What Acne Spots on Your Face Mean, According to Science (2024)

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Acne on specific parts of the face, including the cheeks and along the hairline, can have different causes.

We’ve corrected those acne face maps you see online

Is that reoccurring pimple telling you something? According to ancient Chinese and Ayurvedic techniques, it might — but there’s little to no scientific evidence that supports the idea that ear acne is caused by kidney issues or cheek acne is because of your liver.

As disappointed as we are to hear that, we’re also stoked to rectify these claims and create a face map based on evidence and science. Take a look at how to treat returning acne based on external, measurable lifestyle factors.

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Acne surrounding the hairline on your forehead also shares the name “pomade acne.” Pomades are in thick, often mineral oil-based hair products. This ingredient keeps the natural oil or sebum in our hair follicles from exiting. That blockage is what creates a pimple.

If you’re routinely finding yourself with pimples along your hairline, the best thing to do is stop using the pomade, wash your face after application, or be diligent about using a clarifying shampoo. There’s also products on the market that are noncomedogenic (nonclogging).

Try Aveda’s Rosemary Mint Shampoo ($23.76) for a deep cleanse. When using hairspray or dry shampoo, shield your skin with your hand or a washcloth.

» MORE: What Is Clarifying Shampoo?

Try this for hairline acne

  • Use noncomedogenic products, which don’t contain cocoa butter, coloring, tar, etc.
  • Try a clarifying shampoo to cleanse your pores and remove any product.
  • Shield your face with your hand or a washcloth when using sprays or dry shampoo.

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It’s not just fecal matter. You’ve probably got traces of E. coli and other bacteria on your phone, too. And anytime you hold your phone to your face, you’re spreading that bacteria to your skin, potentially causing more acne. Persistent acne on one side of your faces tends to be due to dirty phones, pillowcases, and other habits like touching your face.

Cleaning your smartphone regularly with a disinfectant wipe can help minimize breakouts. If you’re on the phone frequently for work, consider purchasing a Bluetooth headset. Switch out your pillowcases at least once a week. For those who want to switch pillowcases daily, a pack of cheap T-shirts, like Hanes Men’s 7-pack ($19), works just as effectively.

» MORE: You Probably Touch Your Face 16 Times an Hour: Here’s How to Stop

Try this for cheek acne

  • Wipe down your smartphone before each use.
  • Don’t bring your phone with you to the bathroom.
  • Swap out your pillowcase at least once a week.

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Here’s where face mapping is actually accurate. Chin and jawline acne is often caused by fluctuations in hormones, which means a disruption with your endocrine system. It’s typically a result of excess androgens, which overstimulate the oil glands and clog pores. Hormones can surge during a menstrual cycle (a week before your period) or may be due to a switch or start with birth control medications.

» MORE: Hormonal Acne: Why It Happens and How to Treat It

Hormone imbalance can also be related to diet. You may have heard how diet affects acne, but studies show there’s a weak correlation.

Instead, some researchers believe that gut health affects acne because it changes your hormone levels — especially if you’re eating high-carb foods or dairy with added hormones. Take a look at your diet and see if cutting back on sugars, white bread, processed foods, and dairy will help reduce acne.

Your dermatologist can also help create and customize a strategy to help combat stubborn acne. For example, while traditional acne prescription regimens may help regular flare-ups, there are specific formulations of birth control pills and topical ointments that help, too.

» MORE: Birth Control for Acne: Brands to Try, How It Works, and More

Try this for jawline and chin acne

  • Re-evaluate your diet to see if you need to eat less processed foods or dairy.
  • Research food brands and check if they add hormones to their foods.
  • Visit a dermatologist for topical treatments to help stubborn acne.

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If you’re getting breakouts in the T-zone area, think oil and stress. A large-scale study of 160 male high school students in Singapore found that high stress doesn’t have an effect on oil production, but it can make acne more serious.

Another study, published in the same nonprofit journal Acta Dermato, found that people who woke up tired were more likely to have acne as well.

So, it sounds like stress and sleep start a vicious cycle with acne. If you notice a pattern, try meditating before bed or practicing good sleep hygiene. Listening to music or exercising (even for one minute) are also natural ways to relieve stress.

And remember to avoid touching your forehead. The average person touches their face hundreds of times per day, spreading oils and dirt directly into the pores. If you have oily skin, drugstore salicylic acid washes like Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash can help reduce the grease. But it’s also important to buy products according to your skin type.

» MORE: 12 Products for Oily Skin: Editors’ Picks

This modern version of face mapping can be a helpful jumping off point into clarifying the cause of your breakouts. But it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. If you want to try over-the-counter or home remedies first, try using Differin ($11.39) and a benzoyl peroxide wash every day.

Some pore-purging acids also work great as toners if you want to keep your current face wash. Try incorporating mandelic acid, like this toner from Makeup Artist’s Choice ($10.50), or glycolic acid, like the Pixi Glow Tonic ($9.99), into your routine.

If changing up your lifestyle and routine doesn’t help, talk to your dermatologist about creating a treatment regimen to calm down acne and reduce the chances of scarring.

» MORE: The 25 Best Acne Treatments, According to Dermatologists

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Dr. Morgan Rabach is a board-certified dermatologist who owns a private practice, and is a clinical instructor in the Department of Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital. She graduated from Brown University and earned her medical degree from New York University School of Medicine. Follow her practice on Instagram.

What Acne Spots on Your Face Mean, According to Science (2024)
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