Everything You Need to Know About Face Acne

Jeff Hautala
By Jeff Hautala, Co-Founder of Exposed Skincare

Do you know what causes face acne? Knowledge about the different types and their causes will make the management of acne much easier.

Face acne is the most common form of acne, but not all face acne is the same.

If you know what causes it, you can better choose a treatment for this common skin problem.

But before we start – the Internet shouldn’t be relied on to provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If your skin condition is severe, always seek these from a doctor or dermatologist.

What Are T-Zone And U-Zone Acne?

The T-zone runs across the forehead and down between the eyes to the chin. The U-zone sits across the temples and the sides of the face around the jawline and chin. However, acne forms in these zones for completely different reasons.

Oily T-Zone Acne

The T-zone skin is prone to more pimples because of excessive oil (or sebum) production by sebaceous glands close to the surface of the skin. This can happen due to hormonal changes in the body, such as during the teen years. Bacteria that can cause acne (P. acnes) 🦠 mainly consume oil.

Dry U-Zone Acne

U-zone skin has the opposite problem. There are fewer oil glands here, making it dry and prone to a different kind of acne.

The skin’s natural layer of oil is protective against invaders such as bacteria, and certain irritants. When our skin is excessively irritated, it tries to protect itself by releasing more oil. Simultaneously, its inflammation response is triggered to prevent any threat from penetrating deeper into the pores.

Without getting lost in the technical details – these responses make for more blackheads and whiteheads in the oily U-zone, even in dry skin.

What About Cheek Acne?

If you’ll notice, the cheeks were not included in either the T-zone or the U-zone. That’s because cheek acne differs between skin types and from person to person.

How Clean Is Your Linen?

Everything that touches the surface of the skin every day can exacerbate or even cause pimples. Sebum, dead skin cells, and bacteria from our face can transfer to our pillowcase at night 🌙, for instance. Any buildup here makes acne appear on the cheeks after a while, so be sure to wash your linen often if you want to improve any bad skin condition.

Don’t Touch The Cheeks!

Constant fiddling or touching can cause or exacerbate acne because bacteria 🦠 can be transferred to the skin, and oil glands can be activated unnecessarily. So keeping your hands away from your face may help a lot.

The Chin Acne Struggle

For most people, the chin is either dry or normal, except for people with very oily skin. Whiteheads and blackheads here can also be caused by fidgeting and touching the chin. If chin acne is the type of acne that’s most bugging you, read our ultimate guide to chin acne.

Different Area, Different Cause

Some chin acne, however, is caused by a phenomenon called Acne mechanica. This is sometimes referred to as sports or friction acne because it forms when something, like sports gear or a musical instrument, rubs against the skin for an extended period of time. The resulting irritation then stimulates the oil glands, and inflammation follows, resulting in mild acne vulgaris.

Cheek and Chin Acne

So how are you supposed to treat or prevent pimples and breakouts in these spaces?

What Does Your Skin Need?

Prevent acne or choose a suitable treatment based on what your skin is like and what type of acne you have.

  • If there’s usually excess oil on your cheeks and chin, then look for treatments that exfoliate the skin, like salicylic acid, sulfur, and citric acid. Sulfur and acne-fighting resorcinol are powerful when joined and work together to absorb that excess oil and remove dead skin cells, and can be found in clarifying masks. Try the Exposed Clarifying Mask up to twice a week to take advantage of these ingredients, plus the addition of charcoal and bentonite to detoxify and balance your skin.
  • If the skin on your chin and cheeks is generally dry, look for treatments or moisturizers that won’t clog pores or cause greasiness that can cause acne. Oil-free gel moisturizers like our Moisture Complex hydrate without clogging, plus this moisturizer has the added benefit of caffeine, which reduces redness and irritation and gives skin a smoother, softer appearance.
  • If your acne seems to be caused by the irritation of dry skin, you want a soothing and protective moisturizer to reduce irritation.
  • For combination skin acne that remains aggravated, something in your skincare routine may be too harsh. Try a mild exfoliant and lightly moisturize once a day.

Still not sure what products are best for your skin? Take this quiz to find out.

Acne On The Temples And Side of the Face

Acne here falls into the U-zone and these tend to be caused by some form of irritation. Like cheek acne, infrequently washed pillowcases and fidgety hands can be the culprits, but unlike cheek acne, the skin there is almost always dry.

Don’t Use High-Concentration Benzoyl Peroxide Here

Many acne products designed to strip away oil are too harsh for sensitive skin and will only make things worse. So stay away from products containing too-high quantities of chemicals such as benzoyl peroxide, for instance. Look for treatments that have lower amounts of these acne-fighting ingredients. At only 3.5% benzoyl peroxide, our Acne Treatment Serum is a gentle acne treatment suitable for the delicate skin in these areas, and the green tea extract naturally calms and heals skin to give it even more pampering.

And Don’t Try To Pop Them!

With the skin so inflamed already, any attempt at popping pimples 💥 in this area will be painful and ineffective and may cause even more severe breakouts.

Use Gentle Skin Products

Instead, treating acne starts by washing your face twice a day, using only gentle, moisturizing products. Get into a routine of using high-quality skincare products designed with simplicity in mind. Start with the 3-step routine of cleansing, toning and treating found in our Basic Kit to begin your routine and quickly get acne under control

The Top Three Reasons For Jawline Acne

Jawline acne is painful and among the most common. It’s usually dry and easily inflamed, and there are two main reasons acne forms here.

It Gets Irritated

First, like the chin, the jawline is the ideal spot for acne mechanica, especially for sports persons wearing irritating chinstraps, and for violinists 🎻.

Another common cause of pimples here is fidgety hands. One of the side effects of regularly touching the skin on your face is increased oil production and transfer of bacteria 🦠.

If you want to improve your jawline acne, it might help to find a position that doesn’t involve resting your jaw on your hands.

Ditch The Wrong Makeup

The third cause of acne on the jaw is makeup, so you need to make sure you’re using oil-free, non-pore-clogging makeup 💄 that you wash off gently but thoroughly every night. Washing your face is always the first measure when treating acne.

Acne Behind the Ears

The pores behind our ears are generally smaller and tighter than those on our face, and they produce far less oil, so typically, acne doesn’t form here. It usually takes the form of whiteheads, which are closed pores clogged with oil and dead skin cells.

Wash Behind Your Ears – Often

A lack of washing is the biggest cause of acne here, but there is one other common factor: chemicals from hair products. These can get transferred to the ears or behind the ears and they can irritate the skin or clog the pores. Be sure to wash thoroughly behind your ears using an exfoliating Body Wash designed to treat and eliminate breakouts. For an even greater defense against acne behind the ears, exfoliate with a Derm-X microdermabrasion towel to remove cosmetics, oil and dirt.

Stubborn Acne on the Upper Lip

Acne on the upper lip can be very painful. It’s not usually severe acne but it doesn’t always go away on its own.

Don’t Pop!

If you want to remove stubborn blackheads, we recommend a gentler method than popping. Soak a washcloth in warm (but not hot) water and put it on your upper lip for five minutes to open up your pores. Then wash your face in lukewarm water with Facial Cleanser to open your pores even more. The lower concentration of salicylic acid in Facial Cleanser are unlikely to cause side effects, even on sensitive skin, and will only help unclog pores to allow treatment to work its magic. Follow up with a spot treatment of Acne Treatment Serum or the Clarifying Mask to nip upper lip acne in the bud.

Prevention Is Always Better

To prevent acne on the upper lip first, try switching toothpaste. Many kinds of toothpaste contain sodium lauryl sulfate, a chemical that foams to carry away plaque on the teeth. Sodium lauryl sulfate is very irritating and can cause increased acne around the mouth.

Acne can also be a side effect of too much lip balm or even lipstick 💄. Learn more about acne around the mouth in this post.

Even though lip balm can feel great on chapped lips, it could be contributing to your acne.

When Face Acne Isn’t Really Acne

There are some areas on the face where acne vulgaris is much less likely to occur, and bumps that might look like mild acne can be something different.

True Acne on the Lips Is Rare, Cold Sores Are Not

Acne around the mouth or on the edges of the lips is fairly common, but if you have small red spots on the lips, there’s a good chance they aren’t acne. Acne forms in the pores and hair follicles and the skin on our lips have almost no hair follicles.

Cold Sore Or Not?

Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus and they typically start with tingling or itching and then form small bumps. For a short while, they can look like acne, but they often either disappear (if treated quickly) or pop open to become a sore.

Sebaceous Filaments Or Nose Acne?

Those black spots on your nose are called sebaceous filaments. These are a completely normal element of healthy skin and not acne at all.

Again – Don’t Pop!

You can squeeze and pop pores with sebaceous filaments, just like blackheads, but instead of a blackhead, a stringy yellow or white substance will come out. That’s the sebaceous filament. This will stretch your pore, leaving it open to bacteria 🦠 and dead skin cells, making it more likely for real acne to form.

Within 30 days, these filaments reform and look just the same as before. The best way to make them less visible is to use gentle exfoliating products and leave them alone as much as possible.

Eyebrow Acne and Acne Between the Eyebrows

It’s possible to get true eyebrow acne or acne between the eyebrows. But, more often than not, bumps in or between the eyebrows are signs of irritated hair follicles. This can be caused by something as simple as makeup or hair products, but sometimes they are ingrown hairs.

Ingrown hairs happen when a hair turns and starts growing back into the skin, and you can often see it clearly. Pluck the ingrown hair out and apply a healing ointment like Neosporin or one of the many home remedies like a bit of honey 🍯 or tea tree oil.

But What If They’re Real Pimples?

If you have true acne on or between the eyebrows, it’s best to make sure you’re applying all your acne products to this area too.

Can You Really Get Acne on the Eyelid?

In short, probably not. Small red bumps here are usually one of two things: a stye or a chalazion. Both involve the sebaceous glands in the eye, but they are very different from acne and never benefit from acne treatment products. You should never apply acne treatments to the eyes or too close to them, as they can often cause pain or damage.

Simply apply a clean, warm washcloth to a stye several times a day. You should see the swelling start to go down. If it hasn’t improved at all in two days of at-home treatment, you may want to consult a doctor 👨‍⚕️.

A chalazion is commonly mistaken for a stye but they tend to occur further back on the eyelid and are not caused by a bacterial infection but by a blockage in one of the sebaceous glands. They also clear up by themselves. If you want to speed up the process, the warm washcloth method may help too.

Never try to pop a stye or chalazion.

What to Do About Itchy Face Acne

If you have itchy acne on the face, it may be completely normal. However, if normal acne products don’t seem to be taking care of your itchy acne, you could have fungal acne.

If your face acne is itchy and typical acne products aren’t working, you may want to see a dermatologist about fungal acne.

Fungal acne is caused by the fungus Malassezia. It lives on the surface of our skin and normally doesn’t cause problems, just like P. acnes 🦠. But when the skin produces excess oil, or when Malassezia gets trapped in the pores, it can result in fungal acne.

Unfortunately, it looks very similar to regular pimples. If you’ve been using the same acne skincare routine consistently for six weeks and haven’t noticed any improvement, you may have fungal acne. The biggest symptom is that it’s itchier than normal acne.

To treat fungal acne, you may want to consult a dermatologist. They can help with diagnosis, and prescribe the proper medication.

Remember: if you have severe acne or are dealing with hormonal changes that affect your skin, rely on a doctor to provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.