6 Common Acne Triggers And How To Avoid Them

If there is one thing people with acne are constantly doing, it's avoiding triggering their acne-prone skin.

For some, a trigger may come in the form of "bad" foods. For instance, enjoying a slice of pizza, a bag of chips, or a piece of cake can mean saying goodbye to clear skin. For others, it may be certain irritating or comedogenic (aka pore-clogging) skincare ingredients that cause acne to flare up. Sometimes, a person's trigger might be something as seemingly insignificant as forgetting to switch out or clean their pillowcase on a weekly basis. Triggers are truly around every corner for acne-prone skin types, and we know that all too well.


That's why we compiled a list of all the most common triggers for acne, as well as our best advice on how to avoid flare-ups. Next time you're dealing with temperamental breakouts, consider these six bad habits and their potential impact on your skin.

Inconsistent skincare routine

A skincare routine that is both effective and consistent is crucial to treating acne of any kind. If you want to see results and maintain healthy, glowing, acne-free skin, you're going to want to build a routine that works for your skin type and that you're able to carry out on a daily basis.


There are three main things a skincare routine cannot go without: cleanser and moisturizer twice a day, and sunscreen for daytime use. Once you have that in check, you may begin adding other skincare products with ingredients that work for your unique skin concerns.

Cleansing your skin properly every single night is imperative in your journey toward clear skin because it removes the buildup of product, makeup, and daily grime that is often the root of clogged pores. Plus, washing your face nightly allows for your other skincare products to better penetrate your skin, according to Biologique Recherche. Meanwhile, moisturizer can help repair your skin's barrier, and sunscreen prevents acne scars.


Using the wrong products

The world of skincare can be tricky and misleading if you don't take the time to understand your own skin first. For example, you may end up overly exfoliating your skin when what your skin struggles with is a compromised skin barrier. In that case, too much exfoliation will only worsen any existing acne and slow down the skin's healing process. According to Healthline, signs of a damaged skin barrier are irritation, redness, and even flaky spots. Salicylic and glycolic acids are gentle exfoliators you can use every other day for good results.


It is also common to use too much of the wrong hydration. Oils of many types, along with certain moisturizing skincare products are comedogenic, which means they tend to clog your pores and cause sebum (a fancy word for oil) to build up over time. People with oily and acne-prone skin should avoid these ingredients and look for non-comedogenic alternatives.  Gel-like and water-based moisturizers are safest for oily and combination skin.

Dirty Pillowcases

Did you know you should be washing your pillowcases once a week, if not every couple of days? This is especially important for acne-prone skin types, as bacteria will take any excuse to mess up your progress toward clear skin.


If you don't switch out or wash your pillowcase regularly, sweat, dirt, as well as face and hair products, can build up and transfer bacteria onto your freshly-clean face every night. To prevent this, wash your pillowcases at least once weekly, or switch them out every two days. Dermatologists recommend switching pillowcases every few days to even daily in order to prevent irritating existing acne and future breakouts. This also applies to your bedsheets if you struggle with body acne.

You may also want to consider washing your sheets and clothes with fragrance-free detergent to avoid any further irritation, which is especially important if you have sensitive skin.

Stress and sleeping problems

Stress and irregular sleeping habits can exacerbate any health issue, including skin conditions like acne. Having measures in place to deal with stress is the best thing you can do for yourself and your skin.


If you have a stressful work or life environment, this may be causing spikes in cortisol levels, explains Water's Edge Dermatology. For people who suffer from acne, stress-induced cortisol irregularities can increase oil production, which ultimately promotes breakouts and exacerbates existing acne. 

If you notice an increase in breakouts during particularly hard times, this is a sign that you're prone to stress-induced acne. Watch your skin's condition closely during this time and note whether new or worsened breakouts happen when you're dealing with stressful moments. If stress doesn't bode well for your acne, it is best to develop habits to help you manage that stress. Slow-moving workouts and meditation can work wonders.


Picking at existing acne

We're not the first to tell you, nor will we be the last — do not pick at your skin! If you are in the habit of picking at pimples, you know that this not only irritates acne but usually makes it much worse. Not to mention, it leaves behind discoloration and stubborn acne scars.


Professionals are always going on about abstaining from the practice of popping your own pimples for a reason. When you do, you're squeezing oil and grime from your pores and doing one of two things: inadvertently pushing it in deeper into the pore and causing infection, or successfully getting it out but spreading it (and its acne-causing bacteria) to other parts of the face, according to VeryWell Health. This translates into more and worse acne than your previously inoffensive pimple.

If you deal with stubborn acne and want the relief of extraction, always visit a dermatologist or licensed esthetician.

Eating the wrong foods

Something you may often brush off as nonsense is the notion that your diet influences your skin. And while we're with you on that, to an extent, there might be some truth to it after all. No, enjoying a few slices of pizza every once in a while, or indulging in some sweetened lattes or after-dinner desserts won't make your skin freak out. Treating yourself is great, in moderation.


Instead, what may be causing your skin to create an overabundance of sebum is an overall unhealthy diet. Too much dairy, lots of sugar and carbs, not enough vegetables, and (you saw it coming) not enough water can all cause excess sebum production, says WebMD.

It is also common to have certain foods that trigger your acne more than others, and this varies from person to person. You can experiment by removing certain foods, one at a time, to learn which ones influence your acne the most.