Breakouts are the worst, and sometimes it feels like we’re on a never-ending quest to pinpoint what causes acne flare-ups and exactly what we can do — or avoid doing — to prevent them. We’ve all heard the big ones: you’re not washing your face, you’re not moisturizing enough, or you’re too stressed out.
But there are lots of other, less obvious things that may be inadvertently causing pimples. They’re a little sneakier, and creep into your daily routine in ways that might surprise you. The good news is, there are easy fixes for all of them!
The culprit: Your hands
Why they’re to blame: Breakouts are caused by dead skin cells, sebum (our skin’s oil), and P. acnes bacteria combining in our pores. Simply touching your face with your hands won’t cause breakouts, but the germs and bacteria on them could, especially if you’re acne prone. That’s because touching your face spreads the bacteria that’s already on your skin around and adds additional bacteria. Picking, squeezing, and scratching your skin won’t help you clear your blemishes, either.
The solution: If you have an uncontrollable habit of constantly touching your face, wash your hands frequently to prevent the spread of bacteria. Try to resist the urge to scratch too hard or pick at scabs by distracting your hands with other things.
The culprit: Your makeup
Why they’re to blame: There are tons of common ingredients in beauty products that are known for clogging pores and triggering breakouts. They range from parabens and petrochemicals to alcohol and silicone.
The solution: Keep an eye out for non-comedogenic products, which are formulated specifically to keep your pores clog-free. Mineral powders and other oil-free products are great alternatives to heavy foundations, since these sit on top of your skin rather than absorbing into it. It may be time to toss old (probably bacteria-ridden) makeup, or go to a doctor to see if you’re allergic to certain ingredients.
The culprit: Your makeup brushes and sponges
Why they’re to blame: That same gross bacteria that builds up on your old makeup products takes its toll on your brushes, too. They become petri dishes for bacteria (gross, we know) because they’re filled with hydrating components, which provide a perfect breeding ground for bacterial growth.
The solution: Cleaning your brushes is a quick and fairly painless task. Stores like Ulta and Sephora sell special brush cleanser, but you can also use gentle dish soap, which cuts oil and grease, or a homemade solution.
The culprit: Your hair products
Why they’re to blame: Remember those pesky silicones in your makeup? Yeah, they’re in hair products, too, along with sulfates that clog your pores. Bad news for face and back acne sufferers.
The solution: Check the ingredient lists of your go-to products to see if they contain silicones or sulfates. If they do, switch to an organic or all-natural brand instead.
The culprit: Your workout gear
Why they’re to blame: Your yoga mat or sweat band might be harboring acne-causing bacteria, or you’re hanging out in your athleisure wear too long after hitting the gym. Sweat-soaked gear that’s tight against the skin (think hats, helmets or headbands) can cause a specific type of breakout, called acne mechanica.
The solution: If you’re a gym rat, make sure you’re wiping down mats and any equipment that’s making direct contact with your skin before (and after!) your workout. No provided wipes? It’s easy to throw a travel pack into your gym bag! Once you’re done getting your sweat on, change out of your workout clothes ASAP — or at least pull off any tight gear like hats or sweat bands — and use an antibacterial cleanser to wash your face.
The culprit: Your cellphone
Why they’re to blame: Your phone screen collects bacteria from pretty much everything you touch each day. That can get real nasty, real fast. On top of coming in direct contact with your face as you talk on the phone, pressing the screen against your face causes sweat and oil to absorb back into your skin.
The solution: Try wiping down your screen with alcohol or disinfectant wipes regularly, avoiding putting too much pressure on your face when you talk on the phone, or using headphones when making calls to avoid contact entirely.
The culprit: Your skincare routine
Why they’re to blame: You might be over exfoliating your face. Yup, that’s a real thing! Scrubbing your face too much, like with a motorized cleansing brush, can actually cause clogged pores to swell and spread bacteria across the face into other pores. Using too much of certain drying ingredients (salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and sulphur are common culprits) can dry out your skin to a point that it over-produces oil, causing even more breakouts.
The solution: Skip the expensive electronic face-scrubbers, and stick to an acne-fighting cleanser most of the week. Once or twice a week, use a gentle chemical exfoliator (learn about AHAs and BHAs here!) to clear out your pores more deeply. If you’re worried your routine is drying out your face too much, opt for products with a smaller percentage of active ingredients. Or, check with your dermatologist about the strength you should be using.
The culprit: Your towels & pillowcases
Why they’re to blame: It’s easy to forget just how much bacteria these everyday items come in contact with, and how much they hold onto! Seventy percent of the stuff that makes laundry dirty is invisible oil, dead skin, soap residue, excess moisturizers, bodily fluids, and all sorts of other pore-clogging junk.
The solution: Ideally, you’ll want to wash your towels after just three uses, and your sheets at least once a month, your pillowcases once a week. Better start saving up those quarters! (Or, if you’re lazy like us, buy an extra pack of pillowcases!) If you’re still having acne troubles, silk pillowcases could be worth a try.
The culprit: Your diet
Why they’re to blame: It’s actually a myth that greasy foods cause acne. Actually, carbohydrates and dairy products that contain hormones are believed to increase your chances of breaking out.
The solution: If you’re a carb- or chocoholic like us, try cutting out certain foods for a few weeks at a time to see if your skin clears up. You can also go to a specialist to see if you’re presenting with any food allergies that may be causing breakouts.
Just like with everything, the reason we breakout varies greatly from person to person, so don’t be discouraged if changing one of these habits isn’t the magical cure-all for your skin. It is, however, great to be aware of what’s possibly contributing to your acne, and doing your best to combat those causes!