Skin Science

Everything You Need to Know About Breakouts

Let’s talk about some causes and fixes for Atolla’s most-addressed skin concern.

Anya Gipsov

Product at Atolla

Anya Gipsov

Anya is a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University, focused on product development at the intersection of beauty and biotechnology.



What causes breakouts?

Ever wondered what’s behind those pesky pimples? A key factor at play here: oil. Hormonal changes — like stress, pregnancy, and menopause — can trigger a process of oil overproduction and lead to breakouts.

Another potential cause is the products you’re using. For example, products that strip your natural oils can trigger more oil to be produced — so keep that in mind the next time you’re trying out a product like an exfoliator. You could also be experimenting with too many new products at once, which can damage the skin barrier. 

What fixes breakouts?

So how to tackle breakouts? The ingredients that are most effective at targeting this concern are ones that help decrease sebum production, address certain types of bacteria, reduce inflammation, and increase cellular turnover. Keep in mind, different types of breakouts might respond differently to different ingredients or treatments, but generally there are two types of hydroxy acids that can be very helpful:

Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs)

AHAs brighten the skin by exfoliating and helping peel off dead skin cells. Some of the most commonly used AHAs include glycolic acid and lactic acid, and many products use multiple AHAs together for a compound effect. Other AHAs include citric acid (from citrus), malic acid (from fruits), and tartaric acid (from grapes).

Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs)

BHAs are more oil soluble (while AHAs are water soluble), making them a good option for dissolving oil. They are also anti-inflammatory and can help to exfoliate dead skin cells. One BHA that we use in our breakouts formulas is salicylic acid.

How does Atolla work with breakouts?

At Atolla, we have a front-row seat to understanding your breakouts: currently about 36% of users prioritize breakouts as their top skin concern, and around 17% of users list pore congestion and oiliness (which can have similar needs to breakouts) as their top concern. Our data has also taught us that within the breakouts group, hydration levels are slightly lower for users over 30, meaning that our algorithm can make smarter ingredient choices for breakouts users based on their age and potential skin needs.

When we create your formula, we make sure to add other active ingredients to help support your general skin health. These ingredients work by hydrating and nourishing the skin, and can be used in combination with AHAs and BHAs.

Here are some actives we use in breakouts formulas:

  • Salicylic Acid - A beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) that helps exfoliate the skin, clears pores, and fights the appearance of blemishes. Works best when given some time to penetrate the skin, so it is a good leave-on treatment.
  • Tea Tree Oil - A fast-absorbing oil with skin-soothing properties that can help reduce skin inflammation. This ingredient has a rich history of antimicrobial and medicinal properties.
  • Turmeric Extract - An extract containing the antioxidant curcimin, which helps to enhance glow and can aid in soothing skin irritation and inflammation. Like tea tree oil, it’s been used as a skin active for centuries in Eastern medicine.
  • Pumpkin Seed Oil - A hydrating oil shown to be a great source of zinc, Vitamin E, antioxidants, and fatty acids. 
  • Vitamin B5 - Also known as panthenol, this ingredient helps in maintaining skin hydration and supporting the skin's barrier function. 
  • Olive Fruit Oil - An oil rich in vitamins and antioxidants that can help with moisture retention and supporting the skin barrier. 

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