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5 Common Causes of Acne Breakouts


Why Do I Have Acne? 5 Potential Causes Of Your Breakouts

If you’re wondering what causes acne, this Kiehl’s guide could help. Ahead, learn 5 common factors that can contribute to breakouts and how to avoid them.

We’re often asked what causes acne, but the truth is, there’s no single answer. Your skin type, of course, is a major determinant: Those with oily skin are generally more likely to develop breakouts than those with dry or combination skin. But your skin type isn’t the only factor at play. There are a whole host of things that can make you more prone to blemishes, from the products you use in your daily skincare routine to your lifestyle habits.

Ahead, we’ll let you in on five common factors that can contribute to blemishes on your face. More importantly, we’ll give you tips on how to avoid (or at least reduce the impact of) these triggers so you can enjoy clearer-looking skin. Read on to discover what causes breakouts—and what you can do to keep your skin looking (and feeling) its best.

#1: Excessive Oiliness

Oiliness and breakouts go hand-in-hand. People who have oily skin produce an excessive amount of sebum, your skin’s natural moisturizer. While this substance is crucial for your skin’s overall health and appearance, too much of it can lead to clogged pores. And without a proper skincare routine, minor clogged pores can grow bigger and turn into noticeable blemishes, like blackheads and whiteheads. Often, these blemishes will occur on the oiliest areas of the face—specifically, the nose, chin, and forehead—but they can crop up anywhere.

If you’re struggling with clogged pores, we’d recommend reaching for a gentle exfoliating cleanser, like Rare Earth Deep Pore Daily Cleanser. This mild formula with Amazonian white clay helps remove dirt, oil, and toxins without stripping or over-drying the skin. When used consistently, it also helps minimize the appearance of enlarged pores, leaving the skin looking fresh and healthy.

For an extra deep clean, you can reach for a detoxifying clay mask, such as Rare Earth Deep Pore Cleansing Mask. This award-winning face mask with kaolin and bentonite clay helps draw out pore-clogging impurities and reduces surface oil for fresher-looking skin. The potent formula is clinically-demonstrated to visibly diminish clogged pores in a single application, leaving the skin looking smooth and refined.* The effective yet gentle formula is suitable for normal and oily skin types and can be used weekly as part of your regular skincare routine.

*Results based on expert grading in a two-week clinical test on 54 subjects.

#2: Dehydration

We know—we just said excessive oiliness is often what causes acne. It’s only natural to assume that if that’s true, then drying out your skin would decrease breakouts. However, this logic doesn’t quite pan out. While it is true that oiliness can contribute to breakouts, you still need moisture. Without it, your skin can’t do its job properly, and your body will produce excess oil to make up for the lack of water in your skin, which may lead to clogged pores and breakouts. Balance, therefore, is key: You don’t want your skin to be too oily, but you don’t want it to be dehydrated, either.

After washing your face, reach for an exfoliating toner to help remove any lingering impurities and also hydrate your skin. We recommend Milk-Peel Gentle Exfoliating Toner, which contains lipo-hydroxy acid and a blend of skin-friendly emollients. The mild formula helps exfoliate while replenishing the skin’s natural moisture levels to leave it looking smooth and refined without any discomfort. The unique toner is suitable for all skin types and can be used daily for softer, brighter-looking skin.

Then, nourish your skin with a hydrating serum, like Hydro-Plumping Hydrating Serum. It helps encourage your skin’s natural production of hyaluronic acid, a natural molecule closely involved in helping to maintain your skin’s hydration and elasticity. The ultra-lightweight formula also helps improve the appearance of fine lines, leaving your skin looking smoother and plumper over time. It’s suitable for all skin types and gentle enough for daily use, even around the eyes.

For well-hydrated skin, moisturizer is also essential—even if your skin doesn’t feel dry. Those prone to breakouts can try an oil-free variety, like Ultra Facial Oil-Free Gel Cream. This unique moisturizer absorbs instantly, refreshing the skin with a cooling burst of weightless hydration. When used consistently, the non-comedogenic formula helps reduce the appearance of enlarged pores and visibly minimizes shine for skin that looks and feels fresh, hydrated, and balanced.

#3: Stress

One of the most common questions we hear from customers is, “does stress cause acne?” While stress doesn’t always result in pimples, it can absolutely impact how your skin looks and feels. Psychological stress, in particular, is linked with breakouts—scientists believe that excessive emotional stress can be connected to oiliness and clogged pores. Stress is also believed to damage the skin’s natural moisture barrier, which leaves your skin vulnerable to aggressors that can cause visible concerns like dryness and breakouts.

Though you can’t always control your stress levels, you can help strengthen your body’s defenses against stressors with skin-strengthening treatments, like Vital Skin-Strengthening Hyaluronic Acid Super Serum. This lightweight daily serum is clinically-demonstrated to double skin’s strength and boost resilience.* Over time, it also helps improve your skin’s texture and tone, helping your skin appear more youthful and radiant. The powerful yet gentle serum is suitable for all skin types and can be used morning and night for strong, healthy-looking skin.

*Based on a four-week clinical study of 58 subjects tested in urban and polluted environments. Skin strength index = composite average score of clinically-graded parameters after using the product for four weeks vs. one week of use.

#4: Bacteria

You probably don’t want to hear this, but your phone is one of the dirtiest surfaces you can touch (one oft-cited statistic claims that the average cell phone carries ten times more bacteria than a toilet seat). When you press your phone up to your face—like you do when you talk on the phone—the bacteria from the screen can transfer onto your skin and enter into pores, where it can cause pimples to develop. Properly cleaning everything that touches your face (like your phone, pillowcases, and makeup brushes) can help, but it’s impossible to avoid bacteria completely. That’s why skincare is so crucial if you’re prone to breakouts.

Blue Herbal Acne Cleanser Treatment

If you’re noticing more spots than usual, swap out your usual face wash for an acne cleanser, like Blue Herbal Acne Cleanser Treatment. The high-foaming formula with salicylic acid helps deep-clean pores reduce the appearance of blackheads, whiteheads, and other types of blemishes. When used regularly, it also helps prevent new breakouts from forming to reveal visibly clearer skin over time.

Breakout Control Targeted Acne Spot Treatment

After washing your face, target individual pimples with a spot treatment, like Breakout Control Targeted Acne Spot Treatment. Made with 10% sulfur and niacinamide (also known as vitamin B3), this potent spot treatment is clinically-demonstrated to rapidly reduce the appearance of acne blemishes.* We recommend applying a thin layer to pimples one to three times daily as needed until the spot heals for visibly clearer skin.

*Tested in a dermatologist-controlled clinical study.

#5: Hair Products

If you have breakouts concentrated along your hairline, your haircare products may be to blame. Styling aids, like leave-in conditioners and hair serums, often contain oils or waxes that can clog your pores, triggering breakouts. Of course, it’s not always easy to prevent your styling products from touching your face. Whenever possible, we recommend applying your haircare products before starting your skincare routine (that way, you can wash your face to remove any product that may have found its way onto your skin).

If that’s not doable, try sweeping a mild toner, like Blue Astringent Herbal Lotion, over your hairline after applying your styling aids. This classic Kiehl’s toner, which first launched in the 1960s, helps balance and soothe oily areas. It can be used as your go-to facial toner or as a spot treatment on problem areas, and it’s suitable for oily, combination, and blemish-prone skin.

What If You Can’t Figure Out The Cause?

Though the above five factors are common breakout triggers, this is by no means an exhaustive list—and often, it’s not immediately obvious what could be contributing to your skin woes. If you’re having trouble pinpointing the cause(s) of your blemishes, visit your dermatologist. They can help you identify the source of your breakouts and work with you to create a routine customized for your skin’s specific needs.

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