10 Reasons You’re Breaking Out — And How To Stop It

Illustrated by Emily Kowzan.
We always imagined the secrets to perfect, glowing skin were kept tight in some Hollywood vault, accessible only to the rich and famous. Of course, that was before we met Renée Rouleau. As a skin-care expert and celebrity esthetician, Rouleau's got the low-down on how to get the best skin, ever. Here, she'll be interviewing her celeb clients and sharing her tips. Can't you just feel the glow?
Having a breakdown over your breakouts? You're not alone: Hands down, blemishes are the number one concern for my clients — even if they didn't experience the curse of teenage acne. The truth is, hormonal fluctuation and stress, among myriad other culprits, can cause the the skin to flare up. Ahead, I've laid out what I consider to be the top ten causes of breakouts — and how to fix them.
1. Touching Your Face
We all do it — and, unfortunately, all that subconscious face-touching can wreak havoc on your skin. While it’s important to wash your skin every single night with a gentle, sulfate-free cleanser, it’s doubly important to also make a conscious effort not to touch your face unnecessarily. You’re literally putting the germs and dirt you touch all day (hi, keyboards, phones, and subway poles!) directly onto your face that can add bacteria, which — you guessed it! — leads to breakouts!
Skin Tip: Keep your hands occupied! If you're not typing away at a desk, get a toy or gadget, like this one, that you can play with when you're most likely to be touching your skin. It’s fun to fidget with to keep hands busy — and more importantly, off your face.
2. Dairy
When you develop cystic breakouts (those hard, painful, underground blemishes that linger for weeks) on the chin, jawline, and neck area, it might be a sign that you’re getting more dairy in your diet than necessary. Skin acts as an excretory system to get rid of things that your body doesn't agree with, so when you get too much dairy, it could be harder to digest. Often time, this may result in cystic blemishes in the lower area of the face.
Skin Tip:In addition to adding a treatment specially formulated for cystic acne, determine if your acne cysts are related to your dairy intake by completely cutting it from your diet for two weeks. If you don’t develop any new cysts, then dairy might be the problem! Slowly introduce dairy back into your diet, and the point when you start breaking out again is your body’s tolerance level — just be sure to double check your findings with a doctor.
Illustrated by Emily Kowzan.
3. Stress
Stress not only causes acne flare-ups, but it worsens overall skin condition, too. It induces the adrenal glands into overproduction of cortisol, a steroid, which causes our sebaceous glands to produce more oil. So, during stressful situations, many people experience an increase in acne, as well as more sensitive, inflamed skin. A real win-win!
Skin Tip: The easiest solution to reducing stress is to get 7-8 hours of sleep every night: It’s called beauty sleep for a reason! Additionally, if you can't remove the stressor completely, be sure to drink enough water and take deep breaths throughout the day.
4. Beauty Before Bedtime
A day’s worth of makeup, dirt, and oil all make for a breeding ground of blemish causing bacteria — and you wonder why you’re broken out when you skip a nighttime skin cleansing!
Skin Tip:When you're too exhausted to wash your face before falling into bed, try to wash earlier in the evening, like when you get home from work or before making dinner. Cleaning your face doesn’t need to happen five minutes before your head hits the pillow. It’s so important to wash your face every night to keep it clear and healthy.
5. Your Hand Cream
Now that the cooler air is upon us, you may find yourself applying a rich cream on your hands to combat dryness. While this cream may work wonders for your hands, if you’re someone who sleeps with their hands on their face — you're doing it again! — you’re introducing heavy, oil-based ingredients into your pores, potentially causing congestion and breakouts.
Skin Tip: Pay attention when you go to bed to see if your hands make their way up to your face and if so, wear cotton gloves at night. Yes, seriously.
6. Your Cycle
In addition to cramping and fatigue, many women can experience a surge of blemishes at the start of their monthly cycle. This is completely normal, but can be very frustrating.
Skin Tip:One week before the first day of your period, take vitamin B-6 daily, which may help regulate hormonal imbalances that can lead to breakouts. In addition, if you find yourself craving salty or sweet snacks, be sure you're drinking enough water to flush it out.
Illustrated by Emily Kowzan.
7. Flying
Flying on an airplane can really throw skin out of whack. Airplane cabins have extremely low humidity, which cause the skin to get extremely dehydrated, and can trap oil underneath the skin, resulting in — yep! — post-flight breakouts.
Skin Tip:In-flight, use a hydrating gel-based mask. Then, once you've landed, remove surface dead skin cell buildup caused by the dry cabin air by using an exfoliating product.
8. The Weather
When the season is changing and the weather fluctuates dramatically, it can leave skin confused, unbalanced, and prone to blemishes.
Skin Tip:The change in weather means it’s time to adjust your skin care routine, but only slightly! Many people feel like they need to overhaul their entire routine with acne products when their skin starts to breakout. But because you're only over-compensating, your skin will become dry, flaky, and irritated. Address the sudden breakouts by incorporating just one product with antibacterial ingredients like salicylic acid, and be sure to apply it directly to the blemish.
9. New Medication
Every drug affects the body differently, but, medications can cause stress on the nervous system, which elevates adrenals, resulting in blemishes. Certain medications may also contribute to the wear and tear of connective tissue resulting in flaccid, loose, sagging skin.
Skin Tip: If you think new medications are affecting your skin, consult your physician.
10. Hair Conditioner
In my experience, if your breakouts occur along the hairline and on the back, this may be from heavy oil-soluble ingredients leaving a residue on the skin.
Skin Tip: After rinsing out your hair conditioner in the shower, put your hair up in a clip (if it’s long), and use your shower gel to wash your back to cut out any oil residue that rinsing alone can’t accomplish. Then, proceed to washing your face concentrating on the hairline area. This will ensure that hair conditioners won’t cause any unnecessary breakouts.
While there are myriad other possible causes for breakouts, these are the ten that I find to be most common for my clients. What have you found to be the cause of yours? I’d love to hear your experiences.

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