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Eleven Sources of Skin Irritation That Can Lead to Acne

By Dr. E. C. Gordon

Acne is an extremely common skin problem throughout teenage years and into adulthood, but there are a lot of unhelpful myths about what can make it worse. For example, diet actually has little to no influence on whether you develop zits. 

However, skin irritation definitely contributes to the development of acne, so it is important to be kind to your skin if you are worried about acne breakouts. Read on to learn about eleven causes of skin irritation that will encourage zits, pimples, and cysts.

1) Rubbing your skin too hard:

When you clean your face, make sure that you do so gently and slowly. If you scrub the towel or cloth against your skin with in hard and fast movements, you will irritate your face and encourage acne to develop. A good technique that will help you avoid acne involves patting your face dry (as opposed to rubbing it).

2) Hair styling products:

Unfortunately, you may be paying a steep price for your carefully crafted hairstyle. A lot of hair gels and other styling creams contain harsh ingredients that irritate the skin and encourage acne breakouts. A good guide to the likelihood of a product’s causing acne is to test how oily it appears to be when squirted onto your hand.

3) Popping zits:

When a zit is very painful or is bursting with infection, popping it may be the only realistic remedy. However, once you have popped a zit then this area of your skin can become even more irritated. Be sure to clean it properly, moisturize it to help it heal, and do not pick at any scar that forms.

4) Resting your face in your hands:

It can be comfortable and supportive to rest your face in your hands when you are reading a book, watching television, or just thinking. However, touching your face irritates your skin by creating friction, encouraging sweat, and transferring bacteria from your hands to your cheeks. All of these things make you more likely to develop acne on your face.

5) Sunscreen:

The right kind of sunscreen is a blessing for your skin, as it helps to keep it protected from the damaging and aging influence of sunlight. However, if your sunscreen is not marked as being non-comedogenic then it may be irritating your skin and increasing your likelihood of suffering from facial acne.

6) Allowing your hair to touch your face:

If you have long hair or sleep in a position that presses your hair against your face, you may be encouraging acne to develop. Your hair is oily, and this oil easily transfers to your face (where it can cause irritation).

In addition, the shampoo and conditioner that you may use will be more easily absorbed by your skin if your hair is always touching your cheeks. Tie your hair back when you can, and try to fan it out behind your head when you go to sleep.

7) Kissing:

This is be one source of skin irritation that you may not be prepared to give up, but you should be aware that frequent, prolonged kissing can contribute to the development of acne around your mouth.

This is particularly common if your partner has a scratchy beard or coarse stubble. If you find that your skin is red, itchy or more prone to acne after kissing, make sure that you carefully moisturize the area after liberally.

8) Tightly fitting hats:

Tightly fitting hats rub against the skin of your forehead, encouraging sweat and prompting acne breakouts. If you commonly suffer from forehead acne, it is a good idea to entirely avoid wearing hats (as well as similar headgear, such as bandanas and scarves).

9) Frequent scratching:

If your face is itchy, try to scratch it with a brief and light touch. The more you claw at your skin, the more irritated it becomes (and the more likely it is that acne will begin to develop around that area).

10) Makeup:

Certain makeup is known to clog the pores, thereby creating the ideal conditions in which acne to thrive. If you are concerned that your makeup is greasy enough to exacerbate your skin problems, try switching to brands that clearly label their products as oil-free or non-comedogenic.

11) Biting your nails:

When you chew at your nails, this causes irritation around your mouth and spreads bacteria from your fingers to your lips (where it can easily migrate to your chin and cheeks). If you often see acne around your mouth, biting your fingernails may well be the cause.


Now that you know about some of the most common causes of skin irritation, you will be able to reduce your likelihood of developing acne. However, note that changing elements of your lifestyle and beauty routine are not always enough to alleviate problems with acne.

Many sufferers have hormonal imbalances and other underlying medical conditions, so make sure you speak to your doctor if your acne persists.



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