Surprising Causes of Acne

Solve Your Breakout Mysteries

It's easy to blame your breakouts on stress or those three slices of pizza you ate last weekend, but that parade of pimples might instead be due to some lesser-known causes of acne.

You probably already know that there are several culprits behind acne: a collection of skin bacteria called P. acnes; overactive oil glands; and pores that get blocked by dead skin cells, according to dermatologist Bruce Katz, MD, director of the Juva Skin & Laser Center in Manhattan. But what brings on this breakout storm isn't always so obvious.

Here, we identify undercover pimple triggers — and show you the best ways to zap those zits.

Your Cellphone

Taking too many calls on your iPhone could cause a pimple big enough to become a topic of conversation all its own. Pressing your cheek and chin against your phone causes pimple-producing oils to collect. Those oils, as well as acne- causing bacteria, build up along with any bacteria already on your mobile.

"It's called 'acne mechanica,' " explains dermatologist Eric Schweiger, MD, clinical instructor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. "It happens to violinists around the chin and football players with the chin strap — it's [caused by] not letting the pores breathe, and the repetitive motion causes friction. Now we're seeing it with cellphones."

Redness relief: Clean your phone regularly by wiping it with the same cleansers you use for computer and TV screens. "When you talk on your cellphone, try not to keep it against your face or on the same side each time," Dr. Katz suggests. Or simply keep clear by using a hands-free device.

Your Hairstyling Products

Styling products may fight frizz and leave your locks silky soft, but they can also cause breakouts, called "pomade acne," along your hairline. "The acne comes from oil-based products and cosmetics," Dr. Katz explains. "A lot of women don't realize it's not always their cosmetics causing the breakouts, but their hair product that rubs against their face when they're asleep. It's comedogenic, and is like putting oil on your skin."

Redness relief: Look for oil-free pomades and gels (even natural oils can block pores, Dr. Katz notes). Also, scan the ingredients label for other acne-triggering additives, including the emulsifier Laureth-23, silicone and petrolatum. When applying styling products, be sure to avoid your hairline and skin, then wash your hands before touching your face, Dr. Schweiger suggests. Another smart move: Wash your pillowcases regularly. They absorb oil, hair products and dirt, all of which can activate acne.

Your Makeout Partner

If you can't pin down what's triggering your pimples, being cheek-to-cheek with your partner might be to blame. There's even a name for breaking out after making out — "consort acne." If your guy is wearing hair gel and you cuddle up, the gel can get on your face and cause acne, according to Dr. Katz. "Or, if someone has a lot of oils in their hair and you're sharing a pillow, the oils can get on your skin and cause breakouts," he says.

Redness relief: Ask your partner to use non-comedogenic products and oil-free hairstyling products. That will help keep the pimple-producing ingredients from rubbing off on your skin.

Your Toothpaste

Although a dab of toothpaste is often recommended as an on-the-spot pimple fighter, some people find that fluoride toothpaste actually triggers zits. "We see this when patients switch toothpastes and notice that they're breaking out," Dr. Schweiger says. Ingredients such as fluoride and sodium lauryl sulfate may cause irritation and produce pimples.

Your Water

Hard water often leaves a mineral residue on skin. This film can clog pores and bring on breakouts. "There are certain minerals in high concentrations in hard water, which may cause irritation like acne or eczema," Dr. Schweiger says.

Redness relief: Save face by installing water filters or purifiers, such as Jonathan Product Beauty Water Shower Purification System ($95). Filters reduce the concentration of heavy metals in water, which can help prevent pimple- causing residue and irritation. (Bonus: The filtered, pH-balanced water will also leave your hair silky smooth.)

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