Bad breakouts aren't always just a punishment for too many late-night French fry runs or sleeping in your makeup. The blemishes that have invaded your complexion can actually be your body trying to give you a wake up call to an underlying internal health issue.
"As the largest organ and one of the few visible ones, the skin is truly a window into our inner workings," explains San Diego, Calif.-based dermatologist Dr. Melanie Palm. "Circulation, color, temperature, texture, humidity/moisture/sweat of the skin all can be affected by internal disease. These changes, if noticed, are perhaps are bodies way of indicating that our balance or homeostasis is not being maintained and should be evaluated."
The dermatologist says that if your intuition is telling you that something in your body's off or the systemic acne that you're experiencing is accompanied by other symptoms such as fever, weight changes, energy level changes, neurological symptoms, or heat/cold intolerance, you should visit your doctor.
We asked Dr. Palm to break down some of the most common things your acne can be trying to tell you about your health.
1. Your Hormones Are Imbalanced
If you have systemic, painful cysts along your jawline no matter where you're at in your cycle, Dr. Palm says that a hormone imbalance could be the culprit.
"This can be caused by excess androgen sources or hormonal imbalances," she explains. "The most common culprit of this is PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), in which women have cystic ovaries, abnormal or heavy periods, hirsutism (hair growth in male pattern such as facial or chest hair), and oftentimes acne." PCOS is treated internally by an endocrinologist with a dermatologist managing the skin symptoms of the condition.
When jawline cysts are only popping right before or at the start of your period, the dermatologist says that the cause is also hormonal, but there's no internal imbalance present. These breakouts can be treated with topical medication, birth control pills, or spironolactone, another oral medication.
2. You're Using the Wrong Makeup & Skincare Products
Dr. Palm says that consistent breakouts on your T-zone, eyes, cheeks, or forehead can be caused by certain makeup or skincare products, of if your hair brushes against your skin. "Oil-based products and various cosmetics that are not labeled as non-comedogenic can create acne breakouts with use," explains Dr. Palm. "Especially if people wear and style their bangs; hairspray, hair wax, and gels can all cause breakouts in susceptible individuals." As for the eye area, rich creams can lead to blemishes if you have acne-prone skin.
If you're trying new products that you think might be making you breakout, Dr. Palm says to stop using them immediately and your skin will clear up.
Along with the topical products you're using in your beauty routine everyday, not regularly cleaning things that come into contact with your complexion like your iPhone or a bike helmet, can also make you breakout. Dr. Palm suggests using an acne cleansing pad such as Dr. Dennis Gross' One Step Acne Eliminating Pads ($42; dermstore.com) after physical activity (like a a sweaty bike ride) to prevent blemishes.
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3. You're Too Stressed
Whether you're preparing for a big meeting at work or you're trying to make it to airport on time to catch your flight, feeling stressed kick-starts an overproduction of stress hormone cortisol, which Dr. Palm says can lead to widespread acne.
4. You've Had Too Much Sun
Dr. Palm says that years of heavy, prolonged sun exposure can result in deep blackheads called Favre-Racouchot around the eye region. Regularly using topical retinoids can also cause these blemishes and often chemical peels or laser-resurfacing is needed to minimize them.
5. You're Acne's Actually a Rash
If your blemishes are only around your eyes and mouth, the breakout might actually be a skin rash called periorificial dermatitis. While there's no single cause, Dr. Palm says that often using an inhaled steroid (like an asthma inhaler) can lead to the red, flaky rash that looks like a hybrid between acne and dandruff. A topical treatment is usually used to clear it up.
According to Dr. Palm, facial redness and broken capillaries can be papulopustular acne, an acne variant of rosacea. "Although some traditional topical acne therapies can be helpful in this instance, there are several prescription topical medications that are approved and greatly improve this particular type of rosacea," she says.