Seven Acne Culprits That May Surprise You

handsome man applying facial cream in bathroom while looking at mirror

Anyone who has struggled with acne as an adult knows that it’s the absolute worst. Unlike acne in your teenage years—where fluctuating hormones are largely to blame—adult acne can be triggered by an endless number of things, some of which aren’t always easy to identify.

From pore-clogging hair care products to dirty bed sheets, there is a long list of potential suspects that could be contributing to your acne breakouts. If you’ve already ruled out the most common causes of acne, here are seven sneaky acne culprits that you may be overlooking.

1. Gym Equipment

If you’re an athlete or a self-proclaimed gym rat, you’ve probably wondered on more than one occasion if your workouts are the reason behind your acne breakouts.  While exercise can provide several benefits to the skin, the gym could be doing your skin more harm than good.

From exercise mats to elliptical machines, communal gyms harbor an insane amount of dirt and bacteria which can be transferred from gym equipment to your hands and, eventually, to your face. Factor in the excess sweat and preexisting oils on your skin, and you suddenly have the ideal environment for acne-causing bacteria to thrive.

The Fix: Wipe down gym equipment before and after you use them, and make sure to shower immediately after your workout.

2. Harsh Skin Care Products

Bar soaps, abrasive wipes and even some anti-aging products can be unnecessarily harsh on skin, resulting in imbalanced, dry skin. When your skin becomes too dry, it counteracts the problem by producing more oil that can clog pores and cause breakouts.

Though it’s not always easy to tell which skin care products will dry out your skin, a good rule of thumb is to stay away from products containing artificial fragrances and preservatives (such as parabens). These ingredients have been well-known to cause irritation and dry out the skin.

The Fix: Ditch skin care products that contain skin-irritating ingredients, and switch to a skin care system that is formulated for all skin types.

3. Hair Products

On a similar note, you may want to read the ingredients on the back of your hair gel. Hair care products such as pomade are notorious for containing pore-clogging ingredients that can lead to pimples. In fact, the problem is so common that “pomade acne” is now a well-known term in skin care circles.

Young man is applying hair gel to his hair.

Pomades and hair gels aren’t the only hair care products that could be triggering your acne breakouts. Many moisturizing shampoos and conditioners also contain comedogenic (meaning, pore-clogging) ingredients that clog pores and cause pimples.

The Fix: Swap your hair care products out for ones containing non-comedogenic oils, such as kukui nut oil and jojoba oil.

4. Vitamin Supplements

If you take a daily vitamin supplement, you may want to talk with your doctor about vitamin B12. Though vitamin B12 can benefit skin in several ways, some research has shown that the vitamin supplement can trigger acne in those with acne-prone skin.

According to a 2015 study published in Science Translational Medicine, researchers looked at gene expression patterns and found a possible link between vitamin B12 supplements and acne. Subjects who had received an injection of vitamin B12 experienced changes to their gene expression that closely resembled that of an acne patient.

The Fix: While the results of the study aren’t definitive, it may be worth talking to your doctor about. Most Americans get enough vitamin B12 in their diets and don’t actually need an added supplement.

5. Travel

Do your breakouts occur whenever you hop on an airplane? There are several reasons why acne tends to strike when we’re about to jet off to a new location.

Man entrepreneur is watching video on mobile phone, while is sitting in plane near window with sun rays during his business trip. Hipster guy is listening to music in headphones via cell telephone

First, the dry cabin air and germ-ridden airplanes are doing your skin no favors. If your skin is accustomed to a humid environment, the drop in humidity when your plane takes off can throw off the oil balance in your skin.

Secondly, traveling is stressful for a lot of people, and stress has long been associated with acne breakouts. In a 2017 study published in Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology, researchers found that sixth-year medical students who reported an increase in stress also had an increase in acne severity.

The Fix: Exfoliate with a gentle scrub before your trip and follow up with a daily moisturizer with SPF. The SPF in your moisturizer will help shield your face from UV rays, which are much stronger at higher altitudes

6. Dirty Pillowcases

If you can’t remember the last time you washed your bed sheets, it’s time to throw them in the wash. Pillowcases are dirtier than you think, and several studies have highlighted the nasty stuff that builds up in our bedding while we sleep.

In a 2006 study published in Allergy, researchers found 50 different species of fungi on 10 pillowcases in regular use. Fungi can cause skin irritation and acne-like eruptions on the skin, so changing your pillowcases regularly is a must.

The Fix: Wash your bedding at least once a week and change your pillowcases twice a week if you have oily skin.

7. Smartphone

Does your acne typically appear along the sides of your face? If so, your smartphone could be to blame. Most of us use our phones daily and often forget to give them a frequent wipe-down.

Phones come into contact with tens of thousands of bacteria each day. This bacterium is then smashed into our skin whenever we answer a call, clogging pores and producing pimples.

The Fix: If you can, try answering your incoming phone calls on speaker to keep the phone away from the side of your face. You can also wipe down your phone with a disinfecting wipe a couple of times a day to keep germs at bay.

man with pimples on his face looking at the mirror illustration

Finding an Effective Acne Treatment System

No matter what your age, acne is an incredibly frustrating problem. As an adult, there are countless triggers that can cause you to break out, which can make adult acne particularly difficult to treat.

Don’t give up hope, though. Along with the fixes we’ve listed above, a powerful acne treatment system can also help nip your pesky pimples in the bud. Remember to give any system you try at least two weeks to kick in and do its job. Before you know it, you’ll have blemish-free skin once again.

(Contributed by Jenelia)

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