A woman examining her random acne breakout

Why You're Randomly Breaking Out

What to look out for when pimples suddenly start popping up — and what you can do about it, asap.


4 minute read

Breakouts are tricky. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what causes acne flare-ups and exactly what we can do — or avoid doing — to prevent them. You've heard the big ones: you’re not washing your face, you’re using comedogenic products, or you’re too stressed out.

But these are just a handful of the many factors contributing to acne. So we’ve rounded up a bunch of the less obvious things that may be causing your pimples — AND included 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 C. acnes bacteria clogging up 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. Picking, squeezing, and scratching can all make acne worse.

The solution: If you're having a hard time keeping your hands off, cover the area with a bandaid, or better yet, apply an acne spot treatment. Three to try from SLMD:

A woman stressing about getting acne breakouts on her forehead

The culprit: your skincare routine

Why it’s to blame: You might be overdoing it, whether it's by over-exfoliating or applying too many skincare products. Using harsh scrubs or tools, like a motorized cleansing brush, can cause clogged pores to swell and spread bacteria across your face and into other pores. Using too many potent active ingredients (and too often!) can irritate your skin and dry it out to the point that it over-produces oil, causing even more breakouts.

The solution: Skip the physical scrubs and gadgets, and stick to an acne-fighting cleanser, like SLMD Salicylic Acid Cleanser, twice a day. Formulated with pore-penetrating beta hydroxy acid, it will exfoliate and prevent the formation of acne, without irritating or drying out your skin.

Follow your face wash with a treatment that combats acne-causing bacteria, like Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Lotion plus a moisturizer. You can try all of these together in the SLMD Acne System.

The culprit: sweaty clothes

Why it’s to blame: Post workout, running for the train, or simply perspiring since it’s hot out creates sweaty skin and clothes. This forms an occlusive trap for heat and bacteria. Staying in these clothes creates opportunity for breakouts and irritation.

The solution: If you can, change out of your sweaty clothes, take a shower as soon as you’re done perspiring, and use a good acne-fighting body wash like SLMD BP Body Wash. If you don’t have time to rinse off, spritzing on a body spray (like SLMD Salicylic Acid Body Spray) will keep your skin less susceptible to breakouts. 

The culprit: your diet

Why it’s to blame: SLMD Skincare founder Sandra Lee, MD (aka Dr. Pimple Popper), says it’s a myth that greasy foods cause acne. However, according to her, dairy can sometimes exacerbate acne due to the elevated hormone levels in milk.

The solution: Consider taking a break from lots of cheese and dairy products if you are noticing that your skin is flaring up. You may also consider going to a specialist to see if you have any specific food allergies that could be triggering breakouts.

The culprit: your cellphone

Why it’s to blame: Your phone screen collects bacteria from pretty much everything you touch each day, potentially leading to acne mechanica. 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 screen-safe disinfectant wipes or alcohol regularly. Avoid putting too much pressure on your face when you talk on the phone. Using a headset or speakerphone is also a good alternative to avoid contact between your phone and face when you’re making calls regularly.

Dirty sheets that can be the cause of acne breakouts

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! It's estimated that 70% 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, and your sheets and pillowcases weekly. Refuse the urge to be lazy and stick to taking care of your laundry consistently! Dr. Lee also suggests spritzing your towels and bedding with SLMD Salicylic Acid Body Spray in between washing, to help reduce acne-causing bacteria.

The culprit: your hair products

Why they’re to blame: Ingredients like sulfates and silicones are common in haircare products, but they’re known to be occlusive (read: they clog your pores). If you’re noticing breakouts especially along your hairline, on your forehead (if you have bangs) or on your scalp, it may be your hair products.

The solution: Check the ingredient lists of your go-to products to see if they contain silicones, synthetic fragrance, comedogenic oils, or sulfates. If they do, try switching to products that leave them out.

Dr Sandra Lee

Dr. Lee's Last Word

There are a lot of reasons why people get acne breakouts, and it varies from person to person. Please don’t be discouraged if changing one of these habits doesn’t immediately cure your acne. Be patient and be aware of these culprits, but also treat your acne with effective ingredients, which you can find in my SLMD Acne System.


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