7 Unexpected Reasons Your Skin Is Breaking Out

Let's face it, dealing with skin care issues sucks. We should be old enough to be past the acne we all dealt with in middle school, right? But sometimes, skin care problems persist. Some of us practice our skin care routines religiously, always wear sunscreen, never smoke, and yet still break out or have skin issues. What gives? Here are seven unexpected factors you might not have considered that lead to less-than-flawless skin – and how to fix them.
1. You're eating too much dairy.

Dermatologist Cynthia Bailey, M.D. says, “We are what we eat! It determines how beautiful we look, the vitality of our appearance, and, yes, how great our skin looks.” According to Scientific American, there's a link between dairy intake and breakouts. Sebaceous cells, which dispense oil to keep your skin soft, can sometimes over-produce; this leads to acne. Fats, including the fats found in dairy, are rich with bacteria and yeast that thrive in this oil. When you digest dairy, your immune system can sometimes respond with acne.
How to fix it: Try minimizing your dairy intake for a full semester to see if your skin improves. Low-fat dairy products tend to be kinder to your skin than their full-fat counterparts, so opt for low-fat or non-fat milk over regular and frozen yogurt or gelato over ice cream. Bailey notes, “Your pimples can take weeks, or even months, to worsen or improve after you make changes in your diet,” so don't be discouraged if you don't see results immediately.
2. You go straight to class after the gym without showering.

I know, I know, this seems totally unfair. Why should your awesome workout be rewarded with a batch of new zits? If you're dealing with tender or itchy red pimples or little white bumps on your hairline, forehead, jawline, running down the sides or back of your neck, or on your chest and back (in other words, any place you sweat during a workout) you might have pityrosporum folliculitis acne. This type of acne is caused by a normal skin yeast called Malassezia, which grows over nearly everyone's skin. Unfortunately, some people are naturally prone to fighting it off and some aren't. If Malassezia tends to clog your pores already, sweat only makes the problem worse. The longer you wait to freshen up post-workout, the longer sweat sits on your skin.
How to fix it: Always make sure to shower as soon as possible after your workout! If you don't want to waste time heading back to your dorm between the gym and class, toss travel-size bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and body wash into your gym bag and shower in the gym's locker room. “I always recommend an anti-yeast cleanser and my favorite ingredient for that is pyrithione zinc,” says Bailey. If you have oily skin, make sure to be using products tailored for your skin type. Bailey suggests products withbenzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid or glycolic acid. You should also exfoliate with a slightly rough shower sponge or scrub like this one or a Clarisonic Pro Brush, which starts at $119, if you want to splurge.
3. You're still using the same skincare products you've used since 8th grade.

Back in middle school, you probably were using a whole host of products designed to fight teen acne. Five to ten years later, your skin's problems have changed – so your skin care products should, too. You likely don't need to continue using acne-fighting products with harsh chemicals anymore. Make sure you're using the right products for your skin type. Acne tends to be a problem for oily skin, while flakiness or tightness is caused by dry skin. Even if you follow a regimented skin care routine, you're not doing yourself any favors if those products aren't formulated for your skin type.
How to fix it: This is an easy one. Take this quick quiz to determine your skin type. Next time you shop for skin care products, keep your results in mind.

  • Dry skin is the result of oil glands not producing enough of a natural oil called sebum. Look for products labeled “hydrating.” Remember, moisturizing is a must!
  • Normal skin means you don't have extreme acne or extreme flakiness, but the right products can boost your skin to the next level and make you glow. Look for products labeled “gentle” that aren't overly hydrating.
  • Oily skin is caused by the over-production of sebum, so it's important to choose products that keep your skin clean and free of toxins. Your products might use the word “clarifying” or “noncomedogenic.”