6 Hidden Causes of Acne
It's easy to pass off a few pimples as the result of a stressful week at work, but there are hundreds of things we come in contact with on a daily basis that could be the culprits behind your breakouts. "Acne is multi-factorial; many things in our daily life can contribute to it," says Dr. Francesca Fusco, M.D., dermatologist and member of the Women's Health advisory board. Here, Fusco helps uncover the hidden factors that could be causing your blemishes.
One of the first places to check for complexion-busters is in your medicine cabinet. Steroids found in prescription drugs are a key offender, whether taken internally or topically. Fusco warns that if taken internally the offending ingredient will be listed as prednisone, which is the tablet form of a steroid. Prednisone is used to treat a wide variety of inflammatory disorders like poison ivy, allergies, and arthritis, among others. If your med is topical, however, watch out for both cortisone (prescription) and hydrocortisone (over-the-counter). "If either form is overused—and I stress overused because just a few applications won't do it—it could aggravate or cause a 'steroid acne,'" Fusco says.
Other ingredients to watch out for are lithium, lithium chloride, and certain forms of iodine. "If you're taking any kind of medication, check it out and see if acne is listed in the adverse effects column," says Fusco.
While you should be cautious of steroids, Fusco says oral contraceptives are the most common cause of acne she sees. Whenever there is a change in hormone levels in your body—even if it's for the better—it's a change that can result in breakouts. Even though birth control is supposed to have the opposite effect—and eventually does—the change in hormone levels requires time for your body to compensate and balance itself. Keep in mind that when starting or stopping the pill, it could take up to six months for related acne to appear!
Your Beauty Routine
Zit-causing ingredients could be lurking on your beauty shelf. Unlike most prescriptions, however, you do have control over what you put on your face and hair. Acne caused by topical creams, lotions, and makeup is known as Acne Cosmetica, and is most common on the face, neck, hairline, and scalp. If you regularly apply a product to an acne-prone area, it’s possible that it's doing more harm than good. Some people may also go to bed with ointments or oils in their hair that can get on the pillow case and then rub on your face, Fusco says, in which case it’s best to put a clean towel over your pillowcase every night to prevent buildup.
Makeup brushes are constantly collecting leftover makeup and gathering bacteria and yeast, which can lead to a type of acne known as Folliculitis. Fusco recommends cleaning makeup brushes once a week to keep them gunk-free and face-friendly.
Your Cell Phone
Cell phones gather all kinds of dirt and bacteria throughout the day, and are a big cause of acne on the chin and around the mouth. Wiping down your Smartphone daily with alcohol or Clorox wipes will keep your phone—and your face—clean.
Using Toothpaste to "Treat" a Zit
Contrary to the popular belief that toothpaste will stop a breakout in its tracks, certain toothpastes can actually cause you to develop acne or an acne-like eruption called perioral dermatitis on the lower third of your face. Fluoride and other whitening and anti-cavity ingredients, especially sodium pyrophosphate, are quite abrasive, Fusco says, and could potentially burn the skin, cause irritation, and initiate breakouts.
Your Workout Gear
Your workout could be making you break out, but it's not the act of exercising that is causing those unsightly spots. If you're using a communal yoga mat, you may be on the side that someone else's feet or perspiration has touched. It's best to put a towel over it when working out—even if it's your personal yoga mat. Also, workout gear or clothing that constantly rubs in a certain area can cause frictional acne. Constant rubbing ends up making you sweat, become irritated, and eventually develop tiny little red bumps. While it looks kind of like a heat rash, it's really an acne, Fusco says.
Touching Your Face
Above all, avoid touching your face at all costs—even after you wash your hands. "Touching can inflame the skin, and if you're touching the same area, you might get an increase in oil production, so it's three-pronged: it's the bacteria, the inflammation, and the increased production in oil," Fusco says. And don't even think about trying to pop that pimple!