Please upgrade your browser for the best Refinery29 experience. Read more.

Saved! Access Favorites in your account profile. Removed from my favorites

11 Surprising Culprits Behind Your Breakouts

  1. Begin
    OLAY_Opener_460x552

    SHARE IT

    comments
    See All Slides
    For the most part, we know what causes acne. We know not to indulge in too many late-night pizza benders, we try our hardest to remove our makeup before bed, and we have the very best intentions (intentions being the key word) to frequently wipe down our smartphones. So, when a breakout takes over our face despite our best efforts, it never fails to leave us wondering,What gives?

    “Your body may be trying to tell you something, so listen to it and trace your steps,” says Dr. Arleen Lamba, founder of Blush Med Skincare in Bethesda, MD. That new crop of zits could have come from something as seemingly harmless as nail biting or an overzealous makeout session.

    To get the full lineup of the sneaky culprits, we enlisted the help of top skin-care pros to fill us in on the mistakes we unknowingly make day in and day out. We’re also sharing the best ways to treat and prevent unexpected breakouts by making small changes to your routine and using kind-to-your-skin acne-care products, like Olay Fresh Effects. Knowing your adversary is the first step of an attack. Once you find out what your zit triggers really are, you just might discover that the pizza can stay.


    Begin Slideshow
  2. Illustrated by Sarah Quatrano.

    SHARE IT

    comments
    See All Slides
    0 of 11
    }

    The Culprit: Your Pesky Nail-Biting Habit
    Think of everything you’ve touched today — all the doorknobs, subway stairwell rails, and germ-ridden keyboards. Now, think about all the times you’ve subconsciously rested your chin on your hands, swept away your bangs, or, worse, nibbled on your nails — simultaneously transporting all that dirt, oil, and bacteria onto your skin.

    When you’re bringing your hands to your mouth to chew on your nail beds, the jagged, chewed fingernails end up pushing the bacteria and dirt even deeper into the sensitive mucous membranes on your face. This clogs pores and causes breakouts along your mouth and chin.

    The Solution: Switch Up Your Vice
    Kick your nail-biting habit by keeping your mouth busy with gum or mints, suggests Lamba. Or, use your habit as a handy excuse for a weekly manicure. “When you keep your nails neat and tidy, you’re less likely to bite them,” she says. Try polishes specifically formulated with a bitter taste to deter the biting.

  3. Illustrated by Sarah Quatrano.

    SHARE IT

    comments
    See All Slides
    1 of 11
    }

    The Culprit: Removing Unwanted Facial Hair
    We’re suckers for any beauty trend hailing from the Far East. But, if you’ve recently taken up dermaplaning — or any other sort of facial-hair removal, be it waxing your upper lip or using a depilatory on your chin hairs (let’s all admit right now, grandmas aren’t the only ones who sprout these) — you could be causing breakouts. Removing facial hair via any of these methods is hard on your skin and causes irritation and tissue swelling. “[You’re] actually pushing skin cells deeper into the pores, leading them to clog as acne-causing bacteria settles in,” says Lamba.

    The Solution: Prep Your Skin Pre-Session
    Laser hair removal is a gentler method of keeping your skin fuzz-free, but if you’re not able to shell out the extra dough, pay close attention to treating your skin pre- and post-hair removal. “Use an anti-microbial cleanser to remove any bacteria before your wax session,” says Lamba. Exfoliating the area with a gentle cleanser will remove the dead cells and dirt. If you get zits anyway, exfoliate again, and then use topical tea tree oil or witch hazel for their antiseptic properties. Follow up by spot treating with salicylic acid.

  4. Illustrated by Sarah Quatrano.

    SHARE IT

    comments
    See All Slides
    2 of 11
    }

    The Culprit: That Goes-With-Everything Necklace
    Your signature necklace could be to blame for breakouts around the nape of your neck. “In hotter climates, you tend to sweat more on the back of your neck,” says Lamba. “The salt found in your sweat reacts with the metal in some jewelry, causing irritation.”

    The Solution: Shop Around
    This kind of irritation is most common with metals like nickel, usually found in costume jewelry, says Lamba, so look for higher-quality metals. And, always take off your jewelry when hopping in the shower. “Soaps, washes, and lotions can leave product build-up behind…which, in constant contact with your skin, leads to inflammation and breakouts.”

  5. Illustrated by Sarah Quatrano.

    SHARE IT

    comments
    See All Slides
    3 of 11
    }

    The Culprit: Your Daily Hair Arsenal
    Your regular routine of shampoo, conditioner, and styling products can lead to what is referred to as pomade acne. Oil-based products containing petroleum, silicone, jojoba oil, or shea butter could be to blame because they "tend to trap the most bacteria and create a breeding ground for acne," says Dr. Karen Hammerman, a board-certified dermatologist with expertise in cosmetic dermatology. Pomade acne can occur along your forehead, jawline, temples, behind your ears, on your back, and along your hairline.

    The Solution: Shower With Care
    Take extra care to tilt your head to one side as you rinse off products in the shower — you want to keep the residue off acne-prone areas of your body, says Hammerman. And, stay away from film-depositing sulfates (often labeled SLS), particularly in shampoos. While you’re still in the shower, wash your face with an acne-preventing cleanser, like Olay Salicylic Acid Acne Treatment Deep Scrub, to make sure you get off any products that may break you out later.

  6. Illustrated by Sarah Quatrano.

    SHARE IT

    comments
    See All Slides
    4 of 11
    }

    The Culprit: Your Trendy New Haircut
    If you’ve never had Bangs Regret, you’ve never had bangs. In addition to hanging in your face and blowing in your eyes, they may also be causing the sporadic breakouts along your forehead. Sweat gets trapped on your forehead all day long, as do the styling products that cause pomade acne, says Hammerman.

    The Solution: Strategic Styling
    The more you keep your hair off your face, the better. Pull your bangs back periodically during the day, and dab the area with oil-blotting sheets. At night, keep your hair wrapped in a silk scarf to decrease the chance of oil absorbing into your face as you toss and turn.