When you’re acne-prone, you go to great lengths to avoid potentially zit-causing culprits. Knowing and avoiding your triggers is key, whether they be dairy, not removing your makeup at night, oily face creams, or certain sunscreens. Yet, even with best-laid plans, you could still be missing a few unexpected daily causes that are giving you zits. After all, the more you know, the fewer pores could be clogged. Here are five surprising acne-causing products, foods, and habits to look out for in your routine.
It’s true: Your hair products just might be making your skin break out. “Try putting something on your hair without it getting on your skin. It’s impossible,” says Dr. Iris Rubin, a New York–based dermatologist and cofounder of new haircare brand SEEN.
While that might seem innocent, those haircare products often leave a residue on your hair that can get on skin and clog pores, causing breakouts. How? Shampoo rinses down your face, chest, and back in the shower, and conditioner and leave-in styling products linger in hair, getting on your skin, pillowcases, and towels, thus leaving a residue behind that can cause acne.
Your face isn’t the only susceptible area. Haircare products can cause acne on your body as well. “If you have acne on your forehead, hairline, or scalp that is particularly suggestive of your haircare products contributing to breakouts,” says Rubin. And if that wasn’t enough of an insult to injury, haircare products can commonly cause irritation, leaving you with an itchy, flaky scalp. It’s a good rule of thumb to remember that what’s on your hair is on your skin too.
Anything that makes its way onto your skin and clogs pores can cause acne, including makeup and skincare products. Rubin suggests looking for products labeled as “noncomedogenic” (meaning it’s specifically formulated to not cause acne) or “won’t clog pores.” Check all skin-adjacent products, too, like sunscreen, face wash, bodywash, and lotions.
Foods are a known trigger for some, but dermatologists especially warn about high-glycemic index foods, like sugary sweets, white flour, rice, and potatoes. These foods increase blood sugar levels, which trigger a cascade of effects, like increases in oil production and clogged pores. Dairy can exacerbate acne as well by prompting the release of insulin and hormones that encourage acne.
“People often try to wash away acne,” says Rubin. While certain salicylic cleansers can definitely help curb acne, you’re more likely to over-cleanse with harsh face washes, causing irritation and drying out your skin. This striping of skin encourages dead skin cells, which makes acne worse. And a friendly reminder to never sleep in your makeup—that will guarantee irritation and clogged pores.
If you’ve got sensitive skin, stay away from harsh and scented laundry products. “Detergents, dyes, and fragrances are the most common culprits that may cause irritation,” says Rubin. While detergent and dry sheets aren’t directly linked with acne, they both have pore-clogging residues that can linger on pillowcases, bedding, and towels, which can cause acne.