The Top Acne Causes, and What to Do About Them
The only thing more frustrating than waking up with a new pimple is having to ask yourself, "But why am I breaking out?" Not knowing where it came from makes it hard to determine the best treatment method. That's why we're getting to the bottom of the potential acne causes. Is it stress? A hormonal breakout? Or just irritation from testing a new product? It can be hard to get to the bottom of it, but worry no more. Clear your mind — and your skin — with this guide to the most common pimple causes.
Once you know what's causing acne to flare up, it's easy to come up with the right acne solutions for you. In addition to knowing the best skin-care ingredients for fighting breakouts, sometimes lifestyle changes are needed to combat spots. Reducing stress, cutting down on sugar, and getting more sleep can work wonders for some people, while others may find their pimples are actually due to an allergic reaction from their laundry detergent or even their toothpaste.
Ahead, we rounded up the most common causes of acne out there — keep scrolling to decode your breakouts.
Popular Acne Causes:
— Additional reporting by Jessica Harrington
Acne Causes: Genetics
Did your mom or dad have acne? Do your siblings currently? Unfortunately, it just might run in the family. Studies show that a "positive family history of acne in parents was associated with increased acne risk in their offspring." File this one under "not your fault."
Acne Causes: Hormones
Hormones called androgens overstimulate the skin's oil glands, which frequently leads to a breakout around menstruation. (If you break out along your jawline, this is the likely culprit.) Some women find relief by going on oral medications, such as contraceptives, but you'll need to discuss the benefits and risks with your doctor.
Similarly, for some women, pregnancy can cause a spike in acne. Progesterone increases during pregnancy, which can affect the skin's oil levels. While several safe treatment options exist, others such as isotretinoin and tetracycline can cause birth defects. To be safe, talk with your obstetrician before embarking on a new skin-care routine.
Acne Causes: Picking Your Face
You know that whitehead that's just begging to be popped? Leave it alone. Same with every other type of acne. Picking at your skin introduces more germs, increases the chances of scarring, and can increase inflammation — which means more breakouts.
Acne Causes: Stress
Ever notice how your skin seems to break out right before a big event like a job interview? It's not a coincidence. Simply put, stress is terrible for your body — and that includes your skin. Stress raises levels of cortisol, which increases inflammation and causes oil glands to go into overdrive. While completely avoiding stress is impossible, you can improve your skin (and overall well-being) by meditating, relaxing, spending time with animals, or doing anything else that calms you.
Acne Causes: Improper Treatment
Unfortunately, cleansing your face isn't enough to make acne flee. To battle pimples, you'll need ammunition in the form of over-the-counter or prescription treatments. Benzoyl peroxide kills the bacteria that causes acne, so it's highly effective as a preventative measure. Likewise, salicylic acid can keep pores from clogging.
When that's not enough, a dermatologist can offer help. Oral and topical antibiotics, topical retinoid creams, and chemical peels can all make a difference.
But keep in mind: even when armed with the right acne treatments, these things take time. Miracles don't happen overnight, so if you expect your skin to clear up in days, you'll be disappointed. Depending on your age, it may take up to three months for your skin cells to turn over and reveal new skin. Be consistent with your skin-care regimen, and be patient.
Acne Causes: Weather
First things first: that idea that a little sunshine helps acne? It's a myth. But weather changes can affect your skin. Changing climates and seasonal shifts might be the cause of your breakout. If you've recently moved or have taken a vacation, see an aesthetician or dermatologist. Usually they'll be able to help your skin get back to normal.
Acne Causes: Medications
Some prescriptions list acne as a potential side effect. To get to the bottom of your breakout, it's worth looking at your Rx or contacting your doctor about the potential link.
Acne Causes: Lack of Sleep
Ever think your acne is getting worse overnight? It could be. Not sleeping enough inflicts stress on the body, which raises levels of cortisol, the so-called "stress hormone." In turn, cortisol creates breakouts. Aim for eight hours of sleep per night, even if you have to wear a sleep mask or earplugs to catch those zzz's.
Acne Causes: Working Out
Sweat itself doesn't cause breakouts, but it can mix with oils in your pores — and that can lead to acne. Friction can also aggravate acne, so wear loose-fitting clothing made of natural fabrics; synthetic fabrics such as Lycra and nylon can rub against skin, trap sweat, and clog pores. To avoid this, shower as soon as possible post sweat sesh and use a body wash with salicylic acid to keep pores clean.
Acne Causes: Diet
Want to change your skin? Change your diet. Lowering your consumption of dairy, caffeine, peanuts, seaweed, sugar, and soy can lead to clearer skin. Good-for-your-skin foods include salmon, dark leafy greens like kale, and antioxidant-rich green tea. Give it a month and see what happens. After all, you are what you eat.
Acne Causes: Travel
Many frequent fliers experience acne after a trip. The air in planes is very dry, which can trick your skin into producing even more oil. If you have to be up in the air, pack a noncomedogenic moisturizer in your carry-on.
Acne Causes: Testing New Products
Comedogenic ingredients build up in pores, and unfortunately, they're in plenty of beauty products. Looking for products with "noncomedogenic" labels is a good place to start, but you'll also want to check the ingredient list.
Acne Causes: Under or Over Cleansing
Cleansing your face of sebum, makeup, and dirt is important. Some acne sufferers, however, believe that washing more frequently will lead to better skin — that's not always the case. Cleansing in the morning and evening is all that's necessary. Any more than that, and you could irritate or dry out your skin.
Acne Causes: Allergic Reaction
Especially for people with sensitive skin, allergic reactions to things like your laundry detergent and dryer sheets can lead to pimples. Some people even develop contact dermatitis and mistake it for acne. Swap your usual soap for fragrance-free detergent, skip the dryer sheets, and this could clear things up.
Similarly, if you break out around the corners of your mouth, your toothpaste is the likely culprit. And that old tip about using toothpaste to heal a pimple? It's a myth.
Acne Causes: Dirty Sheets, Makeup Brushes, or Phone
Everyday items like your phone, makeup brushes, and even your bedding can be causing you to breakout. When was the last time you changed your sheets? Bed linens can harbor bacteria, which are more than happy to multiply on your face. Change your pillowcases at least twice a week. That goes for towels, too.
If you're breaking out on your cheeks, your phone could be the culprit. Pressing a phone to your skin can lead to a breakout. Once a week, clean your phone with an alcohol wipe — and if you've been on the phone for more than 15 minutes, it might not be a bad idea to cleanse your face, too.
Lastly, on your list of things to do, washing makeup brushes probably ranks pretty low, but it's a worthy use of your time if acne is a concern. Otherwise, bacteria grows — and dirty brushes will just transfer that bacteria to your face.
Acne Causes: Sleeping With Makeup On
We know, we know — you're tired. But hitting the pillow without washing your face is a surefire way to trigger a breakout. If you're too exhausted to do a full skin-care routine, get the worst of it off with a cleansing wipe.