8 Things That Could Be Causing Your Breakouts

Kristen Bousquet
what causes breakouts

Photo: IMaxTree

It’s a truth universally acknowledged: breakouts are the worst. Whether you have acne-prone skin or just get a couple spots here and there, every time a new pimple pops up, you’re probably tempted to stand in front of the mirror and scream “WHY?!?!” until it goes away.

Hey, temperamental skin is stressful.

After assessing your new zit in the mirror, you probably go through every possible reason you can think of as to why you’ve been cursed with this giant blemish. You wash your face, you’re eating well, drinking tons of water…Why the heck are you still breaking out?

Just because you have your skincare routine on point, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re free from every pimple from now until the end of time. There are actually a lot of reasons that your skin could suddenly have taken a turn for the worse. Instead of screaming “WHAT CAUSES MY BREAKOUTS?!” at the heavens, we have all the unusual answers (or eight of them) right here.

1. Trying too many new products.
The struggle is real. As beauty lovers, it’s hard not to try every single new product that comes onto the market, but this may be the reason you’re getting pimples. Worst part of this is that if you’re trying too many new products at once, you may not even know which product is causing the breakout! The best thing to do is limit yourself. Try one new product every week, and if there’s a reaction upon first application, discontinue use immediately.

2. Stress!
When it comes to stress and acne, most commonly the stress doesn’t exactly cause the acne, it more just causes the acne to flare up and become more prominent. According to a Stanford University study conducted in 2003, college students had more acne flare-ups during exams (when there was more stress) compared to when they didn’t have any major tests. Though we can’t eliminate every source of stress from life forever, learning to manage it—whether through mediation, exercise or dedicated chill-out time—is crucial for both you AND your skin.

3. Bacteria
This is one of the most common causes of acne, and the one that people are the least vigilant about. What a coincidence that your breakouts coincide with the times you slept with your makeup on, used dirty makeup brushes, touched your face way too much during the day or were on your dirty cell phone a lot! How peculiar!

The good news is that you can control this. Wash your face before bed. Wash your hands often, and don’t touch your face during the day. Don’t pick existing spots. Wash your cell phone and clean your makeup brushes regularly. All common sense stuff, but it goes a long way towards ensuring a radiant complexion.

4. Genetics.
Well, this may be the most frustrating cause for your acne, but unfortunately there are some people that just have it in their genes. There hasn’t been a study that determines the exact genetic cause of acne, but both clinical and genetic research show that people with a family history of severe acne are more likely to have severe acne. In a study of twins conducted at St. Thomas Hospital in London, it was discovered that 81% of the difference in acne between twin pairs was attributable to genetics. The remaining 19% was attributed to environmental factors such as diet and climate.

MORE: Can Your Genes Predict How You Will Age?

5. Your makeup
Okay, so we aren’t totally knocking drugstore makeup, but in some cases you really do get what you pay for. When looking for makeup that won’t break you out, make sure to check that it’s labelled ‘non-comedogenic,’ which means that the formula will not clog your pores. Even if the product is non-comedogenic, make sure to completely wash your makeup off before sleeping. Also, for those gals with acne-prone skin it may be a better option to opt for a powder-based foundation or one that is labeled oil-free. Don’t take any chances, is what we’re saying.

6. Excess oil/dryness.
Like Goldilocks, it’s crucial to ensure that the level of oil on your skin is just right. Part of what’s causing your breakouts may be your skin’s pH balance: if it’s off, it might feel way too dry or way too oily (or a combination of the both in varying places). Too dry and dead skin can clog pores; too oily and the excess sebum can trap dirt and start pimples. Make sure you’re cleaning your skin twice a day with a skin care routine targeted to your particular skin issues, and don’t forget to moisturize. Once your skin’s pH has been balanced, you’ll probably notice your breakouts cease.

7. Prescription medication.
It’s also possible that your medicine may be breaking you out. It’s super common that when a woman first starts taking birth control that she can get some acne, but that’s not the only prescription that’ll do it. Some medicines can alter hormone levels, and this may be the cause of your latest breakout. Always make sure to consult with your doctor before getting a prescription and ask if acne is a common side effect, and if so, what is the best way to treat it. Painful cystic acne may require a dermatologist’s intervention.

8. Hormones.
Yes, this may be the most obvious of them all; it’ll also remind you that we’re all human, it happens to all of us, and you can’t have 100% clear skin all the time. For many women, the time they break out most is the week before their menstrual period. And in a study published in the Archives of Dermatology, researchers report that 63% of acne-prone women experience these premenstrual flares, so seriously you’re not alone. Prescription medication from your doctor can help ease or eliminate these altogether, so it isn’t like you’re without help.

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