Breakouts are often an unavoidable consequence of busy lives, sensitive skin or genetic misfortune. However, even those who have mastered their skin care routine with top-of-the-line cleansers and exfoliating rituals can struggle with breakouts. The truth is, there are a lot of reasons why you may be seeing more acne on your face. The key to mastering your skin is to learn the triggers for those red, inflamed bumps, so you know how to stop them in their tracks. So here are 10 common reasons for breakouts; with a little planning, you’ll be able to keep your skin clear through sweat, sweltering heat and sleep deprivation.
1. You’re using dirty makeup tools
It may seem like a no-brainer to use clean, sanitary tools anywhere near your face, but most of us probably have brushes, sponges, and applicators that haven’t been cleaned in weeks… or months… or longer. In fact, a 2015 survey from Anisa International reported that 39 percent of women cleaned their brushes less than once a month and 22 percent didn’t clean them at all. That’s a lot of gunk that ends up clogging your pores and causing breakouts.
The solution? Invest in a brush cleaner to gently wipe down your tools every few uses, and take the time to do a deep cleaning as often as you can. Gentle soap (such as baby soap) and warm water is the best way to keep your brushes clean and soft.
2. You’re not getting enough sleep
They don’t call it beauty sleep for nothing. A good night’s rest is essential for so many aspects of your health. When you don’t get a good night’s sleep, your stress levels are likely to be higher, resulting in the production of Cortisol, a hormone that can aggravate skin conditions. In addition, your skin needs to rest and replenish overnight, replacing dead skin cells with new healthy ones and draining inflamed blood vessels that can cause puffiness in the morning.
The solution? Rather than tossing and turning all night, be proactive about how you can improve your quality of sleep. If you have trouble dozing off, try some gentle exercise or yoga or treat yourself to a calming bath with aromatic oils like chamomile and sandalwood. Bonus: Propping up your pillow for a little extra elevation can also help prevent dark, under eye circles.
3. You’re not cleansing properly after a workout
No, you shouldn’t stop working out because you’re afraid of a few pimples. However, a sweat-sesh can mean your pores are soaking up added grime and oil that can lead to acne. This can be especially common on areas of the body other than the face, where tight clothing traps the sweat and oil in.
The solution? Wear loose-fitting clothing without synthetic materials to avoid irritation and promote air flow. After your workout, wash your face thoroughly with a cleanser that contains salicylic acid (try PanOxyl). This ingredient helps you achieve a deep clean for clear pores.
4. Your sheets are dirty
Jordana Mattioli, medical esthetician and beauty expert at CompleteSkinMD in New York, recommends changing your pillowcase at least once a week. “Hair products, natural oils on the hair and scalp, even your skincare products can all cause buildup on your pillowcase,” she says.
The solution? Keep your sheets fresh! “If you use a lot of hair products, I would change every two days, and flip it over to the fresh side on the second day,” says Mattioli. “Or try a head scarf!” This could also be a good opportunity to get in the habit of sleeping on your back, which will prevent your skin from rubbing against oily sheets.
5. Your boyfriend has a beard
Before you go telling bae that he needs to ditch the facial hair, know the real source of your skin sensitivities and what you can do to ease the pain. “Stubbly hair rubbing onto the skin can cause irritation,” says Mattioli. “The longer the facial hair, the less irritating it will be for their partner.” She also notes that beard oils can cause breakouts and itchiness.
The solution? Mattioli suggests a cold compress on the skin, gentle cleansing products and OTC cortisone cream if you feel your skin getting irritated. Of course, if the irritation is really bad, be honest with your guy and discuss the option of a clean shave.
6. You need to change your diet
You’ve heard it many times before, but when it comes to skin health, you are what you eat. A diet high in sugar and fat can lead to excess oil production and, therefore, breakouts. If you find that you break out or your skin feels itchy after eating certain foods, you may also be experiencing an allergic reaction.
The solution? Observe how your skin reacts to your diet, and if you notice a certain pattern in your breakouts, consult an allergist to nail down the problem. If you’re finding that you’re consuming an abnormal amount of processed foods, sugar or unhealthy fats, stop to consider where the behavior is coming from. Are you feeling stressed, sad or overwhelmed? If you still can’t nail down the problem, keep a food diary to share with a doctor or dermatologist who can further dissect your diet.
7. You’re using the wrong laundry detergent
When shopping for laundry detergent, it’s important to look for one that’s both effective and mostly natural. “So many detergents contain fragrances and chemicals that linger in clothes and can irritate the skin,” says Mattioli. “Fabric softeners and dryer sheets actually leave a coating on pillowcases.” People with sensitive skin can have especially bad reactions to laundry soaps, resulting in dry, red or extremely itchy skin.
The solution? Look for a detergent that is approved for sensitive skin. Mattioli also suggests finding a detergent that is fragrance-free or has been certified by a dermatologist. Health.com rounded up a list of sensitive skin-approved detergents that are easy to find at your local grocery, drugstore or online retailer.
8. Your hair products are irritating your skin
Your hair products have an impact on more than just your lovely locks, and when hair touches the top and sides of your face, all those chemicals can irritate skin. “Most hair products, if they touch the face enough, will leave a film and harbor bacteria,” says Mattioli.
The solution? Make sure you’re cleansing regularly! “Wash your face every night and wash your face after conditioning your hair so none of it is left around the hairline,” says Mattioli. This is another instance where a head scarf could come in handy. It will keep oily hair off your clean face, and won’t damage your hair or scalp.
Breakouts are frustrating and uncomfortable, but as much as you wish your teenage skin would grow up already, the struggles of sensitive skin can last your whole life. Fortunately, there are ways to ease the pain, and it all begins with identifying the irritant. Once you know your skin, you’ll be able to get rid of those little annoyances in a cinch.