Bottom line, acne sucks. But, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, acne affects 40 to 50 million Americans, so you're not alone (not that that really makes you feel any better).
So, what causes acne? Mainly the overproduction of oil; blocked hair follicles that don't allow the aforementioned oil to leave the pore, which often results in a clogged pore; and the growth of bacteria inside the hair follicles called P. acnes.
However, along with the above factors and genetics, which plays a role in how your body reacts to different hormones in your body and can cause acne, there are certain patterns you could be repeating on a daily basis that can cause you to break out or can even exacerbate your already annoying issue. Here are some of the most surprising triggers—take heed, acne-prone people!
1. You're a makeout bandit and your boyfriend has a beard.
Sure, some dudes look hot with a beard (i.e. Ryan Gosling in The Notebook) or even a five o'clock shadow, but your BF's facial hair isn't doing your pretty face any favors when it comes to breakouts. So what gives? Well, as you and your guy hook up, your smooth face rubs against his hairy one, creating friction, which causes his prickly hair to stimulate oil production on your face, causing blemishes and even beard burn. (Tip via Jeanine Downie, M.D., a cosmetic dermatologist and founder of Image Dermatology in Montclair, New Jersey.)
What you can do differently: Kindly ask him to shave his beard in the name of flawless skin. Or beg him to condition his beard with coconut oil, so it doesn't feel like tiny swords stabbing your face every time you kiss.
2. You're eating spicy foods.
Spicy foods often contain tomatoes and peppers, which contain acidic lycopene that can be an irritant to some people, throwing off their skin's pH levels and triggering breakouts. But it isn't just spicy foods that can irritate your skin. Some people have an aversion to dairy, bread, or other types of foods—how your skin reacts to what you eat just depends on your own personal make-up. (Tip via Dr. Downie.)
What you can do differently: Take a break from eating spicy foods (or whatever you've been eating a lot of that you think could be contributing to your acne. If your skin is irritated by a certain ingredient, you'll recognize tiny whiteheads or even blemishes in a rash-like pattern around your chin or mouth). Observe for a month to see if that's the cause of your issue.
3. You're using products that contain pore-clogging ingredients.
Mineral oil is a super-heavy moisturizing agent found in some lotions, but it's also known to clog your pores and break you out. Silicones in skin care and cosmetics are also another ingredient on the list to watch out for that can clog your pores. (Tip via Dr. Downie.)
What you can do differently: Make sure all the skin care products you're using are labeled "noncomedogenic," which means your makeup or skin care has been specifically formulated not to clog your pores. That said, even if the product is "noncomedogenic," if you're using it continuously and your breakouts continue to get worse, make an appointment with your dermatologist, as you could be allergic to another ingredient in the product that is causing your issues.
4. You're OD'ing on spot treatments.
Overusing topical salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, or sulphur over-the-counter treatments can dry out your skin, causing it to produce more oil and possibly blemishes. Those ingredients can actually make the appearance of your pimples look worse, since the active ingredients can slightly burn the top layer of your skin if used too often, making the pimple appear even redder and harder to conceal than if you had just left it alone. (Tip via Samantha Wright, a licensed aesthetician and Skinovator at the Dangene Institute.)
5. Your hair products are wreaking havoc on your skin.
The sulfates (cleansing agents), heavy moisturizing agents, and silicones that your shampoo, conditioner, and stylers contain can seep into your pores, clogging them and resulting in chest acne, bacne, or pesky pimples along your hairline. (Tip via Wright.)
What you can do differently: When washing and conditioning your hair in the shower, tilt your head over to the side to keep the product's residue off your face, chest, and back as you rinse it away. And be sure to wash your face last when you're in the shower to make sure you haven't accidentally gotten any product on your skin that could break you out later.
6. You smoke.
Every time you light up a cigarette, you decrease the amount of oxygen that goes to your face. This not only predisposes you to cancer, and causes the breakdown of collagen and elastin that leads to wrinkles and increased pore size, but the carcinogens in the smoke also irritates your skin and dries it out, triggering your skin to produce more oil and possibly more breakouts. (Tip via Dr. Downie.)
What you can do differently: Don't smoke. It's as simple as that. You'll live longer and have clear skin.
7. You're scrubbing your skin too hard.
A lot of people with acne think that the more you scrub your skin with a washcloth, rough exfoliants (like crushed apricot seeds), or cleansing brushes, the smoother your skin will be, but in reality, the problem will only inevitably get worse. What happens when you do that is you scrub the active acne and the blemish bacteria gets spread across the skin, worsening the condition.
What you can do differently: Gently wash and moisturize your face with a gentle yet effective system (cleanser, toner, moisturizer) that contains pore-clearing ingredients, like alpha hydroxy acids and glycolic and lactic acids. That way you keep the scrubbing to a minimum.
8. You can't stop picking at your pimples.
It's tempting in the moment, but it's never a good idea to play dermatologist, because it's impossible to pick your own pimple and not make a red mark that could turn into a scar. Even worse, when you try to press the plug or oil or puss out of your pore, you run the risk of pushing the bacteria deeper or spreading it around underneath your skin, multiplying your pimples.
What you can do differently: Challenge yourself not to pick or even touch your face for unnecessary reasons, since you can transfer bacteria onto your skin that way. Not touching your face works wonders for your complexion and allowing your zits to heal on their own leaves your skin scar-free. (Tip via Wright.)
9. You're not releasing pent-up stress properly.
Stress triggers acne and acne results in more stress, so it's a very vicious cycle. Basically, when you're under pressure, your skin produces stress hormones, including cortisol, that can stimulate your oil glands to make testosterone that then increases oil production and clogs pores. (Tip via Dr. Downie.)
What you can do differently: Work out regularly, meditate, take time out of your busy schedule to focus on yourself—all of these things will help you release stress, so your body doesn't continue to release hormones that will only harm your skin.
10. You're using the wrong detergent.
Some chemicals in laundry detergent can be too harsh for your skin, and once you slip on your clothes or lie on your pillow, your skin might react to the residue that's left on the fabric, resulting in breakouts on your face, back, butt, chest, etc. (Tip via Dr. Downie.)
What you can do differently: Choose a detergent that's fragrance- and dye-free and dermatologist-tested for sensitive skin
11. You're wearing a lot of hats or constantly touching your face.
Anything that can trap sweat and bacteria against your skin and clog your pores, like the lining of a tight hat, can cause zits to crop up. Also, touching your face or resting your chin in your hand while you're sitting at your desk can transfer bacteria from your hand onto your face and brew blemishes. (Tip via Dr. Downie.)
What you can do differently: Yes, hats are fashionable, but switch up your style and go without wearing one for a bit to see if that's the root of your pimple problem. Also, keep your hands away from your face. Seriously, it's super easy to do.
12. You're not washing your face/body after you work out.
Skipping the shower right after working out or not washing your face, at the very least, allows the makeup, dirt, bacteria, and oil that was already on your skin mix with sweat—all of which will find a nice home in your pores, settling into your warm skin and causing breakouts to brew.
What you can do differently: Wipe your face, chest, and back down before you work out with facial wipes to remove your makeup (we like Nivea's Gentle Cleansing Wipes). Then, if you don't have time to shower immediately after the gym, use another fresh facial wipe to clear away any sweat and bacteria on your skin to minimize the chance of new pimples popping up.
13. You're still a sun-worshipper.
You're probably already aware that lying out in the sun and going to tanning beds cause skin cancer, but if that still hasn't stopped you from hitting the beach without sunscreen or the proper protective gear (aka that chic sun hat), perhaps this will. Contrary to popular belief, the sun isn't healing your acne, it's actually making it worse. What happens is, as your face gets red from the sun, it makes any breakouts you might already have blend in, creating the appearance of clearer skin. But what's really going on is the sun causing your skin to dry out and triggering more oil production, which can lead to more zits.
What you can do differently: For starters, stop going to tanning beds. Period. And if you are in the sun, make sure to slather on a titanium dioxide- or zinc-based sunscreen (these are natural sun protectants and their formulations usually contain fewer chemicals, so they won't break you out as easily), and wear a sun hat or ball cap to shield your facial skin from harsh rays.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.