A Brief Look into Acne Exposome

Over the past three years, I have come across many frustrated acne survivors. People who have tried everything with few results, and I realise that journey has been very tough. 

 I would like to encourage you.  Acne is not the same for everyone. For some, acne heals fast and for others, it takes years. Everyone has their own journey. 

This article is for people, who like me, have battled with acne for years. They call it relapse acne, and this refers to  acne that flares up no matter what you do. This is where Acne Exposome comes in.

Acne Exposome is an academic study by five European dermatologists. They wanted to find out what triggers acne in our living environment. They aimed to answer the question why acne relapses despite medication. They defined several factors that could cause acne to relapse – nutrition, medication, pollutants (environmental pollution in water, air and products etc.) climatic factors, psychological and lifestyle factors, and occupational factors.

Exposome was first used in 2005. It describes the different exposures one experiences from conception to death. 

I am going to share my acne journey with you in the light of Acne Exposome. I want to inspire you to listen to your body, and be aware of the toll life takes on our skin.

The end of my 13-year journey of quick fixes

At 24 years of age, after 13 years of Oratane and Roaccutane, I went on Oratane for the last time. I went to the doctor for a check-up and he sounded concerned. He wanted to lower my dose over 2 months as the isotretinoin medication had started taking a toll on my body. Already I was complaining of joint pain while I slept. 

I remembered after my appointment taking an evening beach walk. I asked myself, am I willing to do this to my body again. No, no, I cannot! A firm and concise answer somehow left me feeling hopeful. (FYI, isotretinoin medication worked the first time for my brother, and has helped heal a lot of people, but I was not one of them). Now that I had tried everything, I could only rely on myself for the next chapter.

I had a desire to understand my specific type of acne, get off the Oratane safely, and take a more holistic approach. I had spent years trying to fix my skin, and now I was facing the question: What if it doesn’t heal? Would I be okay?

I had to accept that my beauty has more to do with who I am than what I look like. This gave me time to be confident in who I was. I stopped fussing about how I did or didn’t look, and moved towards looking after my whole body. I had spent years with tunnel vision. Thinking only my oil glands mattered, and the rest of my body could look after itself.

For the next while I took my time to find out what triggered my acne. I used minimal skin products, I looked into my diet and everyday habits, but not all at once. I decided I would take a period and focus on one part of my life

Two years later, I found that my acne calmed down significantly. I was finally able to sit in a brightly lit room with confidence, no more hiding in the shadows. 

Remember, you are unique. Where you live, what you eat, your genetic predisposition and what you deal with daily make up your own journey. No one else has your specific DNA or the life you live, and this is why understanding your acne is important. I would also suggest creating an acne journal to discover what does and doesn’t work for you. 

Taking responsibility for your body and knowing it intimately will produce confidence.  Along with confidence, humility and patience will serve you. You have to accept that this is not another quick fix.

The below is a brief overlook of acne triggers. These tips will help you to start looking at acne more holistically. 

1. Nutrition 

The NIH article touches on the effect of dairy and glucose. How your body responds to it could result in acne.

They believe glucose or dairy products affect a subgroup of people. This means that not everyone is affected and you need to find out if you are one of the ones who are.

2. Medication

Medication relates to hormones and how hormone-balancing treatments could be what you need. They speak about how a higher level of testosterone could be a trigger for pimples. Having a higher level of testosterone is normal in women even if it is known as a male hormone. 

You would need to consult with your doctor to see if this applies to you or not. I would suggest writing in your acne journal and track when your acne has progressed and compare it to your cycle.

3. Beauty Factors

Having the incorrect beauty regime could trigger your acne. You could be using the incorrect makeup, hair products or oils that could be clogging up your pores.

Cheap, perfumed or alcohol-based products weaken your skin barrier, leaving your skin stripped of nutrients and good bacteria, causing irritability and inflammation. 

Again, in your acne journal, take note of what your beauty regime is, and if it triggers your acne or not. 

4. Psychosocial and lifestyle factors 

I would suggest reading our article on stress-related acne as we go in-depth here. Researchers report (in the NIH article),that many stress factors are related to acne. These include stressful situations, emotional upheaval, sleep deprivation, our modern lifestyle, and possibly certain cultural factors. 

They report that studies have shown that acne can be made worse by the light emitted from smartphone/tablets and that this light can upset the balance of your skin’s microbiome. This light can place your skin under stress and it can have an impact on your acne. 

  • Microbiota refers to the type of micro-organism that lives in a specific environment in the body.
  • Microorganisms (in relation to your skin) are specific organisms/bacteria that keep your skin healthy.

A solution 

There is hope. Dermatologists are moving towards understanding the skin’s external and internal barriers and how to restore these. There’s a reason we hear so much about the probiotics, prebiotics and post-biotics. Studies have shown time and time again that assisting your skin’s barrier and your gut health with healthy bacteria leaves your skin renewed. 

  • Applying a skin barrier cream will create a stronger outer layer skin.
  • Working on your gut health with probiotics helps strengthen your immune system to help fight bad bacteria, viruses or fungi in your body.

We are convinced digesting daily natural probiotics such as kefir, kombucha or miso soup, and drinking lots of water will assist in creating skin health.

Acne Exposome is proof that there are many factors involved with severe acne, according to the NIH article. It shows why some medication works for some and not others. I took two years in taking note of why my skin flared up and my results were consistent with there being many issues. I must say, dairy and sugars were not a problem for me, but these two things are for many of my friends. 

When I look at these acne triggers, I realise there are still lifestyle changes I need to make now. My acne is purely based on external damage relating to chlorine in our water, pollution that lives in the air, dry skin and the lack of oil my body creates (thanks to years of isotretinoin medication) and not wearing sunblock daily in my teen years. 

I hope this article inspires you to look after your body and the environment to which you expose it. Drink lots of water, wear sunblock daily and eat healthy foods to create a strong internal and external environment for your body. 


National Institutes of Health


Atlas BioMed




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