Lifestyle & Acne Triggers
Stress and Sleep
Reduce your stress. Do whatever it takes. Stress is a major acne trigger, is caused by the wear and tear of day-to-day living and changes that take place in your life, both good and bad. Moving is comparable to the death of a child in its ability to cause extreme stress.
Sleep seven uninterrupted hours per night on a consistent basis. Missed sleep can be caused by night shift jobs, broken sleep, social media, phone notifications, sleeping with infants or small children, poor time management, insomnia, snoring, sleep apnea, menopause, long plane trips, and crossing time zones. Chronic lack of sleep can lead to severe physical stress, making it difficult to clear active acne, maintain clear skin, lose weight, and lighten dark circles.
Fragrance and dye-free detergent: Launder everything in fragrance-free detergent (no softener sheets). Look for white bottles that say Free & Clear, Free of Perfume & Dyes, or Free & Gentle. Safe bleach: Clorox 2 for Colors Free & Clear. Safe fabric softeners: Fragrance-free liquid Downey in the white bottle and chemical-free “dryer balls”.
Wash all cloth face masks before you wear them in fragrance-free detergent with no softener sheets. Rewash every day or two and make sure they fit correctly. Face mask or not, you must apply your sunscreen!
Change your pillowcase every day or two, launder in “free & clear” products (sold in white bottles) with an extra rinse cycle if possible. Purchase several and choose white if you will be using acne products.
Avoid laundry additives, enzymes, chlorine bleach, and softener sheets, including fragrance-free dryer sheets, which leave a waxy residue that clogs pores and irritates the skin. Don’t crowd clothes and if possible, run an extra rinse cycle. Clean out shared washers and dryers with paper towels and white vinegar before use to remove detergent and fabric softener residue.
Wash before you wear or use anything new! Launder new cotton face masks, bedding, bath linens, and clothing. Imported fabrics are sprayed with toxic fungicides, pesticides, and formaldehyde, and can cause body acne, infections, rashes, and skin discoloration.
Workout wear should be cotton and laundered in fragrance-free detergent with no fabric softener. Shower after perspiring with an acne soap or medicated body wash if you have body acne or a fungal infection on your body.
Dietary Acne Triggers
Avoid iodine: Dairy products (milk in coffee beverages, cheese, ice cream, sour cream, yogurt, protein drinks), processed foods, take-out food, frozen dinners, fast food, canned food, soft drinks, salty snacks, seaweed snacks, salted sunflower seeds, salted nuts, canned, packaged and restaurant soups, ramen noodles, Vietnamese pho, tomato juice, V-8, seasoned salt, iodized salt, salty condiments, high-sodium sports and energy drinks (except Vitamin Water), sushi wrapped in seaweed, Chinese food (salty sauces, MSG, soups, soy sauce), American Mexican food (cheese, sour cream, refried beans and salted tortilla chips), processed meats (lunch and deli meat, hot dogs, bacon, franks, hot links, sausage, Spam) and condiments containing kelp, MSG and/or iodized salt, including seasoned salt.
Peanut products and wheat germ contain androgenic hormones and can cause breakouts. You can enjoy other nuts, as long as they’re unsalted. Love peanut butter? Try low-sodium soy nut, almond, cashew, or sunflower butter.
Skip dairy, one of the biggest acne triggers! Cheese, milk, ice cream, sour cream, yogurt, protein powders that contain whey and/or casein, and dairy-rich coffee drinks. Dairy is linked to acne, allergies, eczema, psoriasis, asthma, weight gain, digestive problems, water retention, high blood pressure, bloating, puffy eyes, and a ton of other health problems. Learn more here.
Try new cow’s milk-free products like ice-cold oat, almond, rice or coconut milk, coconut yogurt and whipped cream, Culina coconut yogurt, So Delicious frozen desserts, Tofutti brand Cuties “ice cream” sandwiches, Follow Your Heart® vegan cheese, Rice Dream and Coconut Dream milk, Daiya brand cheese-style shreds, Native Forest coconut cream, and Tofutti brand milk-free ice cream substitutes, sour cream, cream cheese, and ricotta cheese. This list is what clients say they like best, but there are tons of products out there.
Concerned about calcium and vitamin D? Eat lots of dark green veggies and take supplements with calcium citrate, magnesium and vitamin D. On cereal, try ice-cold almond, oat, coconut or rice milk. If it’s GMO-free, soy milk is better than cow’s milk, but it contains hormones, is processed to taste better with added sugar and fat, can cause allergic reactions, and be difficult to digest.
Fish and seafood from polluted water and toxic algae bloom (especially in California) can cause persistent skin problems, including rash-like acne. This doesn’t happen in better restaurants when they get their shellfish from other parts of the country. If your acne is treatment-resistant and rashy, eliminate local fish and shellfish from your diet for a while.
The keto diet, especially if it includes dairy and MCT oil, can cause skin problems ranging from acne, rashes, or both.
Avoid iodized table salt and seasoned salt. Use sea salt, kosher salt, or Himalayan pink salt. Blend iodine-free salt, Mrs. Dash Table Blend, garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper, paprika, and cayenne. Outside food contains excess amounts of iodized salt.
Drink more water to maintain healthy skin, fight fatigue, plump up fine lines, reduce dark circles, brighten your skin tone, and keep your skin from getting dry and irritated from active products. Drink at least half your body weight in ounces.
Supplements Can Be Acne Triggers
Supplements can be acne triggers, especially biotin, MCT oil, maca root, CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), sea plants (seaweed, spirulina, algae, Irish sea moss, chondrus crispus, kelp, chlorella, etc), iodine, testosterone boosters, creatine, whey, casein, and green detox drinks.
Try acne-safe nutrition. Iodine-free multi-vitamins, zinc monomethionine or picolinate (always with meals), coated fish oil, flaxseed oil, krill oil, MSM, probiotics, calcium citrate (with magnesium and vitamin D), vitamin C complex, and B-complex. Check with your doctor before taking supplements, especially if you have health problems, are pregnant or lactating, or are taking prescription meds.
Use caution with protein drinks: Avoid protein drinks that contain whey, casein, and/or sea plants, including seaweed, spirulina, algae, Irish sea moss (chondrus crispus), kelp, chlorella, etc. Try Sun Warrior Classic and Plus Protein and Paleo Egg White Protein.
Acne Treatments and Products
Get professional acne treatments including acne facials (enzyme peels with steam), light chemical peels, and Jessners tune-up peels formulated for acne, dark spots, scars, ingrown hair, and razor bumps. Professional acne treatments exfoliate the skin evenly and help home care products penetrate better. Skin brighteners and other skin-smoothing “boosters” will enhance the results dramatically.
Irritated or constantly flaking? You may be dehydrated from interior and car heaters, low water intake, too much sun, scrubbing your skin, applying your products too thick or too often, or using the wrong product(s).
Follow directions carefully. Don’t overuse or under-use your home care. Ask for help if you need it.
Don’t slack! If we help you clear your acne, don’t think you’re so cute that you can quit using your products. You’ll stay clear for a while, but the microscopic beginnings of pimples and ingrown hairs will form deep in your pores, causing more breakouts, which will lead to new dark spots.
Get refills or product upgrades before you run out. Stock up before you go out of town. Don’t stop your regimen because you run out of one or two products.
Use physical sunscreen with zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. Reapply often when exposed to direct sunlight, including overcast skies and while driving. Avoid direct sun and wear sunglasses. Sunscreen use helps keep dark spots, blotchy skin tone, and dark circles from getting even darker.
Use ice to reduce inflammation. Fill two small dixie cups to the brim with water and freeze. Rub ice in a circular motion on red, inflamed pimples and hair bumps twice a day for two minutes. This really helps!
Avoid fragrance in skin care, hair and body products, perfumes, scented mists, and aftershave. Steer clear of aromatherapy and perfumed laundry products. Sunburn, rashes, acne, and dark “staining” of the skin can develop, especially on sun-exposed skin.
Picking, Friction, and Scrubbing
Stop picking, scratching, tweezing, and skin tampering! Women, get acrylic nails, file them so they’re not sharp, and maintain them every two weeks. Leave “stop picking” notes to yourself on mirrors, day planners, briefcases, desk drawers, rearview mirrors, and in lockers. Picking pushes bumps deeper into the follicle, slows the healing process, invites secondary infection, introduces airborne bacteria, causes thickened, dark dead skin build-up and scarring, and turns tiny bumps into huge brown, black or red blemishes that take forever to heal and fade.
Acne mechanica is caused by friction (rubbing), pressure, and occlusion (restricted airflow), and results in deep acne, hair bumps, and severe darkening. Don’t lean on your hand or phone, sleep on your hand or arm, wear tight wave caps, sleeping scarves, head wraps, hats, caps, visors, or move them up and down your forehead.
More trouble: Earbuds, poor-fitting glasses, football helmets, tight bra straps and bands, leaning and putting more pressure on one side of your butt as you sit, heavy shoulder bags and backpacks, clothing with chemical additives, over-scrubbing and rubbing with a towel. Don’t lean on your phone! Use a Bluetooth® device, headset, or speakerphone.
Don’t scrub off dead skin cells. Washcloths, spa gloves, abrasive scrubs, sonic or spin brushes, buffing pads, alcohol-based astringents, and rubbing with a towel can cause a “rope burn effect”. Side effects are over-exfoliation, irritation, darkening, dead skin build-up, and more flaking. Learn more here.
Acne and Your Health
Severe “photo-sensitivity” is normal for many, but can be caused by weight gain and prescription medication, which leads to dark blemishes, brown patches, blotchiness, hyperpigmented acne, darkening of existing scars, and uneven darker skin tone on the outer cheeks, neck, eye area, forehead, temples, knuckles, chest and other areas. Photo-sensitizing meds include all hormones, birth control pills, shots, implants and devices, hormone replacement, oral diabetic drugs, diuretics, blood pressure meds, antihistamines, antibiotics, systemic acne meds, systemic and topical retinoids, and certain anti-depressants. Weight gain can also cause skin tone darkening and is fueled by insulin resistance, hormone changes, sun exposure and the medications on takes to treat obesity-related conditions.
Medications can be acne triggers including hormones, birth control pills, shots, and implants, systemic and topical steroids, anti-rejection meds, testosterone boosters, anti-convulsive drugs, and cold meds that contain bromide.
Medical conditions: Thyroid, liver and kidney disease, diabetes, lupus, scleroderma, sarcoidosis, RA, MS, and other auto-immune diseases, hemochromatosis, obesity, rapid weight gain, menopause, perimenopause, pregnancy, PCOS, irregular periods, hormonal imbalances and changes, fibroids, anemia, and smoking can cause delayed healing, acne breakouts, and sun-sensitivity. Look for darkening of the face or outer cheeks, forehead, upper lip, neck and orbital eye area, dark blemishes, and slow-to-heal acne.
Don’t smoke tobacco! Cigarettes, cigars, vaping, hookah, and weed rolled in tobacco are major acne triggers and can cause breakouts, severe blackheads, and scarring, clog your pores, age your skin, cause blackened lips, gums, and under-eye circles, and keep acne and blemishes from healing.
Avoid recreational drugs. Blunts (marijuana rolled in tobacco leaves), cocaine, X, and meth all aggravate acne. Alcohol consumption doesn’t cause your acne to worsen unless you’re too drunk to apply your home care products or have high blood sugar.
Comedogenic Ingredients are Acne Triggers
Pore-clogging chemicals: Avoid acne-aggravating products. These include aggressive fatty acid IPM (isopropyl myristate) and its “chemical cousins”, including isopropyl palmitate, isopropyl lanolate, myristyl myristate, myristic acid, isopropyl isostearate, and isostearyl neopentanoate. Also, potassium chloride, sodium chloride, decyl oleate, oleic acid, oleyl alcohol, octyl stearate, isocetyl stearate, PPG myristyl propionate, sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), sodium laureth sulfate, laureth-4, lanolin and acetylated lanolin, algae/seaweed, and most natural butters and oils.
Avoid seaweed. Look for names like spirulina, kelp, marine algae, algin, alginate, alginic acid, chlorella, carrageenan, red algae, Irish sea moss (chondrus crispus), sea aster, corallina officinalis, asparagopsis armata, bladderwrack, dulse, rockweed, ulva lactuca, sargassum, laminaria fucus, and vesiculosus.
Hair Products and Hair Extensions
Evaluate hair products if breakouts are concentrated on the hairline, forehead, temples, sides of the face, neck and jawline, sideburns, scalp, behind the ears, or upper back. Whatever you put on your hair will migrate onto your skin. You perspire when you sleep, are stressed, rush around, climb stairs, and exercise. Hairspray must be unscented; cover your face with a cheap paper plate before you spray. This won’t work with oil sheen, braid spray, or scented hairspray.
Avoid: (1) pressing creams, butters, and oils; (2) oil-sheen, hairspray and braid spray; (3) mousse; (4) locking wax (except hard beeswax); 5) curl activator; (6) scalp grease; (7) brown gel; (8) scented gel; (9) keratin treatments and protein conditioners; (10) aromatherapy oils; (11) other oils (see below).
Problem oils: Coconut oil, cocoa butter, shea butter, sweet almond oil, carrot oil, olive oil, apricot kernel oil, palm kernel oil, castor oil, products labeled “argan oil”, Moroccan oil, vitamin E oil, wheat germ oil, aromatherapy oil blends, jojoba waxes and esters, and scented oils.
Safe oils: Fragrance-free sunflower oil, mineral oil, petrolatum, and tiny amounts of jojoba oil and pure argan oil added to sunflower oil.
Synthetic and human hair: Some batches of synthetic hair are coated with toxic chemicals that cause severe allergic reactions and acne, even if the hair is kept off the face and neck. This varies from batch to batch and company to company. The chemicals in synthetic and some human hair can cause itching, rashes, skin infections, and acne. If a reaction with extreme itching happens after braiding, you may have no choice but to take it down. Synthetic hair should be soaked in an apple cider vinegar solution first. Shampoo and condition human hair before your weave or braids.
Avoid these product lines if you’re acne prone: Abba, Affirm, African Pride, Argan Oil, Aussie, Aveda, Avlon, Beautiful Textures, Bed Head, Bee’s Wax hair products, Biosilk, Blue Magic, Bone Straight, Botanicals, Bumble & Bumble, Cantu, Care Free (except Care Free ‘Lite’), Carol’s Daughter, Carrot Oil, Circle of Friends, CitreShine, coconut oil, Crème of Nature, Curl Junkie, D’arcy’s Botanicals, Dark & Lovely, Davines, Design Essentials, Deva, Doo Gro, Dr. Miracles, Dove, Dudley, Duke, Eden, Enjoi, Enjoy, Garnier Fructis, Giovanni, Glover’s, Goldwell, Hair Rules, His Mix (Mixed Chicks for Men), IC, Influance, Isoplus, Jessicurl, JLife, JML, Joico, Kemi Oyl, Kenra, Keracare, Kerapro, Kinky-Curly, Kiti Kiti, Let’s Jam, Luster, Mane and Tail, Marrakech Oil, Mane Choice, Matrix, Miss Jessie’s Curly Pudding, Mixed Chicks, Mizani, Mop, Moroccan Oil blends, Motions, Murray’s, Nairobi, Neutrogena T-Gel, Nexxus, Nioxin Protectives, Ojon, Olive Oil products, One Better “Instant Shine” Finishing Gloss, Optimum, Organic Root Stimulator, Organix, Oyin, Pantene Relaxed & Natural, Paul Mitchell and generics, Philosophy, Phyto, Pink Oil, Proclaim, Proline, ProStyle, Purology, Quidad, Redken, S Curl, Sensitive by Nature, Shea Moisture, Shea Terra, Soft Sheen “Optimum Oil Therapy”, Sportin’ Waves, Suave, Sulfur 8, TCB Hair Food, Talijah Wahid, Tresemme, Warm Spirit, Wen and dozens more.
Safe hair products: Neutrogena T-Sal Shampoo, Care Free Lite Gel Activator, Gabriel Correctives, Free & Clear, Vanicream, Clear Ice white gel, Original Formula Infusium 23 leave-in, L’Anza spray leave-in, American Crew Firm Hold Gel, Vanicream, petrolatum, and fragrance-free sunflower oil.
Toothpaste can cause small breakouts and darken the skin around and below the corners of the mouth, especially if it contains sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), tartar control, fluoride and aromatic flavors. Keep toothpaste in your mouth, where it belongs. If it gets on your skin, use a cleanser to remove it. Look for SLS-free, fluoride-free toothpaste.
Avoid problematic cosmetics: Red dyes, know acne triggers, are found in foundations, blushes, lipstick and powders, MAC foundations, mineral make-up and powders (especially Studio Fix), Shiseido, Lancôme, Estee Lauder, Makeup For Ever, L’Oreal, Chanel, Fashion Fair, Posner, Iman, and many other cosmetics. Re-evaluate your cosmetics and moisturizers if breakouts continue. Avoid make-up that sticks to the sink when you wash it off. Acne-safe red dye alternatives: Iron oxides and carmine. See the Color Additive Labeling Guide to identify FD&C red dyes by their CI number.
Scalp Problems and Acne
Scaling, inflammation, and/or itching on the scalp, hairline, ears, brows, inner cheeks, forehead, and/or side of the nose? You may have seborrheic dermatitis, a common genetic condition that’s easy to treat. Part of an oily, acne-prone, sensitive skin profile, it worsens in cold weather, during stressful times, when using harsh soaps, alcohol, and perfumes, and with infrequent shampooing.
Don’t ignore scalp issues. Look for dandruff, scaling, reddening of the inner cheeks, forehead, and hairline, very sensitive skin, a pink or light-pigmented patchy rash, tiny red bumps on the face and scalp, an itchy scalp, thinning hair and hair loss (scalp, brows, and eyelashes). Warning: Don’t use a brush, scratch your scalp, or let a stylist do so, pat or rub your scalp. Thinning hair, itching, dead skin build-up, inflamed sores, and bumps will only get worse. Low thread count Protect thin, fragile hair on the side you sleep with white satin or silk pillowcases.
Hormones can be acne triggers and linked to breakouts and hyperpigmentation, including many low estrogen birth control pills, birth control shots and implants, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), hormonal changes, fibroids, imbalances, irregular periods, PMS/PMDD and obesity (fat cells can boost the body’s estrogen production). The birth control pills advertised to help clear acne don’t live up to the claims and can cause breakouts, dry eye, sun sensitivity, melasma, and other major health problems. HMOs routinely make contraceptive substitutions that are cheaper for them, but not true generics. Want an IUD? Choose the hormone-free T-shaped copper IUD over the various hormone-containing IUDs, implants, and shots, which are known to cause a truckload of side effects, including acne, pore-clogging, weight gain, mood swings, depression, yeast infections, sun-sensitivity, and hair loss.
Pregnancy, post-partum and menstrual cycles can cause hormonal flare-ups. Use a calendar or smartphone app to track your cycle. Practice diligent skincare and suncare throughout the month. Pay close attention to your lifestyle to counteract problems during these times. Avoid direct sun. Protect your neck (which darkens) and face (watch for dark melasma patches) with zinc oxide-based sunscreen and reapply often.
Pregnant and lactating women should discontinue herbs, nutritional supplements (except prenatal vitamins), NSAIDS, retinoids, and hydroquinone. Discuss active skincare products, prescriptions, OTC medications, and systemic acne meds with your physician.
Note: Individual results may vary and require compliance with corrective home care products, diligent sun protection, professional treatments, recognizing your acne triggers, and making important lifestyle changes, all of which must be monitored and maintained on a long-term basis.
©2022 Kathryn Khadija Leverette and clinicallyclear.com.
The material on this website is provided for educational purposes only and is not to be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.