Why you keep breaking out in certain spots on your face

Ask The Doctor: What causes acne and how to treat it
ABOVE: Ask The Doctor: What causes acne and how to treat it

Acne can be relentless, unsightly and frustrating.

For some people, breakouts can be totally random and out of the blue. But for others, acne-prone skin is a constant.

The good news: there could be a relatively simple explanation for why you have a consistent stream of pimples on your chin, or why you struggle with that one recurring zit on your forehead.

READ MORE: Why some people get more acne in the winter

According to Dr. Charles Lynde, a dermatologist in Markham, Ont., it all starts when you enter puberty.

“You develop a lot of androgens, which go on to produce in a male a deeper voice, and in females, breast tissue,” he said. “Unfortunately, it also contributes to acne.”

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Androgens are male sex hormones, and examples include testosterone and dihydrotestosterone. The production of androgens occurs in both men and women during adolescence, causing the production of extra oil on the skin and creating acne.

“Some people will get it more than others,” said Lynde. Other risk factors include family history, stress and diet.

READ MORE: Want healthy skin? Stop these 8 bad skin care habits now

However, some acne can be caused or made worse by common habits, like on which side of your face you most often sleep.

Dr. Lauren Kole believes that, for some people, location can be a huge indicator. She’s a dermatologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

“The location of acne can give clues as to what may be contributing to the patient’s acne,” Kole said in an interview with the university.

“I counsel patients on lifestyle changes that can help improve their acne. I definitely choose different therapies if I believe the patient’s acne is hormonally mediated versus if it’s changing a hair product or swapping out pillowcases regularly.”


We have oil glands all over our forehead and along the hairline, said Lynde.

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“If you use a heavy conditioner, you may induce [acne] in that area, too.”

Kole wrote, specifically, moisturizing or oil-based hair care products could be the cause of your recurrent forehead acne.

“These products can clog the pores and cause ‘pomade acne,'” she said.


You can worsen acne with friction, and it’s actually known as “frictional acne.”

“A person lying always on their right side or their left side will [likely] get more acne in that area,” he said.

“Similarly, if you’re always answering your cell phone with your right ear… that can worsen your acne, too.”

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In her practice, Kole added she frequently sees cheek acne caused by the use of cosmetic products.

“Women with ‘acne cosmetica’ may present with small bumps on their cheeks, chin and forehead,” she wrote.

“Acne on the cheeks may also be linked to exposure to a dirty phone or pillowcase, or other habits, such as frequently touching one’s face.”

Illustration by Laura Whelan
Illustration by Laura Whelan Illustration by Laura Whelan

Nose, chin and jawline

Typically, acne around the nose, chin and jawline is caused by excess oil production,” said Kole.

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This includes one’s “T-zone” — which runs from the middle of the forehead down through the nose.

Jawline acne can also be exacerbated by touching or picking the skin in the area, said Lynde.

Around the mouth

If you’re a frequent user of lipstick or lip balm, it could have an effect on the skin around your mouth.

“If you’re putting it on your lips, that’s OK,” said Lynde.

“But if you’re putting it out onto the skin … that won’t allow the skin to breathe properly and you’ll see the worsening of acne.”

Critics roast Kylie Jenner’s new walnut-based face scrub
Critics roast Kylie Jenner’s new walnut-based face scrub

Acne around the mouth can also be caused by hormones.

“These patients may have excess male hormones (or androgens) in the skin,” said Kole.

How to break the cycle

Lynde advises his patients to get lots of sleep and drink lots of water.

“All the healthy things in life are important for any skin regimen,” he said.

“Stay away from things that irritate the skin, and don’t pick at the skin.”

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READ MORE: Adult acne is common — here’s how to deal with pesky pimples

When using products on your skin, be gentle. Kole recommends using your fingertips to apply a “gentle, non-abrasive cleanser.”

During application, avoid using anything that can irritate the skin, like a washcloth.

“Scrubbing your skin can make acne worse,” she said. “Avoid the temptation to scrub.”

However, it’s important to note that not all acne is caused by everyday habits. Both Lynde and Kole recommend seeing a dermatologist if problems persist.