatment plan that will work to clear up your skin.
3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Bhate K, Williams HC. Epidemiology of acne vulgaris. Br J Dermatol. 2013;168(3):474-85. doi:10.1111/bjd.12149

  2. Ghodsi SZ, Orawa H, Zouboulis CC. Prevalence, severity, and severity risk factors of acne in high school pupils: a community-based study. J Invest Dermatol. 2009;129(9):2136-41. doi:10.1038/jid.2009.47

  3. Kraft J, Freiman A. Management of acneCMAJ. 2011;183(7):E430–E435. doi:10.1503/cmaj.090374

By Angela Palmer
Angela Palmer is a licensed esthetician specializing in acne treatment.