Stress or Hormones? What Your Breakouts Mean

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What Your Breakouts Mean | Is it hormones? Stress? A food intolerance? Pimples and blackheads are expected in the tween and teen years, but adult acne is unexpected. Whether you struggle with occasional breakouts or chronic acne, there are tons of creams and serums to help, but figuring out the root cause is key to prevention. If you breakout on your forehead, cheeks, jawline, chin, and/or back, click to learn common causes so you can find the right treatment and get back to clear skin.

If you’re like me, you’ve been dealing with acne long after you thought it would go away. While I was hopeful it would be a thing of my teens, pesky breakouts have followed me into my thirties. It can be one of the most frustrating things to deal with, but I’ve realized you have to get to the root cause of your acne to make any real progress in clearing it. If you have severe acne, we recommend talking to your dermatologist or a certified acne specialized who can work with you one on one. For a more generalized overview, here’s what your breakouts mean and how you can treat and prevent them!

What Your Breakouts Mean

Forehead

Cause:
Your forehead is prone to excess oil production due to hormone fluctuations during puberty and in times of high stress. Forehead acne is caused by your pores getting clogged with oil, mixing with dead skin cells and bacteria, and becoming inflamed (just like acne anywhere on your body).

The main culprits for excess oil production are genetics and hormones. Other factors can also increase your oil production including stress, eating habits, and your environment. In terms of diet, refined grains and sugar (white bread, pasta, cereal, and rice, sodas and sweetened beverages, candy, pastries, and sweeteners) are some of the top culprits for acne. Dairy products have also been found to cause acne in some people. Food sensitivities can also trigger an inflammatory response, which can potentially worsen acne.

Hats, headbands, and touching your forehead can lead to sweat and sebum getting trapped on your forehead, causing zits. And rich, oily hair products containing oils (olive or coconut), waxes, and butters (such as shea butter) can also clog your pores.

Tips & Products:

  1. Eat a healthy diet including omega-3 fatty acids, probiotics, vegetables, whole grains, protein, green tea, and turmeric.
  2. Stay away from refined grains and sugar, fast and processed foods, and any foods you’re sensitive too.
  3. Manage your stress levels. Regular exercise, yoga, or meditation can help with stress reduction.
  4. Add benzoyl peroxide to your routine. It kills the acne-causing bacteria on your skin, helping prevent pimples and inflammation. Use a benzoyl peroxide cleanser once a day or use it as a spot treatment for zits.
  5. Try hydrocolloid pimple patches. They can speed up the healing of an acne lesion and keep your hands off to reduce the urge to pick at your face.
  6. Salicylic acid is great for blackheads and whiteheads as its oil soluble, allowing it to go deep into your pores. It’s tolerated well for sensitive skin types at 2% concentration.

Cheeks

Cause:
Breakouts on the cheeks often occur due to acne mechanica, which develops due to friction or rubbing of the skin. For example, pressing your dirty phone against your cheek, moving against a pillow in your sleep, or the friction caused by wearing a face covering. The cheeks are usually prone to inflammatory papules, pustules, nodules, and cystic acne.

Like forehead acne, cheek acne can also be due to using makeup or skin care with pore clogging ingredients, dirty makeup brushes, as well as touching your face.

Tips & Products:

  1. Don’t bring your phone to the bathroom with you (it’s germ city!) and disinfect your phone screen if you’re going to be holding it up to your face- use speaker phone or wireless headphones when you can!
  2. Swap out your pillowcase at least once a week (even more if you have active breakouts).
  3. Wash your hands regularly- you probably touch your face more than you realize, and everything from your phone to your keyboard to door handles carry tons of germs.
  4. Check your products for pore-clogging ingredients and switch out your products to non-pore clogging.
  5. Incorporate salicylic acid- it’s great for treating cheek acne due to its ability to exfoliate dead skin cells and dissolve excess oil in pores. A salicylic acid cleanser is a great place to start and will help break up sebum and debris in the pores.
  6. Try a retinol- OTC retinols work on a cellular level to kickstart your cell turnover rate, reduce inflammation, and decrease oil production. Try a retinol serum a few times a week and gradually increase as your skin becomes more tolerant.

Jawline and Chin

Cause:
Acne on the jawline and chin is thought to be triggered by hormones. Excess androgens, or male sex hormones like testosterone, cause hormonal acne. Androgens may stimulate sebaceous glands to increase oil production, which clogs your pores. Your diet could also be a factor. Dairy has been shown to stimulate testosterone production, and spikes in testosterone can worsen acne. The worst culprit tends to be skim milk and fat-free dairy. Foods high in sugar like refined flour, sweets, and processed carbs are also to blame.

When hormone levels fluctuate, bacteria begins increasing because there’s a lack of oxygen to control the bacterial overgrowth in the clogged pores. Our bodies alert our immune system when they experience this bacterial overgrowth mounting an inflammatory response at the follicle level, which results in red, tender hormonal acne. It’s very common to see an increase of jawline and chin acne around your period because your hormone levels are fluctuating.

Tips & Products:

  1. Work with an acne specialist to get to the root cause of your hormonal acne. They can help you with tips and supplements to use for your unique case.
  2. Focus on gut health- eating fermented foods like kimchi, tempeh, and sauerkraut, and incorporating probiotic supplements can be helpful for clearing acne.
  3. Try retinol- it has both anti-acne and anti-aging benefits. Start slowly (using it every few days and gradually increasing), and use a moisturizer in conjunction as it can be very drying in the beginning.
  4. Make sure you’re using non-pore clogging ingredients in any products that are touching your face.
  5. Reduce your intake of dairy and high sugar foods.

Back and Body

Cause:
The chest, neck, shoulders, upper arms, and back are common places to get acne. The same factors that trigger facial acne can contribute to back and body acne. Like the face, the upper half of the body has many sebaceous glands. Because so many of these glands are on the upper body (rather than the limbs), the follicles are more likely to become clogged with excess oil and dead skin cells.

Body acne can be triggered by using certain makeup and hair products. Pore clogging products may include shampoo and conditioner, hair oils, pomades, and heavy moisturizers. Tight clothing, sports equipment, and other gear may also trigger back and body acne. Rubbing or putting pressure on the skin, combined with heat or sweat, irritates and inflames follicles. Sweat itself can also irritate body acne.

Tips & Products:

  1. Look for products labelled “non-comedogenic” or check the ingredients list to make sure there are no pore cloggers in products that touch your back and body.
  2. Avoid sources of friction including too-tight clothing, backpacks, purse straps, and athletic pads or gear if you’re experiencing a breakout.
  3. Shower as soon as possible after exercising.
  4. Gently cleanse with a salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide wash. As we explain above, they’re both great ingredients to help banish breakouts.
  5. Lower your stress levels and consume a healthy diet.

If you’re dealing with acne in any of these areas, use these tips and products to banish breakouts from the inside out.

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What Your Breakouts Mean | Is it hormones? Stress? A food intolerance? Pimples and blackheads are expected in the tween and teen years, but adult acne is unexpected. Whether you struggle with occasional breakouts or chronic acne, there are tons of creams and serums to help, but figuring out the root cause is key to prevention. If you breakout on your forehead, cheeks, jawline, chin, and/or back, click to learn common causes so you can find the right treatment and get back to clear skin.

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