Jul 27, 2020 · 5 min read
Originally published on January 10, 2019
Figuring out what causes acne can be tough, but helping to prevent breakouts just takes a little detective work.
Face mapping can be key to helping identify the acne cause. While many factors can lead to acne breakouts, the location on your face can be a revealing clue. Here are some clues to help you identify the cause and prevent acne breakouts from reappearing.
There are a few possible reasons you’d get pimples in the same place over and over again. Acne can come back in the same spot from certain behaviors, such as sitting chin-in-hand while reading or working on your computer, touching your phone to your face when you’re talking on the phone, or putting certain makeup or products on the same area on a regular basis.
If you have a habit of picking or squeezing your zits, that can also cause recurring breakouts in that area, because the pimple won’t heal properly and may spread into the surrounding area. Often, a pimple recurs in the exact same spot because there is still inflammation deeper in the skin, which makes the spot vulnerable to the usual acne influencers (i.e., hormones, stress, diet, local irritants, etc.).
Pimples popping up on your lower cheek, jawline, and chin is known as a “hormonal pattern.” Acne in these areas is often caused by your skin’s oil glands overreacting to normal hormones, and can be triggered by factors such as stress, eating too much sugar or dairy, or the (perfectly normal) fluctuations that happen during women’s menstrual cycles. Also, women who have a hormonal imbalance due to a condition such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) may develop acne in a hormonal pattern.
Take a few minutes in the morning or evening to meditate.
Acne on jawline and chin.
Similar to jawline and chin breakouts, acne on your neck can be caused by your skin’s oil glands overreacting to normal hormones. Learn about what causes acne, including what foods and other factors may trigger an acne-triggering hormone reaction.
Blackheads are small clogged pores (aka open comedones) that turn black because the trapped oil and skin cells are exposed to the air. People tend to get blackheads on their nose because the skin on and around your nose (aka the T-zone) has a high concentration of oil glands.
You might try a pore strip once or twice a week, such as Bioré Deep Cleansing Pore Strips. (We only recommend pore strips for your nose—they can be too harsh for other parts of your face).
Since your nose might get oilier than other parts of your face, you might not need to apply moisturizer as much there.
Our cheeks are one of the more common places to break out, and this can happen for a variety of reasons: touching your cheeks, holding your phone against your cheek when you’re talking on the phone, friction or bacteria from the pillow you sleep on (or sleeping on your hand), or wearing certain makeup products on your cheeks, to name a few. In most people, there is not a specific reason for acne on the cheeks — it just happens (sorry)!
Wipe down your smartphone weekly.
Swap out your pillowcases more often.
Acne on cheeks.
Forehead pimples can be caused by hair products, shampoos, and conditioners, so if you’re breaking out there, check your hair products for pore-clogging ingredients such as sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate, and coconut oil (aka cocos nucifera oil in many ingredients lists). You can also look up a product on CosDNA.com to get an instant analysis of its ingredients, complete with a rating on the acne-causing and skin-irritating scales. Check out our easy guide: How to know if any makeup or skincare products might cause acne breakouts.
Another possible cause of forehead bumps is pityrosporum, a type of fungus. Pityrosporum (aka malassezia) is a regular guest on our skin, but it can be related to seborrheic dermatitis (i.e., dandruff of the face). Dandruff, FYI, can happen on your face as well as your scalp. 😱
If you’ve got signs of pityrosporum or seborrheic dermatitis clogging your pores with skin flakes, there are some easily accessible treatments. A zinc pyrithione soap or shampoo can help acne along the forehead/hairline, and an over-the-counter ketoconazole shampoo (1%) will help with a flaky, greasy scalp.
Avoid touching your forehead.
Use a zinc pyrithione soap or shampoo.
Check your toothpaste for sodium lauryl sulfate and/or sodium laureth sulfate. Some people break out more when their skin comes into contact with toothpaste foam because it’s got those pore-clogging ingredients.
Some people might be irritated by whitening agents or fluoride, too. If you’re breaking out around your lips, try switching to an SLS-free and fluoride-free toothpaste for a couple of months — it might make a difference! Check out brands such as Tom’s of Maine, Sensodyne, and Jason Natural Cosmetics for SLS-free toothpaste options.
Whatever the cause of your acne, your custom Curology superbottle can help you vanquish those villainous whiteheads and blackheads. It’s elementary for our dermatology providers. (How’s the detective metaphor working for you?) We’ll even take the case pro bono for the first month when you sign up for a free trial at curology.com.*
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.
Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).
*Subject to consultation. Subscription required.