The environment and acne

While acne is ignited by clogged hair follicles, this skin condition can be influenced by several internal factors like genetics, age, hormones, and skin type. However, external factors such as the use of cosmetic products and environmental factors can also contribute to your overall skin health. These environmental factors in question include environmental pollution, weather conditions such as humidity, and sun exposure.

To help you understand the role environmental factors have in driving your breakouts, check out our short guide below.

Environmental pollutants

So, what causes pimples? As a friendly reminder, acne occurs when hair follicles become clogged ‒ or plugged ‒ with a buildup of dead skin, cells, excess sebum, dirt, and bacteria.

Although we likely all deal with acne at some point in our lives, some people are more likely to develop acne than others. For example, those with a family history, or those born with oily and acne-prone skin, are more likely to develop breakouts. However, keep in mind that acne affects people of all ages, meaning you can be well into adulthood and still experience breakouts.

External factors are also amongst the things that cause acne. These include the cosmetic products we use on a daily basis, as well as environmental pollutants such as air pollution, temperature, sun exposure, plus weather conditions such as humidity.

However, keep in mind that environmental factors aren’t the sole driving factor of acne, as internal factors ‒ genetics, hormones, age ‒ also play a role in how breakouts are formed. Both should be considered when evaluating what is causing your pimples with a dermatologist.

Impacts of the sun on your skin

Although it’s tempting to sit in the sun in the hopes that it dries out your acne, sun exposure is another environmental factor worth keeping on your radar, as UV exposure causes oxidative stress and damage to the skin.

But that’s not all. Prolonged sun exposure increases the shedding of dead cells on your skin’s surface. This causes plugged pores, which eventually become blackheads, whiteheads, and pimples. Plus, exposure to the sun’s rays also increases your risk for developing skin cancer, making it important to wear and reapply non-comedogenic sunscreen with SPF30 or higher throughout the day.

Traveling & Acne

Because environmental factors can cause breakouts, keeping your skin protected as you travel is also important.

To do so, make sure to keep your skin clean with a gentle cleanser, and exfoliate gently to keep your follicles clear. Using sunscreen can also be helpful, especially if you are traveling to a hot and humid environment. Adding a non-comedogenic moisturizer to your routine can also help, as highly-polluted environments can strip the moisture from the skin, which then increases the amount of sebum excretion.


While internal factors such as genetics, hormones, and age are all things that influence acne, external factors should also be considered when trying to determine what causes pimples.

These external factors include the skin care products we use on a daily basis, as well as environmental factors such as air pollution, temperature, sun exposure, plus weather conditions such as humidity.

Using a cleanser and exfoliating your skin often can help, as it prevents the follicles from becoming clogged. Regularly using non-comedogenic sunscreen and moisturizer, or serum containing plant-based antioxidants, are other ways you can keep your skin protected from the elements.