The Real Reason Why You’re Always Breaking Out in the Same Spot

My first experience with an acne face map was flipping through the pages of teen magazines, but the colorful charts have been around for much longer than our adolescence. The practice of acne mapping comes from traditional Eastern and Chinese medicine and is based on the idea that external problems—in this case, acne—are linked to underlying internal ones. Where the acne appears on your face is a marker of what organ the internal problem is connected to. While in a perfect world things would be so easily connected, the reality is acne can be a little more complicated. 

“We know that acne is actually a complex multifactorial skin disease that manifests in part from processes happening in the skin, usually as a direct result of signals from inside the body,” says Rachel Nazarian, M.D., a dermatologist in New York. “The body itself can send these signals due to natural causes such as normal hormones, or they can be triggered by emotions, stress, food, and medication.” 

Nazarian says that while acne is caused by these internal signals, face mapping is not the standard in Western dermatology. However, there are certain trends of acne in specific areas that can help you get to the root of the problem—for example, acne on your jaw and chin often tends to be hormonal. Just think of it as a jumping off point, not a one-size-fits-all situation. “This is not a tried-and-true way to diagnose acne problems, because every individual may have their own specific way of breaking out, even though the causes may be identical,” she says. 

She also notes that the type of acne is equally as important, if not more, than the location—deep cystic acne has a different treatment than blackheads, no matter where on your face it appears. And, of course, everyone is different and factors like allergies, diet, environment, and genetics play a role in your acne. 

“The skin is an organ that often does reflect problems happening inside the body, and your dermatologist will know when to investigate further,” says Nazarian. If you’re struggling with constant acne beyond the occasional breakout, your best bet will be to visit a dermatologist and create a customized plan. 

But if you’re looking to get to the bottom of occasional breakouts, an acne face map is a great jumping off point to understand what’s happening below the surface. We chatted with Nazarian, as well as Sapna Palep, M.D., board-certified dermatologist and founder of Spring Street Dermatology, to get the scoop on what your breakouts can mean. 

Bella Geraci/ Getty

If You’re Breaking Out on Your Hairline… 

Consider taking a closer look at your hair products, not your skin care. “We sometimes refer to this as ‘pomade’ acne,” says Palep. “Pomades are thick and have oil-based ingredients. This in turn blocks the natural oil or sebum in hair follicles from exiting and therefore causes a pimple.” She recommends using your hand or a washcloth to shield your face when applying hair products, switching to non-comedogenic hair products, and regularly use a clarifying shampoo. Here are a couple we recommend, below. 

SEEN Skin-Caring Conditioner

amika Reset Scalp Clarifying Gel Shampoo

Neutrogena Anti-Residue Gentle Clarifying Shampoo

If You’re Breaking Out on Your Cheeks… 

Pimples on your cheeks can feel like the end of the world, but luckily they usually have a pretty straightforward cause. Palep says breakouts on your cheeks are often linked to dirty pillowcases, phones, and fingers. Be sure to change your pillowcase at least once a week, disinfect your phone often or use headphones to make calls, and keep your hands off your face. 

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