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Acne Face Map: Find the Reasons for Your Breakouts

Determining what specifically is causing your breakouts can be a difficult task. Acne that occurs in specific parts of your face provides clues as to why you’re breaking out. This is known as acne face mapping. Read on to learn more about acne face mapping and how you can use it to treat your acne on your face.

Traditional Face Mapping vs. Acne Face Mapping

Face mapping was originally used in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicines as a means of diagnosing more serious underlying issues. These traditions connected specific points on the face to organs or systems elsewhere in the body, the idea being that problems in an organ would manifest on the face as acne, lesions, or other blemishes. For example, persistent acne on the cheek is a sign of problems in the liver.1

In reality, there is very little modern scientific evidence to prove that specific facial areas map directly to specific organs. This traditional face mapping overcomplicates acne while ignoring the more practical factors that contribute to breakouts. However, looking at the areas where acne commonly appears can provide practical and scientific clues to what could be contributing to acne formation.1

General Acne Appearing in the Same Spot

In general, acne appearing on the same area of your face can point to some bad habits or more personal issues. Most often, zits and breakouts that appear at the same spot are a sign of frequent touching or contact. For example, you may be resting your cheek on your hand during the day without you even knowing. This transfers oils, bacteria, and other debris on your hand onto your face, resulting in clogged pores or inflammation contributing to zits.2

Acne recurring in the same area of your face may also be caused by makeup or other products in your skincare regimen. Makeup may contain ingredients that irritate parts of your face or clog pores.2

Common Ingredients in Cosmetics that May Clog Pores:

  1. Isopropyl myristate and its analogs: isopropyl palmitate, isopropyl isostearate, butyl stearate, isostearyl neopentanoate, myristyl myristate, decyl oleate, octyl stearate, octyl palmitate or isocetyl stearate
  2. Propylene glycol-2 (PPG-2) myristyl propionate
  3. Lanolins and lanolin derivatives such as acetylated or ethoxylated lanolins
  4. D&C Red Cosmetic Dyes and Pigments

Even if you are using noncomedogenic (non-pore clogging) products and refraining from zit popping, recurring acne could point inflammation rooted deeper in the skin. That inflammation makes the surrounding area more vulnerable to hormones, diet changes, irritating products, and other common contributors to acne.


Diet: Eat an anti-inflammatory diet and avoid acne causing foods.

Avoid picking your acne. Along with recurring acne, picking too much at your pimples can introduce more bacteria into your pores, resulting in a more prominent infection. Improper extraction methods may also push pimples deeper, turning them into more persistent cysts or nodules. Worst of all, picking at zits can easily result in scarring, which requires professional treatment.

Aside from when you’re washing your face, break the habit of touching your face, whether you’re rubbing your eyes or resting your chin on your hand. This prevents the introduction of more bacteria and dirt into your pores and can hopefully keep you from unconsciously picking at your skin.

Acne Skincare Routine: Adopting a skincare routine that is specifically for treating acne is crucial. Learn more on how to here.

Acne Around the Hairline and Temples

Acne around the hairline and temples is commonly referred to as “pomade acne” because it is usually a result of using certain hair products, like pomade, wax, or mousse. If your hair products are too oily or waxy, they can easily spread to skin near the hairline and scalp and along the forehead. This can result in blocked pores that prevents your natural sebum from escaping while locking in bacteria and debris. Bangs and other hairstyles that hang down into the face can also potential transfer excess sebum and oils from the hair onto the forehead.3

Some ingredients, particularly those used for smoothing hair, can contribute to acne. This includes:

  • Sulfates
  • Coconut oil
  • Acrylates1


Avoid hair products that are too waxy or oily. Check specifically for products that are non-comedogenic, meaning they are formulated to not clog your pores.

Avoid products that contain coloring, fragrances, and other harsh ingredients, which may block pores and irritate skin around the scalp.

Try using a clarifying shampoo once a week. Clarifying shampoo can help to break down any excess oil and residue, which can help to prevent pore blockage. Remember to condition your hair after using shampoo.

Hairstyle: It may also be beneficial to switch to a hairstyle that keeps your hair out of your face.

Acne Around the Nose and Forehead – T-Zone

The T-zone refers to your nose and forehead (forming a T on your face). This area is known to naturally have a higher concentration of sebaceous glands, and several studies confirm that most people produce more sebum in their T-zones.4 For those prone to acne, more sebum inherently means more breakouts in the T-zone.

Forehead acne may also be caused by a fungal infection known as pityrosporum folliculitis. Pityrosporum folliculitis is caused by a type of yeast that naturally exists on your skin known as Malasezzia. When Malasezzia grows out of control, it may infect hair follicles, resulting in breakouts in the skin. Some people mistakenly treat this fungal infection like regular acne.


Face Wash with Salicylic Acid or Benzoyl Peroxide: Try to maintain a regular, skincare routine with a cleanser containing the active ingredients salicylic acid or benzyoyl peroxide every night and after sweating. Use a gentle cleanser in the morning.  A skincare routine can help to keep the oil levels under control to prevent the buildup of sebum in the T-zone.

Retinol: Use a retinol treatment at nighttime. Retinol helps decrease the size and secretion of oil glands. Therefore, this can decrease sebum production.

Non-comedogenic moisturizer: While it may seem counterintuitive if you have oily skin, make sure you end your skincare routine with a non-greasy, non-comedogenic moisturizer. This can protect and nourish your skin while preventing your skin from overproducing oil to compensate for dryness.

Zinc Pyrithione: If you believe you have pityrosporum folliculitis, consider using a soap or shampoo that contains zinc pyrithione, which has natural anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties to keep Malasezzia yeast in check.

Acne on Your Cheeks

Recurring acne on the cheeks is usually a sign of frequent physical contact with objects or surfaces that are irritating or covered in bacteria such as using a phone, or sleeping on dirty pillowcases. Blushes containing D&C red dyes may also be culprits. Dirty makeup brushes and sponges covered in bacteria can also contribute to breakouts.


Hygiene: If you use the phone regularly, make sure you wipe down your phone occasionally or switch to a headset. You should also change your pillowcase regularly, at least once per week.

Replace your makeup brushes and sponges at least every two to three months, but that is assuming you regularly wash and maintain your makeup tools. If any of your makeup tools look discolored, misshapen, or otherwise old, change them out immediately.

Benzoyl Peroxide (BPO) Spot Treatment: Spot treat with a low dose 2% BPO daily in the morning. Higher percentages of BPO may cause irritation.

Retinol Treatment: Treat your face with a thin layer of retinol at nighttime.

Acne on the Jawline or Chin

Most acne along the jawline is caused by hormonal imbalances, particularly an increase in androgens (male sex hormones). These hormones cause sebaceous glands along the jaw to overproduce sebum, resulting in clogged pores. Hormonal acne is more common among women and may appear as deeper cysts and nodules.6


Diet: While the relationship between food and acne still requires further study, research suggests that diets supporting gut health may contribute to improved hormonal balance.7

Stress: Stress is a known contributor to hormonal imbalances, so consider trying simple stress management techniques, like breathing exercises or yoga.

Supplements for Acne: Anti-inflammatory and antibacterial supplements like turmeric, fish oil, zinc, and probiotics can help reduce inflammation throughout the body, including on the skin.

Ultimately, altering your own hormone levels can be difficult. Consult your dermatologist or healthcare provider for treatments that will specifically target your hormonal acne, which may include topical ointments, oral medication, or birth control.

Acne Treatment: You should also consider using a medicated treatment that helps to reduce inflammation, like a topical retinol or salicylic acid. Topical treatments can come with various side effects, so do your research and consult your dermatologist to find a treatment that’s right for you.

Acne on the Neck and Back

Like acne on the chin or jawline, acne on the neck and back is usually a sign of hormonal imbalances contributing to an increase in sebum production. Other causes include using shampoos, conditioners, and body washes that are comedogenic. Excessive sweating after the gym can also be a cause.


Supplements for Acne: Anti-inflammatory and antibacterial supplements like turmeric, fish oil, zinc, and probiotics can help reduce inflammation throughout the body, including on the skin.

Body Washes with 10% Benzoyl Peroxide (BPO): BPO kills bacteria and helps decrease inflammation.

Hygiene: Shower and wash your body daily.

Cosmetic products: Avoid shampoos, conditioners and washes with

  • Sulfates
  • Coconut oil
  • Acrylates1

Acne Around the Mouth and Lips

Acne around your mouth and lips can come from food residue, which can irritate the mouth or block pores. Acne around the mouth and lips can also come as a result of ingredients in toothpaste, makeup, or lip balm that clogs pores or irritates the skin. Alternately, if you have a habit of biting your fingernails or otherwise bringing your hands to your lips, you may experience increased acne around your mouth.


Hygiene: Make sure you wipe your lips and mouth using a facial cleansing wipe after eating particularly messy meals. Refrain from touching your face.

Cosmetic Products: Check your products including toothpaste for any irritating ingredients such as sulfates and comedogenic oils. Check your toothpaste for sodium lauryl sulfate and/or sodium laureth sulfate. Some people break out more when their skin is exposed to toothpaste foam because of those pore-clogging ingredients.

Some people might be irritated by whitening agents or fluoride, too. If you’re breaking out around your lips, try switching to an SLS-free and fluoride-free toothpaste — it might make a difference!

Lip Balm: Avoid lip balms with lanolin and heavy oils

It can be difficult to identify the exact physiological causes of acne but knowing why acne recurs in certain areas of your face can help you better control breakouts through practical adjustments. Consult your dermatologist to determine the best mode of treatment for your acne.

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