If you’ve ever looked in the office bathroom mirror after lunch, noticed a brand-spanking-new zit, and wondered “where the hell did that thing come from?” this one’s for you.
Some facial breakouts seem to come up out of nowhere and ruin your afternoon, but chances are those surprise pimples have been brewing for some time—and there are a whole lot of things that might have caused them. To find out where exactly they come from, I asked dermatologists to share the most common reasons behind sudden facial breakouts. The good news? Nearly all of them are avoidable with a few lifestyle tweaks—though sometimes, IMHO, a midday zit is well worth the extra scoop of ice cream.
Common causes of sudden facial breakouts
If pimples are popping up before a big presentation or a nerve-wracking first date, stress is likely to blame. “We know that stress has a significant impact on our skin,” says board-certified dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD. When you’re stressed, your brain releases a stress hormone called cortisol, which causes your oil glands to go into overdrive. They start to produce more sebum, which ultimately leads to acne. While many hormonal breakouts are unavoidable, stress pimples can be put to rest by chilling out.
2. Your diet
Breaking out the morning after binging Ben and Jerry’s and The Bachelor (aka the bets way to spend a Monday night)? Those are probably sugar and dairy pimples. “Certain foods like dairy and sugary foods promote inflammation in the skin leading to breakouts,” says Dr. Zeichner. Some people are more susceptible to these reactions than others, so just pay attention to how your skin responds after you eat anything with these ingredients.
3. Beauty products
The right beauty products can often be your skin’s best friend, but the wrong ones can quickly turn into its ultimate enemy. If you’re not careful, certain skin care, makeup, and even hair care can lead to breakouts. “Heavy, occlusive products, including liquid foundations, can block the pores causing breakouts,” says Dr. Zeichner. Look for products with the term “non-comedogenic” on the label, which means they won’t clog your pores, and be sure to wash off your makeup every night before bed.
4. Your cell phone
We’ve all heard the intel that our cell phones are dirtier than toilet seats, and all of that bacteria isn’t exactly good for your skin. It can weasel its way into your pores, gunking them up and turning them into pimples. To keep your skin (and your immune system) safe, be sure to wipe your phone down with an anti-bacterial wipe regularly.
5. Your workout
Let’s clear one thing up: Sweat itself doesn’t cause sudden facial breakouts, but leaving it on your skin for a long period of time most definitely can. Be sure to wash your face with a gentle cleanser immediately after your workout, then follow it up with a moisturizer. And one more easy gym habit that will help fend off zits? Wash all of your makeup off before you hit the floor to avoid any unnecessary pore clogging.
6. The weather
There’s a reason why we recently named your phone’s the weather app as “the best predictor for bad skin days“: According to board-certified dermatologist Nava Greenfield, MD, the climate—particularly humidity—can have a major impact on the clearness of your complexion. “Humidity envelops skin in a blanket of heat and moisture, which leads to pores expanding wide, an increase in oil production, and a smothering of the skin,” Audrey Kunin, MD, board-certified dermatologist and founder of DERMAdoctor, previously told Well+Good. “This can lead to congestion or even an outbreak of blemishes.” If you’re heading to a humid city (or if summer weather is finally setting in), be sure to pack a chemically exfoliating product, like Drunk Elephant Glycolic Serum ($90), to help de-gunk your pores.
To deal with these sudden breakouts once they’ve popped up, these are the four ingredients you need in your routine. Plus, the $10 acne-fighting soap that sold out in under a week and damn near works miracles.
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