The only thing as annoying as having acne is not knowing why you have acne. “Why do I keep breaking out?” is a question many of us ask ourselves as we debate whether or not to pop the persistent pimples. And the answer is often baked into your habits and daily routine. Sure, your proneness to acne is often genetic, but you can mitigate the problem by addressing things like stress, sleep, and diet.
So, if you’re wondering why you keep getting pimples, first speak with your dermatologist to discuss your behaviors, and to get a professional insight on your own skin. Secondly, in dealing with adult acne, men and women alike should assess the following nine things, among any other suggestion from your doctor. It’s no surprise that a regimen consisting of healthy behaviors leads to healthy skin, but sometimes it’s as simple as switching your hair and skincare products, too.
See also: How to get rid of pimples overnight
1. You aren’t getting enough sleep
One of the best gifts you can give yourself is a full nights’ rest (7-8 hours). It’s like a ‘reset’ button for the entire body, since all your systems relax and your cells regenerate. It’s going to reflect in your face, too, and not just by cutting out dark undereye circles.
A full night of Z’s addresses a couple other major causes of acne—stress and overactive hormones: It lowers your stress levels, preventing the overproduction of cortisol, a hormone that in turn causes the body to produce excess sebum. All that to say, by resting up, you keep your pores clear and your mind calm.
Because your cells are regenerating and repairing overnight, it’s also an opportunity to have a proactive nighttime skincare regimen, wherein you apply serums, dense moisturizers, and retinol to keep the skin firm, clear, and youthful.
Some skin-smoothing products to apply before bed:
2. Your pillowcase is dirty
Speaking of ample sleep, think about how much of your time is spent face-planted onto your pillow. (Roughly one-third of your time, to be precise.) All the oil and grime that accumulates while you sleep—or that is still on you from the day before—is pressed into that pillowcase, and just rubbing itself into your precious little pores. So, wash your pillowcases every week, in the very least, and be sure to wash your face and rinse your hair of all product and grease before you pass out.
3. You’re too stressed
Stress is one of the most common causes of acne. That’s because it causes the body to produce excess cortisol and other hormones in response, and these hormones trigger the overproduction of sebum in the skin. While sebum is important for keeping the skin hydrated and youthful, an excess will clog pores quickly. (The irony of all this is that acne itself can be very stressful, which doesn’t help the cycle at all.)
4. Your diet needs alterations
If you need to get to the root of your breakouts, then your diet is one of the first things to assess. It might be that your skin is responding negatively to certain foods, like dairy or carbohydrates. This is often genetic, though, as every person has different levels of tolerance to these things.
Sugar and highly processed carbs increase glucose levels in the blood, which in turn can increase testosterone and other hormone levels in the blood. At this point, you already know what hyperactive hormones can do to the skin—so try cutting back on excessively sugary and processed foods, as well as refined grains like breads, desserts, cereals, snacks, and pastas made with white flour, as well as white potatoes.
Processed dairy products are often treated with hormones, which—surprise!—are also believed to increase your chances of a breakout.
5. You’re dehydrated
A lack of water supply impairs your body’s ability to self regulate. That means your body could produce excess sebum—more than it already would to keep the skin hydrated—and could inturn clog pores. Often times, dehydration also leads to an accumulation of dead skin cells that can plug up a pore.
Considering water’s overall importance for all your bodily functions, it’s best to stay hydrated, and cut back on caffeine and alcohol as best as possible.
Spending too much time in the sun is another way to dry out your skin and lead to similar issues—especially if it’s burnt and damaged by the sun. In addition to drinking lots of water, be sure to wear SPF 30+ sunscreen, and to lather up on moisturizer after the fact.
Sunscreen and moisturizer we love:
6. Your hair products are dripping down your face
Most skincare products are non-comedogenic. That means that they are formulated with ingredients that don’t cause comedones, AKA pimples. However, hair products are not created with this same consideration—and why should they be? They’re made for your hair, not your skin. But on a hot day, or after a workout or a long day at work, sometimes your product can start dropping down your face with your sweat. You never notice it, but it’s happening. Same for if you wear your hair over your forehead and notice an increase in breakouts along the brow.
If you think this might be happening, then keep a cleansing + hydrating face wipe in your pocket, just for a midday reset, or switch to water-soluble hair products that rinse out easily every night, especially if you prefer to shower in the morning. (This goes back to the tip about pillowcases, too; they collect your hair product and then press it onto your face.)
7. Your skincare products are comedogenic
Now, as for your skincare regimen, it’s imperative that you pick non-comedogenic products. These days, it’s more of an industry standard, but some people will react differently to certain ingredients. For example, coconut oil is famously comedogenic, but particularly in high doses. So, while you might see it as an ingredient in many skincare products, it might be nominal. Or, it might go right for your pores and plug them up.
If you want to be vigilant about it, just look for the “non-comedogenic” designation on any products. If they’re certified as such, then they’ll proudly note it. Or, you can shop products that are labeled for “acne-prone skin”, as this is typically the same designation.
8. Your hormones are heightened
We’ve discussed a few things that throw your hormones into whack, like stress and lack of sleep. This imbalance leads to increased sebum production, which backs your pores up fast. This is also why teenagers get pimples so much more commonly: Their hormones are all kinds of whacky.
It’s something to be mindful of, especially if you’re taking workout supplements or anticipate late nights at the office. (Or if you simply read the news every day.) So, get your rest, do what you can to minimize anxiety and stress, and make responsible choices regarding hormone-altering substances. You can also take a daily herbal + adaptogen supplement to give your mind an extra defense against your nerves.
9. You’re cleansing too much
This one goes hand in hand with dehydration: If you obsess over washing your face, then you might cause the very problem you’re trying to avoid. Your skin is very smart; it regulates itself and produces only as much sebum as it needs to stay healthy, hydrated, and youthful. However, when we wash it too much, it first becomes overly dry. This leads to a backup of dead skin, and in turn triggers an overproduction of sebum. Suddenly, your sky is producing too much sebum, which you mistake for a problem and immediately cleanse again. It becomes a cycle, being too dry and then too oily, in perpetuity, without ever finding harmony.
If you’re cleansing more than twice a day (morning and night), simply because it’s hot or you’re working out midday, or are a bit obsessive about the matter, then switch to a gentle cleanser that won’t strip your skin of its necessary moisture levels.
Originally Appeared on GQ