Acne: Everyday Things that May be Causing Your Breakouts

Written by Christa Tomc, DO, Board Certified Dermatologist on October 16, 2017 No Comments

causes of acne breakouts

Acne is the most common skin issue affecting our patients, especially individuals in their teen years to early adulthood. Acne is a broad term used to describe spectrum of skin lesions including plugged pores (blackheads and whiteheads), pimples, and even deeper lumps (cysts or nodules) that occur on the face, neck, chest, back, shoulders and upper arms.

While there are many great skincare products and professional treatments to manage acne, taking preemptive steps to limit acne from forming or spreading is always a good idea. Here are some little known causes of acne breakouts, along with simple ways to counteract them.

Cell Phones

Did you know that your cellphone is a playground for acne-aggravating bacteria? Today’s smartphone is the perfect canvas for germs, debris, and bacteria. Those unwanted irritants are transferred to the screen of your phone whenever you text or check your Instagram, then are ultimately transferred to your face (and into your pores) when hold the phone to your face to talk. Additionally the friction caused by rubbing a phone across the skin can cause irritation and minor skin cracks, both of which can be a precursor to a breakout.

Solution: Limit bacteria on your phone by routinely wiping the screen with an antibacterial wipe. Also consider taking most of your calls hands free.


Just like your smartphone, sunglasses (and regular glasses) are often overlooked sources of acne causing bacteria. It’s relatively easy for excess sebum (oils), dead skin cells, and bacteria to build up along the frames. Regularly wearing your glasses then transfers that debris onto your skin.

Solution: Consider contacts to limit the need for regular glasses. Use the same antibacterial wipes you bought for your phone on your glasses. Finally, make sure to wash your face regularly, especially the areas that have routine contact with your glasses.


The old wives tale is (at least partially) true: overconsumption of dairy products can lead to more acne breakouts.  Various studies showed a strong correlation between dairy and acne. Specifically, subjects who drank milk experienced both an increased severity and frequency of acne breakouts, compared to subjects who did not drink milk.

Solution: Try limiting the amount of dairy you consume by adding dairy-free products like almond or soy milk to your diet.


There are many over-the-counter and prescription medications that can cause acne to flare up. Drugs with ingredients like corticosteroids or lithium can spur acne.

Solution: Have a dermatologist review any prescriptions or OTC medications that you regularly use for potential acne aggravating ingredients.

Hair Products

The root of your acne issues could be your hair. Hair spray, leave-in conditioner, and other hair care products often contain excess oils and other ingredients that can encourage breakouts. While you are sleeping these ingredients get transferred to the skin as your hair touches your face.

Solution: Opt for hair products that are water based (oil-free) and limit applying them to areas near your hairline.

Your Partner

Your partner may be (unknowingly) sabotaging your skin. It’s actually quite common for skin oils or skincare product residue to be transferred between partners through kissing, cuddling, or the sharing of pillows.

Solution: Try to limit sharing towels or other pillowcases, and make sure to wash them regularly. Also if you notice that you breakout after being in close contact with your partner ask them to switch to an oil-free skin product.


Christa Tomc, DO

Christa Tomc, DO, earned her medical degree at Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine and subsequently completed her internship at Riverside Methodist Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, serving as resident liaison of her intern class. Dr. Tomc’s interests include detection and prevention of skin cancer and premature photo-aging. Dr. Tomc is a member of the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology, American Osteopathic Association, American Society of Dermatologic Surgery, Women’s Dermatologic Society, Texas Dermatologic Society, Texas Medical Association, and Dallas-Fort Worth Dermatologic Society.

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