The Top 5 Most Commonly Overlooked Causes of Acne

Beautiful young woman talking on mobile phone

The true source of a break-out can often be difficult to pinpoint.  Maybe you’ve been diligent with your skin-care routine.  Perhaps you’ve received an online consultation from YoDerm in order to discover the root-cause of your acne.  Still, you continue to suffer from break-outs despite your exhaustive efforts to care for your skin.  We all know that acne can be influenced by hormones, and stress levels.  But could there be some other contributing factors that are commonly overlooked? Fortunately, we’ve compiled a list that includes five causes of acne that our patients typically miss.

Number 1: Your makeup brushes. 

Dirty makeup brushes are a breeding ground for bacteria.  A recent study revealed that 72% of makeup-brush users fail to wash their makeup brushes at all.  The accumulation of oil from your skin and germs from your surrounding brush environment could be causing clogged pores!  Don’t forget to either sanitize your brushes with a fast-drying spray cleanser (when time is of the essence), or clean them thoroughly with a mild soap, such as baby shampoo.

Number 2: Styling products.

Hairspray, serums, shampoos, conditioners, gels, and pomades often contain ingredients that are irritating to the skin.  Make sure to avoid ingredients such as shea butter, and petroleum.  If you find that your are breaking out along the hairline, you could also be suffering from an allergy to a chemical in your haircare products. Sodium lauryl sulfate is the detergent in shampoos that causes it to lather up in the shower, and also a common allergy.   Thankfully, sulfate-free products are more popular and easier to find than ever before (even better: because the absence of this chemical can help preserve color-treated hair).  It’s also important to stick to products with “fragrance” listed as one of the final ingredients– especially if you have sensitive skin.

Number 3:  Your cell phone. 

When was the last time you wiped your cell phone down with an anti-bacterial wipe? Considering society’s increasing co-dependence with their cellphones, it’s unsurprising that your cell-phone might be dirtier than a public toilet seat.  In an article of Time magazine, a study was cited in which 390 swabs were taken from mobile phones and 390 from the hands of study participants.  Of those swabs, about 16% were contaminated with E. coli, a bacteria found in fecal matter that can cause severe illness.  These are the same devices that are frequently very close to our faces. Can you imagine what other kind of materials may be lurking on your cell-phone to block pores and trap acne-causing bacteria?

Number 4: Dairy.

One of the more depressing discoveries we made while researching the unlikely causes of acne, was the dramatic effect that dairy consumption may have on your skin.  Research has shown that consuming milk can alter insulin production.  According to a study published in Dermato-Endocrinology, “insulin and high-glycemic index are perhaps the two most scientifically and clinically associated factors with acne”.  Calcium, potassium, and vitamin D are all essential nutrients that are found in dairy.  However, these nutrients can easily be attained through leafy greens, fruits, and fish, respectively.

Number 5:  Sunscreen 

Dermatologists insist that sunscreen is the most crucial step in your skincare routine, as it protects against skin cancer and premature aging. Unfortunately, sunscreens can also be full of pore-clogging ingredients that are irritating to acne-prone skin.  Silicone, mineral oils, and beeswax are all commonly found in sunscreens (even those claiming to be safe for “sensitive skin”).  Sunscreens are often formulated with active ingredients that can be categorized as physical barrier sunscreens or chemical barrier sunscreens.  Chemical barriers include Benzophenone and Octinoxate.  While uncommon, these chemicals may cause irritation to sensitive skin because of the way they absorb the sun’s rays, trapping heat. If you do experience irritation, you may want to try a physical barrier sunscreen, which will include minerals such as Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide.  These deflect the sun’s rays, and can be less irritating to acne-prone skin.  Look for sunscreens that are labeled as “mineral” sunscreens to stay blemish-free. See our favorite recommendations below:


EltaMD SKincare UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF46


Colorescience Colorescience Sunforgettable SPF 30


Drunk Elephant Umbra Sheer Physical Defense SPF 30 3.3 oz


1.Pappas A. The relationship of diet and acne: A review. Dermato-Endocrinology, 2009; 1(5), 262–267. Accessed October 25, 2016.

2.Simonian A. The identification of bacteria found on makeup brushes. Loyola Marymount University, California; 2013.

 3.Song S. Study: 1 in 6 cell phones contaminated with fecal matter. Time Magazine website.  October 17, 2011.  Accessed October 26, 2016.


About us: YoDerm is the only way to get a prescription medication safely and legally online. Each of our dermatologists are board-certified and will treat your acne within 24 hours. If you’re struggling to get clear, click here, and let us help.

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