When a zit pops up chances are your first thought isn’t “I wonder what environmental factor brought this sucker on?” If you’re anything like us, your thought process is more along the lines of, “OMG how do I cover up this beast?” Sure, masking a bad breakout with makeup is a start, but if you really want to kiss that blemish (or three) away, you need to get to the root of the problem. And sometimes, it’s not always what you think. We talked to Dr. S. Manjula Jegasothy, board-certified dermatologist and founder of the Miami Skin Institute, to learn once and for all: What causes breakouts? Read on for the unexpected causes.
It’s your workout.
OK, so it might not actually be your spin class that’s giving you acne, but those sweaty, tight clothes aren’t doing you any favors. “The most frequent cause of back and chest acne that I see in Miami in adult women is related to not showering and wearing sweaty workout clothes for more than an hour after working out,” says Dr. Jegasothy. Even if you’re wearing fancy sweat-wicking fabric, Dr. Jegasothy says pores can still get clogged from residual sweat left on the skin. “If you can’t shower or change your clothes immediately post workout, I recommend an acne wipe or prescription antibiotic Cleocin T pads to use over the entire back and chest immediately post workout,” she says.
And while you’re at is, don’t forget to wash your face post sweat sesh. Dr. Jegasothy says face sweat can clog the pores and even escalate into an acne bump or cyst. “I strongly recommend washing your face with a good salicylic acid cleanser immediately after a sweaty workout,” she explains.
It’s your pillow.
Breakouts while you sleep? Say it isn’t so. But according to Dr. Jegasothy, pillows and sheets that lack sweat-wicking properties, or worse, are dirty, can cause clogged pores and acne. “Your own sweat during sleep can rest in these fabrics and cause bacterial growth as well,” she adds. “We recommend washing your sheets weekly and putting your pillow in the drier every 2-3 weeks to ensure maximum cleanliness.”
It’s your food.
Now this will be different for everyone, but it’s certainly possible that what you’re eating come snack time is actually a hidden acne instigator. Hormone-containing food such as chicken and dairy (yes, that includes chocolate) can cause acne breakouts, says Dr. Jegasothy. “This is because the levels of these hormones in these food categories can actually alter your own hormone levels,” she says. Talk to your derm to see if organic and non-GMO protein sources are right for you and your skin!
It’s your hormones.
“Often, many of my patients do not realize that women go through hormonal fluctuation periods every 5-10 years of their adult life,” says Dr. Jegasothy. And as it turns out, these fluctuations can often cause acne flares that persist for six months all the way up to a year. Thankfully, she says these flare ups can be controlled with medication and light chemical peels, however, she notes the underlying hormonal cause cannot be controlled. “Many women that I see who come to me with sudden adult-onset acne in their 20s are possibly likely to have another temporary flare up every 5-10 years until their 40s,” she cautions.
It’s your relationship.
Notice a series of breakouts popping up right after that Tinder date entered the picture? Turns out this might not be a coincidence. “Many of my patients often come in with terrible breakouts as soon as they’re in a new relationship,” she says. “This is because increased sexual activity causes female testosterone levels to sky rocket, causing severe acne breakouts.” Not to mention if your significant other happens to have a lumberjack beard, allergic rashes and cold sores could pop up from constant chafing. Dare we say, keep the smooching to a minimum.