Why am I breaking out? Acne causes & treatments

Time saver 4 min read

When you think of acne, you probably think back to your teen years and the awkwardness of puberty and pimples that seemed to erupt out of nowhere. But you’re not a teenager anymore and you're probably wondering, why am I breaking out? When stubborn breakouts last beyond your teens, it’s time to take action and turn to the pros for help.

Experiencing a sudden acne breakout?

When you’re dealing with acne, it’s important to remember that everyone’s skin and skincare needs are different. While some people can get away with a basic skincare routine, others require a more robust routine that includes prescription medications to keep their skin clear.

What causes acne? A number of things could be behind a sudden acne breakout.

Hormone changes

Women are particularly prone to acne because of fluctuating hormones. And women who are pregnant, newly postpartum, menopausal or at a certain point in their menstrual cycle may experience breakouts.

Irritation from shaving

Men who shave their faces may develop acne along their jawline or on their cheeks and neck. These flareups are usually caused by dirty razors or using shaving cream that causes irritation to the skin. Be aware that although they look very similar, shaving bumps, razor burn and ingrown hairs are not the same as acne.


Sometimes, stubborn acne seems to run in the family  thanks—thanks mom and dad! If you’re consistently experiencing breakouts, check your family tree. Who knows, a family member may even have some product recommendations that worked well for them.

Stress and anxiety

Unfortunately, when you’re feeling stressed or anxious, your skin tends to get irritated. Developing healthy ways to cope with stress is important for your mental health and your physical health—including your skin.

Over exfoliation

The skin on your face is pretty delicate and can easily become irritated. If you’re taking an aggressive approach to managing your acne—throwing physical and chemical exfoliators, targeted spot treatments and acne-fighting face masks into the mix—you may be stripping away your skin’s good oils. These harsh treatments can cause irritation, microtears and—you guessed it—pimples.

Starting a new product

Could that new expensive moisturizer or cleanser be behind your recent breakout? Skin reactions, including acne flares, can develop anywhere from a couple of days or even months after introducing a new product. That’s why it’s important to test products one at a time so you can see how your skin reacts.

Insider tip: Some products—namely chemical exfoliators like AHAs, BHAs, PHAs and retinol/retinoids—put skin through a “purging” phase where skin cell turnover increases and deeper acne is pushed to the surface. This purging effect typically occurs in the same location where you experience acne breakouts and clears up as you continue using the product. In these cases, it’s important to stay the course and continue using the product, especially if it’s a prescribed treatment.

Reaction to fragrances

Scented facial products may feel luxurious but they can do a number on your skin—especially if you have sensitive skin. If you experience new breakouts after using a scented product—even if it only contains essential oils—it’s wise to give the product a break.

Foods that trigger acne breakouts

Some foods can cause acne flare-ups. For example, some people experience acne flares when they eat processed foods, sweets or lots of carbohydrates. While others notice acne after consuming milk and dairy products. The next time your acne flares, pay attention to what you’re eating and drinking and cut out foods or drinks you think could be problematic.

What should I do if I’m experiencing acne?

There are lots of products out there that promise to produce clear and blemish-free skin. But how do you know what will really work? Here are some tips to consider when tackling acne breakouts.

Get back to basics

Does your evening skincare routine consist of 20 steps? Cut out unnecessary products and keep it simple with a gentle, fragrance-free cleanser, moisturizer and sunscreen. Getting back to basics will help your skin reset and rule out over-exfoliation and irritation as acne instigators.

Introduce new products slowly

There are tons of skincare products out there and it’s hard to know what will work for your skin. When trying a new product, it’s important to keep in mind that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for acne. Introduce a new skin product one at a time and wait at least four weeks to see how your skin reacts. If the product makes you break out, familiarize yourself with the ingredients to help pinpoint what may be behind a reaction. Once you find a product your skin likes, stick with it!

Avoid picking, touching and popping

We know how tempting it can be to “pop” a pimple. But popping pimples causes irritation and inflammation to the area, opening your skin up to more bacteria and potential scabbing and scarring. We know if can be hard, but it’s important to allow acne to heal on its own. If you’re struggling to leave acne alone, try wearing a pimple patch to provide a protective barrier and keep the area clean.

Get rid of stubborn acne

It can take months to get an in-person dermatology appointment.  But thankfully, you don’t need to see a dermatologist for acne—and you don’t need to go into a clinic.

Visit Virtuwell’s online clinic and our nurse practitioners will assess your symptoms and customize an acne treatment plan—that may include prescription acne medications—to your specific skin needs.

Sudden breakouts can trigger a range of emotions—from annoyance to desperation—Virtuwell is here to help. Start a visit now and find the right mix of products for your skin.

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