Did you know that smoking, cell phones, and even your hair can lead to acne breakouts? Discover common breakout causes and how to treat them.

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Acne Breakouts: 13 Common Causes And How To Treat Them

Have you ever woken up in the morning and looked in a mirror to find new breakouts that you know weren't there yesterday? We've all been there, and it's frustrating when you don’t know what’s causing these pimples to pop up.

The good news? While several different factors play a role in acne development, there are steps you can take to minimize breakouts. To help you have better skin days, let's look at some common causes of breakouts and ways to treat each one.

Table Of Contents

Symptoms Of Acne Breakouts

Woman with acne on her face

First, it's essential to recognize the symptoms of acne breakouts. Here are some of the telltale signs that you're experiencing one:

  • Any type of acne blemish on your skin
  • Red, inflamed skin around the blemish
  • Skin that feels tender to the touch
  • Scarring on the skin
  • Painful areas on your face, chest, back, or shoulders
  • Dark spots on your skin

Now that you know what to look out for, let's dive into the different causes of breakouts.

13 Causes Of Acne Breakouts

Before you can prevent breakouts, it's essential to understand the culprits that are causing them.

1) Hormones

A pregnant woman with hormonal acne

Hormones can be a significant cause of breakouts, especially in teens or at different points in an adult woman’s menstrual cycle. Pregnancy hormones also contribute to acne.

Think of your hormones as a roller coaster ride. When levels peak, breakouts may occur; when they drop, the acne usually subsides until the next time.


The best way to treat hormonal acne is to stay consistent with your skincare routine.

Wash your face regularly with a gentle cleaner. And if you notice that over-the-counter creams aren’t making a difference, a dermatologist can help you determine which medical treatment options are right for you.

2) Genetics

If breakouts tend to run in your family, chances are it's due to genetics. Acne may be hereditary, so if either of your parents experienced breakouts during their teenage years, you might also.


Unfortunately, there isn't much you can do to prevent breakouts due to genetics; you can't change your genes. However, you can do your best to treat existing acne with salicylic acid and prevent further breakouts by avoiding any acne triggers you have.

3) Smoking

Woman breaking a cigarette

Smoking can contribute to breakouts because it affects your body's circulation and triggers inflammation.

Studies also show that cigarette chemicals change the sebum your body produces by lowering the levels of Vitamin E. Scientists think this difference may lead to more pimples.


The number one way to eliminate acne caused by smoking is to quit! It may be challenging, but this will help reduce breakouts in the long run.

And as a bonus, reduced acne isn't the only benefit quitting smoking has on your skin; it also helps minimize wrinkles and can prevent dark spots.

4) Diet

The food and drinks you put into your body can also affect your skin. Eating a diet high in refined carbs, sugar, and processed foods may cause breakouts to appear.

If you have food allergies, breakouts may also indicate that you're eating something your body can't break down well.


To prevent breakouts from your diet, focus on nourishing your body from the inside out. Cut out processed foods and refined carbs, and instead fill up on protein, fresh produce, and healthy fats.

And, if you think food allergies may play a role in your acne, talk to your doctor about getting an allergy test.

5) Cell Phone Use

It turns out that breakouts can come from more than just what goes directly onto your skin. Items you put near your face, like your phone, can also cause them.

The bacteria and dirt accumulated on your phone from everyday use can transfer to your skin, which may cause blemishes along your jawline and cheeks.


To stop the transfer of germs from your phone to your face, use a disinfectant wipe to clean your phone regularly. And if you usually hold the phone on one side of your face, you may want to switch sides while your acne heals.

6) Hair Products

When your hair is down, it likely rubs against your face and transfers any products you use onto your skin. Unfortunately, many hair products contain ingredients that can irritate your skin and clog pores, leading to breakouts.


If you're struggling with breakouts due to your hair, work on reducing product build-up. To accomplish this, wash your hair regularly, use a clarifying shampoo weekly, and avoid using too many styling agents.

Also, choose the right products for your hair type and use gentle formulas. The gentler the shampoo, the less likely breakouts will occur.

You should also keep your hair off your face to minimize product transfer. Wearing it back or up for a few days can help give your acne a chance to heal.

7) Dirty Bedding

When you're sleeping, your face, body, and hair are all in contact with your sheets and pillowcases. If you don’t wash these bedding items often enough, the oil, dirt, and germs on them can transfer to your skin, causing acne breakouts.


To prevent breakouts from dirty bedding, wash your sheets and pillowcases at least once a week.

Additionally, opt for breathable fabrics made from natural fibers since these are less likely to trigger breakouts. Cotton and bamboo are good choices.

8) Skincare Products

Man lathering soap onto his shoulder in the shower

Your skin is your largest organ, so you need to take care of it by using gentle products. Unfortunately, many skincare options contain harsh ingredients that can break down your skin's natural barrier, dry out your skin, and cause breakouts.


Read the labels of your skincare products carefully. If any of them have pore-clogging ingredients, like parabens or mineral oil, switch to a cleaner option. Also, avoid harsh scrubs and cleansers that can damage your protective layer of skin.

Instead, opt for gentle products with hydrating ingredients, like niacinamide and guar bean extract, as these will help keep breakouts at bay.

9) Too Much Stress

The American Psychological Association has discovered some alarming effects of excessive stress on every system in your body.

In addition to causing things like stomach pain, high blood pressure, and hyperventilation, too much stress may also lead to acne breakouts.


Stress management is key for reducing breakouts. Take up activities that are calming and enjoyable, like yoga or meditation. And make sure to get enough sleep at night, as lack of rest can intensify your stress levels.

10) Cleaning Products

When you clean your home, some of the products you use wind up on your hands, and you can easily transfer the residue to other parts of your body. Unfortunately, many of these cleaners contain harsh chemicals that aren’t good for your skin.


Switch to natural cleaning products whenever possible, as these are less likely to cause acne breakouts. And wear gloves when you clean to protect your hands from coming into contact with irritating ingredients.

11) Face Masks

Young woman with breakouts underneath her face mask

Face masks can help prevent the spread of germs, but they can also wreak havoc on your skin. That's because many masks are made from materials that can trap dirt and sweat against your skin, leading to irritation. They can also cause your skin to become more sensitive.


The American Academy of Dermatology Association recommends applying a moisturizer daily to help combat the effect of masks. You can also look for masks made from natural fabrics that won’t be as irritating.

12) Makeup Choices

Much like your skincare products, the makeup you use can make all the difference in breakouts. Heavy, pore-clogging foundations, eyeshadows, and blushes may worsen your acne.


Opt for lightweight cosmetics labeled non-comedogenic (which means they won't clog your pores). And remove your makeup with a gentle cleanser every night so you're not sleeping in it.

Minimizing your makeup routine can also help. If you don’t feel confident leaving your home without wearing any makeup, try applying only the products that make you feel the most beautiful, like mascara or lip tint. Your skin will appreciate the break.

13) Pimple Popping

It's tempting, we know. Especially if you're addicted to watching the ooey-gooeyness on YouTube. But popping your pimples only makes your breakouts worse.

Not only can it spread bacteria, but it can also irritate your skin, making it easier for new blemishes to appear.


The best thing to do is leave the pimple alone. Keep your hands off of your face. But if you do have to touch it for some reason, always wash your hands first.

Bye, Bye Breakouts!

Woman with a breakout on her neck

Now that you know some potential causes for your acne breakouts, you can start taking steps to prevent them. From avoiding certain products to ensuring you're sleeping on clean bedding, you can be proactive in keeping breakouts away.

The team here at Bodewell is cheering you on! We know breakouts can be frustrating, but we believe in you. So keep up the good work, and remember: Breakouts don’t last forever.


American Academy of Dermatology Association
American Psychological Association
PubMed Central

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