Breakouts are tricky. 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 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 might creep into your daily routine in ways that surprise you. The good news? 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. Touching your face spreads the bacteria that’s already on your skin around and adds additional bacteria, the perfect recipe for a breakout! Picking, squeezing, and scratching your skin has the same effect and also won’t aid you in your pursuit of keeping your skin clear.
The solution: To prevent the spread of bacteria, wash your hands frequently if you have an uncontrollable habit of constantly touching your face. Try to resist the urge to scratch too hard or pick at scabs by distracting your hands with other things.
The culprit: Your skincare routine
Why it’s 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 cause clogged pores to swell and spread bacteria across your face and into other pores. Using too much product (washing your face too much) 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, like SLMD's Salicylic Acid Cleanser. Formulated with salicylic acid —it will exfoliate and prevent the formation of acne, without irritating or drying out your complexion. Make sure you’re sticking to a simple routine and don’t wash your face more than twice a day!
The culprit: Your makeup products
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 your hair products, too, along with sulfates that clog your pores!
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 it’s to blame: Your yoga mat or sweatband might be harboring acne-causing bacteria, or you might be hanging out in your sweaty leggings a little too long after hitting the gym. Sweat-soaked clothing that’s tight against the skin can result in the type of acne known as acne mechanica, caused by friction when your skin isn’t exposed to air.
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. Take a shower as soon as you’re done sweating and use a good acne-fighting body wash. Go for SLMD's Salicylic Acid Body Wash if you're seeing a lot of blackheads and whiteheads, and BP Body Wash if you're seeing and feeling more of those deep, under the skin, inflammatory pimples. Also, remember to bring a change of clothes for after your workout. If you don’t have time to rinse off, having a body spray on hand to spritz your skin, along with cleansing wipes to keep your body clean and less susceptible to breakouts. We recommend SLMD's Salicylic Acid Body Spray and Step Zero: Cleansing Wipes.
The culprit: Your cellphone
Why it’s to blame: Your phone screen collects bacteria from pretty much everything you touch each day. 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 making it a habit to wipe down your screen with alcohol or disinfectant wipes regularly and avoid putting too much pressure on your face when you talk on the phone. Using headphones is also a good alternative to avoid contact between your phone and face when you’re making calls regularly.
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 should be washing your towels after just three uses, your sheets at least once a month, and your pillowcases once a week. Save up that loose change! (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 it’s to blame: It’s actually a myth that greasy foods cause acne. However, carbohydrates and dairy products that contain hormones are believed to increase your chances of breaking out.
The solution: Consider taking a break from the carbs and chocolate for a few weeks, to see if that has a positive impact on your skin. We know, easier said than done! You may also consider going to a specialist to see if you have any specific food allergies that could be triggering breakouts.
The reason we breakout varies greatly from person to person, so don’t be discouraged if changing one of these habits doesn’t immediately cure your acne. Be patient and continue to be aware of these culprits, so your skin doesn’t have to face the consequences!