Worried about cheek acne? Here’s how to help treat it

Various factors can cause this common form of blemish, but being aware of what touches your face and using the right acne treatment may help alleviate it.

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Curology Team
Jan 31, 2020 · 7 min read

Woman with acne scars and pink hair pressing fingers into her cheeks
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.
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The cause of the breakouts on your cheeks could be obvious or due to a more complex web of acne triggers. Face mapping your acne can be incredibly helpful in figuring out the causes of recurring breakouts. But if you’re getting stubborn pimples on your cheeks that won’t go away, adjusting your lifestyle and double-checking your skincare products might do the trick.

What exactly is cheek acne?

Cheek acne is exactly what it sounds like: acne that appears on the cheek area. You could have a breakout of pimples pop up on your cheeks, some persistent blackheads, or deeper cysts. 

Closeup of woman looking at camera with purple background

Acne on different parts of your face, like your cheeks, jawline, around your mouth, and your T-zone, may have specific contributing factors. Cheek acne is fairly common and has various potential contributing factors, including your skin type and your lifestyle habits. 

Here are a few potential causes of cheek acne:

1. Buildup on pillows

Look no further than where you lie down. Your pillowcase may just be the culprit when it comes to your cheek acne. You lay your face on your pillow for hours every night. If you don’t wash your pillowcases frequently, you’re potentially exposing your skin to dead skin cells, sweat, oil, and the accumulation of hair product residue. 

2. Makeup tools

Hitting the sack without washing your face doesn't necessarily lead your skin to break out. But your makeup may contain ingredients that can clog your pores and create an environment that blemish-contributing bacteria love. So do your best to make sure those cheeks are clean before you check out for the night. These no-breakout makeup removers can help, especially if you have sensitive, acne-prone skin.

3. Your phone

How often do you touch your phone? And how often do you disinfect it? Our smartphones are magnets for bacteria—they go everywhere with us (including the bathroom!). When you touch your phone to your face, you’re exposing your skin to buildup that may contribute to blemishes. Wipe your phone down regularly. 

4. Genetics

Your genetics play a big role in breakouts. If you’re at a loss for what’s causing your cheek acne, part of the answer might just be that you are more prone to it. You can’t change your DNA, but you can figure out how to eliminate potential acne triggers from your life.

5. Hormones

Hormonal changes are another internal factor that could be contributing to your cheek blemishes. Changes in your hormones can increase oil production, which may lead to breakouts, especially in oily or acne-prone skin; this is why acne often begins around puberty.¹

6. Stress

Cheek acne is just like any other acne, which means stress can lead to acne and make your breakouts more persistent.² Stress doesn’t directly cause breakouts, but it can certainly contribute to them! Whether it’s meditation, a long walk, or just some deep breaths, do what works for you to stay zen.

How to help prevent cheek acne

1. Hands off!

Certain behaviors—like resting the side of your face on your hand—may cause acne to surface in the same spot. Your hands can carry bacteria and sweat that can be deposited on your face whenever you touch it. The friction from continually touching your face can also contribute to breakouts. 

If you have a habit of picking at or squeezing your zits, this may also cause recurring breakouts in that area. That’s because the pimple won’t heal properly and inflammation may spread into the surrounding area—or lead to more breakouts.

2. Clean anything that touches your face

Think of everything that touches your face—everything from your phone to your pillowcases and makeup—may be contributing to breakouts. Try cleaning your phone with a screen wipe like the ones by ZEISS. You might also try swapping out your pillowcases once a week. Reach for pillowcases made from natural fabrics like cotton, silk, or bamboo, which are more breathable (and less sweaty!) than synthetics such as polyester.

In addition to removing your makeup before bed, be sure to regularly wash your makeup brushes (once a week or so) to get rid of the debris, oil, and dead skin cells.

3. Check your shaving method

Just like a skincare routine, your beard care routine can be revamped to help prevent breakouts. Shaving too close may lead to ingrown hairs, which can leave acne-like bumps, and using beard care products with potentially pore-clogging ingredients can also lead to breakouts.

For the best beard results, you can soak your face and neck with shaving cream for several minutes before shaving, and apply a moisturizing aftershave balm when you’re finished.

4. Read all the ingredients

While you’re reading the labels of your skincare products, look at the ingredients in your hair care products to see if there are any that may potentially be pore-clogging. For example, coconut oil, a common ingredient in many hair treatments, can clog pores.³ Product residue left on your pillowcase might transfer to your skin, clog your pores, and worsen your breakouts. (All the more reason to change that pillowcase!)

And if you’re using makeup to cover your cheek acne, it could be making your breakouts worse. Double-check to make sure your products aren’t the culprit.

Cheek acne vs. rosacea

It can be easy to confuse rosacea with cheek acne, but what exactly is rosacea, how is it different from acne, and how can it be treated

Rosacea is a common chronic skin condition where your face can become persistently red and flushed. A person with rosacea may also experience inflamed acne-like breakouts.⁴ 

Rosacea may flare up due to triggers such as hot drinks, alcohol, hot or cold weather, exercise, or spicy food.⁵ The cause of rosacea is unknown, but if your family has a history of the condition, you may be more prone to developing it.⁶

Symptoms to help you distinguish rosacea from acne include visible blood vessels (aka telangiectasias), persistent redness in the central face, and frequent flushing or blushing.⁷

What role do hormones play in cheek acne?

Hormones are one of the biggest factors contributing to acne. When your hormones change, especially during puberty,¹ it can lead to an increase in sebum, which collects in the pores and can contribute to acne.¹

 Fluctuating hormones can contribute to breakouts. You might experience hormonal acne during puberty when you experience changes to your body, only to notice it calm down when you’re an adult. Many people also experience adult acne,⁸ which is acne extending beyond the teen years.

Starting or stopping hormonal birth control pills or other hormonal treatments could also contribute to breakouts.

Getting rid of cheek acne

Incorporating preventative measures into your daily routine may help prevent future breakouts, but what should you do to get rid of existing pimples? When it comes to cheek acne, we have good news! Many of the steps you take to keep your skin healthy may also help with acne flare-ups. Start with a simple three-step skincare routine to keep things easy.  

  1. Cleanse: Cleanser is the first step in both a morning and night skin care routine. Find a great cleanser for your skin, like Curology’s cleanser

  2. Moisturize: The next step is to moisturize your skin. Curology offers a lightweight face lotion along with a super luxurious rich hydrating cream. (FYI, at nighttime, moisturizing will likely be the third step in your routine.)

  3. Protect: As part of your morning routine, you want to be sure to protect your skin from sun damage. Always apply your favorite broad spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 so you can enjoy the sun while minimizing risk.

  4. Treat: Nighttime is when you can add in your acne treatment, right after using your face wash.

Remember, it can take time for you to notice changes in your skin, so if you don’t see immediate results, don’t panic. Be consistent and patient with your routine, and let the products do the acne-fighting for you. 

Lots of DIY remedies promise to clear your skin, but we generally suggest sticking to thoroughly researched ingredients—with proven results! 

An over-the-counter acne treatment can help reduce your breakouts because they contain ingredients that directly target your blemishes. Salicylic acid can help clear breakouts (including blackheads and whiteheads!),⁹ while benzoyl peroxide fights the bacteria that contributes to acne.¹⁰ Another topical acne treatment is adapalene, a retinoid that promotes skin cell turnover.¹¹ Only one form of adapalene can be purchased over-the-counter, though. The rest are prescription-only.

When should you see a dermatologist for cheek acne?

If over-the-counter treatments are letting you down, you may want to see a dermatology provider to get specific advice for your skin. Curology matches you with a dermatology provider to help you understand your treatment options. We’ll also prescribe you a Custom Formula with a mix of active ingredients chosen to treat your specific skin concerns.

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

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To help you take the guesswork out of skincare, remember, Curology is here for you! We can complete your routine with a non-comedogenic cleanser and your choice of moisturizer, so you can be sure your skincare products aren’t breaking you out. Sign up for a free month* and just pay just $4.95 (plus tax) on your first shipment.


What exactly is cheek acne?

Cheek acne is exactly what it sounds like: acne that appears on the cheek area. You could have a breakout of pimples pop up on your cheeks, some persistent blackheads, or deeper cysts.

What role do hormones play in cheek acne?

Hormones are one of the biggest factors contributing to acne. When your hormones change, especially during puberty, it can lead to an increase in sebum, which collects in the pores and can contribute to acne.

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P.S. We did the research so you don’t have to:

  1. Zaenglein A. L, et al. Guidelines of care for the management of acne vulgaris. (2016, February 17).

  2. Thiboutot D. New Insights into the management of acne: An update from the Global Alliance to Improve Outcomes in Acne Group. (2009 May 1).

  3. Abel Francis and Anitta Shojan. Comedogenicity of Oils. International Journal of Contemporary Medical Research. (August 2019).

  4. ​​Claudel, J. P., et al. Acne and nutrition: hypotheses, myths and facts. Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology : JEADV. (October 2018). 

  5. American Academy of Dermatology, What is Rosacea: Overview, (n.d.).

  6. Thiboutot, D., et al. Standard management options for rosacea: The 2019 update by the National Rosacea Society Expert Committee. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology vol. 82,6 ( January 2020).

  7. American Academy of Dermatology. Rosacea: Who Gets and Causes. (n.d.).

  8. Gallo, Richard L., et al. Standard classification and pathophysiology of rosacea: The 2017 update by the National Rosacea Society Expert Committee. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology vol. 78,1.(January 2018).

  9. American Academy of Dermatology. Adult Acne. (n.d.).

  10. A double-blind, placebo-controlled evaluation of a 2% salicylic acid cleanser for improvement of acne vulgaris. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, Volume 68, Issue 4, Supplement 1. (2013, April 3).

  11. Matin T, Goodman. Benzoyl Peroxide. StatPearls ( 2021, October 20). .

  12. Tolaymat L, et al. Adapalene. StatPearls.(2022, January 4).

This article was originally published on January 31, 2020, and updated on March 9, 2022.

*Cancel anytime. Subject to consultation. Results may vary. 

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Nicole Hangsterfer Avatar

Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C

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