How to Avoid Breakouts: 11 Sneaky Causes of Acne (and how to fix them)

Posted by Sandra Scott on

It can happen to the best of us.

And adulthood is no guarantee that you won’t experience acne breakouts!

All of a sudden (and often at the worst moment!) the pores on your face become blocked with oil, dead skin cells or bacteria – and pimples start to pop up!

But what causes your skin to react this way?

Whilst it may not be obvious, once you know the reason it can be easy to fix.

Below we show you how to recognise the signs – and fix the problem.
The result – clear, smooth skin. 

Read on to find what could be triggering a breakout …


 How to Avoid Breakouts: 11 sneaky causes of acne (and how to fix them)

Your pores become blocked with oil, dead skin cells or bacteria – and pimples start to pop up!


Why is my face breaking out?

For the most part acne breakouts happen in adulthood the same way they did when you were a teenager:

  • Too much oil is produced by your sebaceous glands 
  • Dead skin cells accumulate and clog your pores
  • Bacteria build up in your pores

And when bacteria breed in a clogged pore and the oil is unable to escape (because it’s blocked by dead skin cells), a whitehead pimple appears. 

So anything that affects these three factors can lead to breakouts.


11 sneaky causes of acne breakouts…and how to fix them

The triggers are not always easy to spot.
But once you know what’s causing a breakout, the fix can be easy.

Cause #1: Stress 

Your body reacts to undue stress by releasing stress hormones, like cortisol, which:

The excess oil can clog your pores and, when combined with inflammation, lead to acne breakouts. 

What do stress acne breakouts look like?

The tell-tale sign of a stress-related breakout is your skin becoming quite inflamed, with more pus-filled pimples.


It’d be great if you could tell yourself to just relax. But, of course, that’s one of the hardest things to do.

So just control what you can - no matter what’s going on around you. 

  1. Get enough sleep and stick to a regular sleep/wake pattern
  2. Eat healthily
  3. Exercise regularly and get outside as often as you can

And most importantly…

  1. Prioritize your mental health

In these increasingly stressful times it’s more important than ever to take really good care of yourself.

For more on how stress affects the way you look, and ideas on the best ways to relax, see ‘How stress is affecting your skin - and what to do about it’.


Cause #2 Not washing your face before bed

It’s something you may think doesn’t matter…

But you must make washing your face a priority before bed.

If you think about it your face comes into contact with dirt and bacteria every day - even if you’ve barely left the house.

Couple this with a build up of dead skin cells and excess oil, and you can see this all needs to be cleared away.


Because if your pores become blocked with oil, dead skin cells or bacteria then your skin will breakout.


First, you need to clean your face. Every. Single. Night

Before you do anything else, wash off the oil and grime of the day, so there’s less chance of breakouts.

And the best thing to use?

Otis Daily Face Wash.

With Tea Tree Oil, Lactic Acid and Aloe Vera, our Daily Face Wash fights breakouts on three fronts:

  1. Regulating excess oil production
  2. Dissolving away dead skin cells
  3. Keeping your pores free of bacteria

And it does all this WITHOUT leaving your skin feeling dry and tight.

Best Face Wash to Prevent Breakouts 


An added bonus. By gently exfoliating away dull skin cells, Daily Face Wash makes your skin look brighter too.


Cause #3: Using a dirty towel – or pillowcase

Washing your face every night is one thing. But the way you dry your face afterwards can make all the difference to how clean and clear it looks.

Is bacteria from my towel causing me to breakout?

We know that bacteria is an underlying cause of breakouts - and damp, dirty towels are a breeding ground for bacteria!

If you rub your face with a dirty towel, this bacteria can transfer and collect in your pores.

And the same goes for a dirty pillowcase!


Really simple. Always use a fresh, clean towel to dry your face. And change your pillowcase regularly.

Keep a separate small towel just for your face. Don’t use the one that you use for the rest of your body.

And don’t let anyone else use it either – only you.

Women know to always do this, but guys are not taught this and it’s really important.

Gently pat your skin dry with the towel. Never rub vigorously especially if you’re breaking out. Rubbing can irritate and make any existing acne a lot worse.

What’s the best way to keep your towel free from bacteria? 

Hang your towel up after use to give it a chance to dry out. This will make it less of a magnet for bacteria. Over a radiator or a towel heater is ideal.

Wash your towel at least once a week.

And remember to change your pillowcase every few days too.

You could also switch to a silk pillowcase which can reduce friction on your skin (and hair).

And when it comes to washing laundry pay attention to the detergent you use….

 How to Avoid Breakouts: Change your pillowcase regularly

Change your pillowcase regularly to avoid breakouts


Cause #4: Your laundry detergent is too harsh 

Some chemicals and fragrances found in laundry detergents can be too harsh for sensitive skin. Your face can react to the residue that’s left on towels and pillowcases, resulting in breakouts on your face and body.


Switch to a hypoallergenic detergent – and wash all your towels and bedding in the new detergent twice before use. 


Cause #5: Your diet is making you prone to breakouts 

More research is needed to determine exactly which foods make acne worse. But there’s a lot of evidence that high glycemic foods can trigger breakouts. These include:

  • white bread, white rice, and white pasta
  • baked goods and pastries
  • sugary beverages, such as soda, sports drinks, and fruit juice
  • chips and pretzels
  • potatoes and fries
  • breakfast cereal

These foods are often highly processed and cause blood sugar levels to rise quickly.

And when blood sugar levels spike, the body can respond by increasing oil production. [link]. All that oil can then overwhelm the pores, resulting in acne.

Some skin can react negatively to dairy, gluten, and other foods, too.

A recent change in your food habits could be causing breakouts based on a change in your glucose levels.


A dermatologist will likely ask you to create a food journal and track what you eat, along with how your skin reacts. So it makes sense to start there.

At the same time:

  • Try to avoid foods with a high glycemic index (like the ones listed above)
  • Reduce your intake of dairy products
  • Limit fried and sugary processed foods

For a comprehensive guide of the best foods for your skin see:


Cause #6: You’re not getting enough sleep 

Too little sleep means your body is exposed to continuously high levels of cortisol, which can trigger breakouts.

So even if you don’t feel particularly stressed, your sleep-deprived body can still release stress hormones that encourage the sebaceous glands to overproduce oil and trigger inflammation– causing breakouts.


The good news is you only need one or two nights of good quality sleep for the positive effects to start showing. 

So whether it’s taking a power nap [link] during the day, or just going to bed earlier, try to catch up on your sleep whenever you can.

We’ve got more on this here: “14 Ways to Maximize the Benefits of Sleep”.


Cause #7: Acne treatments are drying out your skin 

Dry skin in general can be a major cause of breakouts.

And if you’re loading up on intense acne treatment products they may be drying out and irritating your skin, leading to a compromised skin barrier.


When it comes to spot treatments, you don’t want to unbalance your skin.

So it’s better to use a treatment with a low percentage of active ingredients like salicylic acid.

Only target the area where you have a pimple, so you don’t dry out the surrounding skin.

If your skin does start to feel itchy, tight, or burns, stop using and soothe the irritation with 1 percent hydrocortisone cream twice a day.

And although your shiny T-zone may be telling you otherwise, even oily skin needs a moisturiser to help it function normally - and prevent and heal acne.

Apply a moisturizer every morning and evening to help restore your skin barrier.

Our lightweight Hydrating Daily Moisturizer sinks in quickly and doesn’t feel greasy or heavy on your skin.


Best Lightweight Moisturizer


Cause #8: You’re touching your face too much 

As much as we want to believe our hands are always clean, they’re probably not!

When you think of all the things you come into contact with every day – door handles, keyboards – bacteria is certainly being transferred onto your fingers.

So when you touch your face, or press a phone against your skin you transfer bacteria which increases the chances of breakouts.


Be aware of how often you touch your face - and try not to!

Wash hands often. Clean your phone with anti-bac wipes, or stick to headphones.


And when it comes to squeezing a pimple…


It isn’t going to make it disappear – and it certainly won’t make it heal!

The only thing it does is make it worse!

You risk pushing the bacteria deeper and making breakouts worse, creating more inflammation.

Just let the pimple go through all its stages naturally until it fades away. That way it’s not going to leave any marks or scars.

And if you’ve gone past that point…!

We’ve got a complete guide to “How to Treat Acne Scars for Smoother, Clearer Skin” here. 


Cause #9: The wrong skincare ingredients 

Your breakouts could be triggered by certain ingredients in your skincare products. The worst offenders are:

  • Mineral oil - a thick moisturizing ingredient that can be too heavy for your skin causing blackheads and whiteheads to appear.
  • Coconut Oil - also notorious for causing breakouts.
  • Fragrance - can cause inflammation and redness that aggravates existing breakouts.
  • As can essential oils


Gather all your products and check the ingredient labels for the red flags above.

Skincare is, annoyingly, trial and error, but the above ingredients are generally a good place to start if you’re prone to breakouts.


Cause #10: Sweat from your workout 

In general, working out is great for your skin.

The improved blood flow gives your skin a healthy glow and encourages collagen production to make your face look smoother and younger.

But sweat, oil and bacteria can build up on your skin during exercise - clogging your pores and leading to acne breakouts.  

On top of that, there's a type of yeast that thrives in the warm, moist conditions created by your sweaty workout clothes that can cause fungal acne to develop!


This is an easy one to fix.

Just wash your face and shower immediately after exercise - to clean away the sweat and bacteria and stop any acne developing.

We’ve got a great skincare routine here: “Clear, Healthy, Post-Workout Skin. No sweat!” 


Cause #11: Using a gritty face scrub 

Scrubbing at your face with a washcloth or gritty exfoliating scrub can aggravate an existing breakout - but also cause more breakouts in the future.


Because harsh scrubs create micro tears and inflammation on the surface of your skin. This lets bacteria in and triggers breakouts.


Instead of using coarse scrubs, you need to take a gentler approach.

Exfoliate your face with a mild exfoliating face wash that contains an Alpha Hydroxy Acid (an AHA).

Our Daily Face Wash includes Lactic Acid (an excellent and natural AHA).

Daily Face Wash is gentle enough to use twice a day without drying out your skin.

And effective enough to dissolve away dead skin cells that block your pores and make your skin look dull and prone to acne.


  Avoid breakouts with OTIS SKINCARE exfoliating Daily Face Wash for men

Avoid breakouts with gently exfoliating Daily Face Wash


The Takeaway 

Look for these sneaky causes of breakouts.
Because once you’ve identified the trigger, it can be easy to fix.

#1: Stress
#2: Not washing your face before bed
#3: Using a dirty towel – or pillowcase
#4: Your laundry detergent is too harsh
#5: Your diet is causing breakouts
#6: You’re not getting enough sleep
#7: Acne treatments are drying out your skin
#8: Touching your face
#9: The wrong skincare ingredients
#10: Sweat from your workout
#11: Using a gritty facial scrub

The result – clear, smooth skin.

All you need to stay looking handsome. 





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