9 sneaky skin saboteurs that are making you break out

Acne can be influenced by several internal factors, including hormone levels, family history, medications, age, and sex. However, there are external factors, like the environmental pollutants and weather, that can influence breakouts… and some may surprise you!

To bring these external factors to your radar, ahead we’re breaking down 9 sneaky clear-skin saboteurs that might be making you break out. From your pillowcase to the sun to skincare products you use on a daily basis, here are some of the most surprising acne triggers you may not know about.

  1. Your pillowcase

    Is acne caused by pillowcases? Can certain pillowcases cause acne? What?! It turns out that your pillowcase can trigger breakouts. After all, we do sleep on our pillows for several hours, so naturally all the bacteria and dead skin cells that we shed can end up on your pillowcase. Don’t worry, though, there’s an easy fix: Just remember to change your pillowcase frequently, at least weekly if you can.

  2. Your smartphone

    While our smartphones help us stay connected, like our pillowcases, they are another item that can become a host for acne-causing bacteria.

    One study found that increased cell phone time ‒ and cell phone-skin contact time ‒ caused more acne to form on the side of the face that came in most frequent contact with the cell phone while talking. Yikes.

    To reduce your risk of breakouts, start by getting in the habit of cleaning your phone regularly with a soft, slightly-damp, lint-free cloth. Putting your phone on speaker also reduces skin contact.

  3. Face cleansers not meant for your skin type

    Using cleansers not suited for your skin type can be another surprising culprit behind your breakouts. To help you choose a cleanser that is well-tolerated by your skin type, try taking this simple skincare quiz.

  4. Not using spot treatments correctly

    While acne spot treatments can help your pimples clear, overusing them ‒ or using them incorrectly ‒ can irritate your skin, and sometimes even cause more breakouts to appear.

    To tweak your spot treatment usage habits accordingly, aim to use spot treatments as directed by product instructions, and always give the product time to work. Some products take months to yield result.

  5. Pore-clogging products

    Comedogenic skincare and makeup products are other acne triggers to be aware of, as these products contain pore-clogging ingredients that can contribute to breakouts.

    Thankfully, non-comedogenic cosmetic products are widely available for purchase. Just be sure to look out for products that contain the non-comedogenic term on the label.

  6. The sun

    You may have heard that the sun can zap some acne-causing bacteria and make your pimples appear less pronounced. However, bear in mind that this is unsafe and not a solution. Long term exposure to the sun’s UV rays can increase skin inflammation and redness, causing pimples to end up as dark marks.

    Long-term exposure to UV rays also causes new pimples to form as skin becomes more dry and irritated, which, in return, triggers more breakouts. With this in mind, you should always use a broad-spectrum sunscreen whenever you’re outdoors to help prevent sun damage.

  7. Sleeping with makeup on

    While the idea of sleeping in your makeup may be tempting after a big night out, it can also spell trouble for your skin, especially if you are the kind of person who is prone to developing breakouts. Leaving makeup, especially foundation, on while you snooze allows bacteria to draw into your pores, clogging them, and causing breakout as a result. So, no matter how tired you might be, consider removing your makeup and washing your face before bed. Your skin will thank you tomorrow! (And remember to clean your makeup brushes, too!)

  8. Your fingers

    Yes, even your fingers can be a surprising cause of breakouts as frequently touching your face or squeezing/popping your zits can spread bacteria and oil and cause more pimples to form. To avoid this, always wash your hands before touching your face – and never pop a zit!

  9. Stress

    Stress can also impact your breakouts. How? Once we become stressed, our body proceeds to produce androgens, a type of hormone that triggers the oil glands and hair follicles in the skin. Once androgen production is in overdrive, breakouts can occur as a result. So, try keep your stress in check with regular exercise and meditation – and of course, always consult a doctor if you’re struggling with your stress levels.


While hormones, age, sex, and genetics are some of the internal factors driving breakouts, there are many external factors that also cause pimples to form. Stress, the objects we come in contact with, and the skincare products we use are all amongst some surprising clear-skin saboteurs to keep on your radar. Remember to find your clear skin routine and stick to it so you don’t give acne (and these sneaky skin saboteurs) a fighting chance.