Breakouts are the worst. And if you’re one of the 85% of young people or 20% of adults who is affected by acne then you know just how much it all sucks.
So, what causes zits, you ask? Mainly hormones and the overproduction of oil. Basically, your hair follicles become clogged with oil, which leads to the growth of the zit-causing bacteria known as P. acnes. Although genetics play a big role in how your body reacts to acne-stimulating hormones, there are certain patterns you could be repeating on a daily basis that cause or exacerbate your breakouts.
Luckily, we enlisted the help of a top dermatologist and aesthetician to identify some of those surprising triggers. So before you go cursing your parents again for your genes, take the below culprits into consideration, first.
1 Your spot treatments could be making your zits worse
Raise your hand if at the first sight of a bump, you load up the area with acne cream (hi, me). We’re all a little guilty of overreacting and over-treating, but Samantha Wright, a licensed aesthetician at the Dangene Institute, suggests taking a second to assess your zituation first.
Topical salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, or sulphur over-the-counter treatments dry out your skin (that’s the point). But when you overuse these ingredients, you cause your skin to produce even more oil and, in turn, zits. Additionally, the active ingredients can slightly burn the top layer of your skin, making it look red and raw if you’re using all the things and far too often. And if you’ve ever tried to apply makeup over a crusty, scabby pimple, you know dry skin also makes the pimple harder to conceal.
2 Your face scrub is doing more harm than good for your pimples
If you’re of the mind-set that the more you scrub your skin—whether with a washcloth, rough exfoliants (like a face scrub), loofahs, or cleansing brushes—the smoother it will be, I’m here to tell you that your breakouts are only gonna get worse. The idea here is to repair your skin’s protective barrier to keep bacteria out, not cause further trauma by scrubbing the sh*t out of it.
What you can do differently: Wash and moisturise your face with a mild yet effective formula that contains chemical exfoliators that don’t require scrubbing, like glycolic and lactic acids.
3 The ingredients in your skincare actually cause breakouts
If you’re frustrated because unlike your friends with perfect complexions you actually do take care of your skin, your acne trigger could be the sneaky ingredients in your products. According to Jeanine Downie, MD, a cosmetic dermatologist in Montclair, New Jersey, mineral oil, for example, is a super-heavy moisturising agent found in some lotions that’s known to clog your pores and cause you to break out. She also mentions silicones as another ingredient that can plug your pores and result in blemishes. Additionally, fragrance (especially irritating for sensitive skin) and sodium lauryl sulfate (an oil-stripping surfactant) can be found in many products and are also harsh on the skin.
What you can do differently: ‘Read your labels’ is easier said than done if you don’t know what to look for, but a good place to start is by getting rid of any products that contain the aforementioned common irritants. Dr. Downie also suggests sticking with products labeled ‘noncomedogenic,’ which means your makeup or skincare has been specifically formulated not to clog your pores. That said, if you’ve tried all the above and your breakouts continue to worsen, make an appointment with your dermatologist to see if you could be allergic to another ingredient in the product.
4 Your hats are triggering forehead pimples
Anything that can trap sweat and bacteria against your skin and clog your pores, like the lining of a tight hat or a headband, can cause zits to crop up.
What you can do differently: Hats are cute, yes, but try not to wear them when you’re working out or sweating indoors or loosen the band so it doesn’t fit so snug against your skin.
5 Your hair products could be the culprit of your bacne
Remember those pore-clogging ingredients we talked about before? Those same sulfates, heavy moisturising agents, and silicones can be found in your shampoo, conditioner, and hairstyling products. And similar to how they cause breakouts on your face, they can seep into the pores on your body and clog them, resulting in chest acne, bacne, and even pimples along your hairline, says Wright.
What you can do differently: When conditioning your hair in the shower, clip your hair up and off your back while you let the formula sit. Then when you rinse, tilt your head over and to the side to keep the residue off your face, chest, and back. Then wrap your hair in a towel (yes, while standing in the shower—just move out of the blast of water) then step back into the water to rinse off your body and face one final time.
6 Your workouts are causing body breakouts
Skipping the shower right after working out or not washing your face allows the mixture of makeup, dirt, bacteria, oil, and sweat to find a nice little home in your pores and cause breakouts.
What you can do differently: Before you start sweating, wash your face to remove your makeup. After you’ve finished your sweat session, shower (whoa, revolutionary). If you don’t have time, use a facial wipe to clear away any pore-clogging oil and bacteria on your skin.
7 Your detergent is irritating your skin
Per Dr. Downie, some of the chemicals in certain laundry detergents can be too harsh for your skin. And once you slip on your clothes or lie on your pillow, your complexion might react to the residue that’s left on the fabric, resulting in breakouts on your face, back, butt, chest, etc.
What you can do differently: Choose a detergent that’s fragrance-free, dye-free, and dermatologist-tested for sensitive skin.
8 Your tanning obsession is ruining your skin (in more than one way)
By now, you know that baking in the sun and in tanning beds causes skin cancer, but if that still hasn’t stopped you from hitting the beach without sunscreen or the proper protective gear (aka that Insta-worthy sun hat), perhaps this will: Contrary to popular belief, the sun isn’t healing your acne, it’s actually making it worse. As your face gets red from the sun, it makes any breakouts you might have blend right in, creating the appearance of clearer skin. But what’s really going on is that on top of reddening your face, the sun is drying out your skin and triggering excess oil production, which can lead to more zits.
What you can do differently: For starters, stop going to tanning beds. Period. And if you are in the sun, make sure to slather on a titanium dioxide- or zinc-based sunscreen—(these natural sun protectants and their formulations below contain fewer chemicals, so they won’t break you out as easily), and wear a sun hat or ball cap to shield your face from harsh rays.
9 Your diet could be the source of your acne
According to Dr. Downie, tomatoes and peppers, two common ingredients in spicy foods, contain acidic lycopene—a somewhat common irritant that can throw off the skin’s pH levels and trigger breakouts around the mouth. But it isn’t just spicy foods that can irritate your skin. Some people have a reaction to dairy, gluten, or other types of foods. How diet affects the skin is totally dependent on the person.
What you can do differently: Talk to your dermatologist or make an appointment with a gastroenterologist to see if the food you’re eating is the source of your problem or if something more serious is going on in your gastrointestinal tract.
10 Your boyfriend’s beard is messing with your face
Sure, some dudes look hot with a beard (I see you, Ryan Gosling), or even a five o’clock shadow, but your BF’s facial hair isn’t doing your pretty face any favours when it comes to breakouts. Long story short: As you and your guy hook up, your smooth face creates friction against his prickly one, which stimulates your skin’s oil production. And an increase in oil = an increase in blemishes.
What you can do differently: Kindly ask him to shave his beard in the name of flawless skin. Or you know, be more careful when you’re making out.
11 Your smoking habit is causing skin irritation and dryness
Every time you light up a cigarette, you decrease the amount of oxygen that goes to the skin on your face, Dr. Downie explains. Smoking not only predisposes you to cancer, but it also causes the breakdown of collagen and elastin that leads to wrinkles and increased pore size. The carcinogens in the smoke also irritate your skin and dry it out, triggering it to produce more oil and, possibly, more breakouts.
What you can do differently: Don’t smoke. It’s as simple as that. You’ll live longer and have clearer skin. Boom.
12 Your pent-up stress is breeding new pimples
Stress triggers acne, and acne results in more stress—ah, the very vicious cycle. When you’re under pressure, your skin produces stress hormones, including cortisol, that can stimulate your oil glands to make testosterone, Dr. Downie explains. This then increases your oil production and clogs your pores.
What you can do differently: Work out regularly, meditate, and take time out of your busy schedule to focus on yourself. All these things will help you release stress, so your body doesn’t continue to release hormones that are trying to wreak havoc on your skin.
13 Your tendency to touch your face is making your pimples worse
It’s tempting in the moment, but it’s never a good idea to play dermatologist, because it’s nearly impossible to pick your own pimple and not make a red mark that could turn into a scar. Even worse, when you try to press the oil plug or pus out of your pore, you run the risk of pushing the bacteria deeper and making the problem worse.
This would also be a good time to bring up the fact that touching your face or resting your chin in your palm while you’re sitting at your desk can transfer bacteria from your hand onto your face, Dr. Downie adds.
This post originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com.
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