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Lifestyle Acne Triggers

Stress and Sleep

Reduce your stress. Do whatever it takes. Stress, one of the major acne triggers, is caused by the wear and tear of day-to-day living and changes that take place in your life, both good and bad. Moving is comparable to the death of a child in its ability to cause extreme stress.

Sleep seven uninterrupted hours per night on a consistent basis. Night shift jobs, broken sleep, social media, phone notifications, sleeping with infants or small children, late night time management, insomnia, menopause, long plane trips and crossing time zones can lead to severe physical stress. This makes it harder to clear active acne, maintain clear skin, and lighten dark circles.

Laundry Products

Fragrance and dye-free detergent

Don’t wear new clothing before washing a couple of times in fragrance-free detergent (no softener sheets). Look for white bottles that say Free & Clear, Free of Perfume & Dyes, or Free & Gentle.

Safe bleach: Clorox 2 for Colors Free & Clear. Safe fabric softeners: Fragrance-free liquid Downey in the white bottle and chemical-free “dryer balls”.

Change your pillowcase every day or two, launder in “free & clear” products in white bottles with an extra rinse cycle if possible. Purchase several and choose white if you will be using acne products.

Avoid laundry additives, enzymes, chlorine bleach and fabric softeners, including fragrance-free dryer sheets, which leave a waxy residue that can clog pores and irritate skin. Use 25% less detergent, and wash 25% fewer clothes at a time. If possible, run an extra rinse cycle.

Wash before you wear! Launder all new bedding, bath linens, and clothing before use. Anything imported, especially jeans and scarves, are sprayed with toxic fungicides, pesticides, and formaldehyde, and must be washed a few times before wearing to avoid body acne, infections, rashes, and skin discoloration.

Workout wear should be cotton and laundered in fragrance-free detergent with no fabric softener. Shower after perspiring with an acne soap or wash if you have body acne or fungal infection.

Dietary Acne Triggers

Avoid iodine: Dairy products (milk in coffee beverages, cheese, ice cream, sour cream, Greek yogurt, protein drinks), processed foods, take-out food, frozen dinners, fast food, canned food, soft drinks, salty snacks, seaweed snacks, salted sunflower seeds, salted nuts, canned, packaged and restaurant soups, ramen noodles, tomato juice, V-8, seasoned salt, iodized salt, salty condiments, high-sodium sports and energy drinks (except Vitamin Water), sushi wrapped in seaweed, Chinese food (salty sauces, MSG, soups, soy sauce), American Mexican food (cheese, sour cream, refried beans and salted tortilla chips), processed meats (lunch and deli meat, hot dogs, bacon, franks, hot links, sausage, Spam) and condiments containing kelp, MSG and/or iodized salt.

Peanut products and wheat germ contain androgenic hormones and can cause breakouts. You can enjoy other nuts, as long as they’re unsalted. Try low-sodium soy nut, almond, cashew, or sunflower butter.

Skip dairy, one of the biggest acne triggers: Cheese, milk, ice cream, sour cream, Greek yogurt, protein powders that contain whey and/or casein, and dairy-rich coffee drinks. Dairy is linked to acne, allergies, eczema, psoriasis, asthma, weight gain, digestive problems, water retention, high blood pressure, bloating, puffy eyes, and a ton of other health problems. Learn more here.

Concerned about calcium and vitamin D? Eat lots of dark green veggies and take supplements with calcium citrate, magnesium and vitamin D. On cereal, try ice-cold almond, coconut or rice milk. If it’s GMO-free, soy milk is better than cow’s milk, but it contains hormones, is processed to taste better with added sugar and fat, can cause allergic reactions, and be difficult to digest.

Fish and seafood from polluted water and toxic algae bloom in California can cause persistent skin problems, including rash-like acne. This doesn’t seem to happen in better restaurants when they get their shellfish from other parts of the country. If your acne is treatment-resistant and rashy, try eliminating fish and shellfish from your diet for a while, especially if its obtained locally.

Avoid iodized table salt and seasoned salt. Use sea salt, kosher salt or Himalayan pink salt instead. Try a blend of iodine-free salt, Mrs. Dash Table Blend, garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper, paprika, and cayenne pepper. Note: Most “outside food” contains iodized salt, and way too much of it.

Drink more water to maintain healthy skin, fight fatigue, plump up fine lines, reduce dark circles, brighten your skin tone, and keep your skin from getting dry and irritated from active products. Drink at least half your body weight in ounces.

Supplements Can Be Acne Triggers

Supplements can be acne triggers, especially biotin, maca root, CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), seaweed, kelp, algae, spirulina, chlorella, iodine, testosterone boosters, creatine, whey, casein, and green detox drinks.

Try acne-safe nutrition. Iodine-free multi-vitamins, zinc monomethionine or picolinate (always with meals), coated fish oil, flax seed oil, krill oil, MSM, probiotics, calcium citrate (with magnesium and vitamin D), vitamin C complex and B-complex. Check with your doctor before taking supplements, especially if you have health problems, are pregnant or lactating, or are taking prescription meds.

Safe protein powders: Avoid protein drinks that contain whey, casein and/or sea plants. Sun Warrior Classic Protein and Paleo Egg White Protein.

Acne Treatments and Products

Get professional acne treatments including acne facials (enzyme peels with steam), light chemical peels and tune-up peels formulated for acne, dark spots, scars, ingrown hair, and razor bumps. Professional acne treatments exfoliate the skin evenly and help home care products penetrate better. Skin brighteners and other skin-smoothing “boosters” will enhance the results dramatically.

Irritated? Constantly flaking? If so, you may be dehydrated from low water intake, gotten too much sun, over-scrubbed your skin, applied your products too thick or too often or using the wrong product(s). Follow directions carefully. Don’t overuse or under-use your home care. Ask for help if you need it.

Don’t slack up on prescribed acne home care. If we help you clear your acne, don’t think you’re so cute that you can quit using your products. You’ll stay clear for a while, but the microscopic beginnings of pimples and ingrown hairs to form deep in your pores, causing more breakouts, which will lead to new dark spots.

Get refills or product upgrades before you run out. Stock up before you go out of town. Don’t stop your regimen because you run out of one or two products.

Use a sunscreen (zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide) and reapply often when exposed to direct sunlight, including overcast skies and when driving. Avoid direct sun and wear sunglasses. Sunscreen use helps keep dark spots, blotchy skin tone, and dark circles from getting even darker.

Use ice to reduce inflammation. Fill two small dixie cups to the brim with water and freeze. Rub ice in a circular motion on red, inflamed pimples and hair bumps twice a day for two minutes. This really helps!

Avoid fragrance, including skin care, hair and body products, scented aftershave, aromatherapy products, perfumed detergents, soaps, lotions, and fabric softeners. Sunburn, rashes, acne, dark blemishes and dark “staining” of the skin can develop, especially on sun-exposed skin.

Stop picking, scratching, tweezing and skin tampering! Women, get a set of acrylic nails, file them so they’re not sharp, and maintain them every two weeks. Leave “stop picking” notes to yourself on mirrors, day planners, briefcases, desk drawers, rearview mirrors and in lockers. Picking pushes bumps deeper into the follicle, slows the healing process, invites secondary infection, introduces airborne bacteria, causes thickened, dark dead skin build-up and scarring, and turns tiny bumps into huge brown, black or red blemishes that take forever to heal and fade.

Acne mechanica is caused by (a) friction (rubbing), (b) pressure, and (c) occlusion (restricted air flow), which results in deep acne and hair bumps, scalp bumps and severe darkening. Avoid pressure and friction, like leaning on your hand or phone, sleeping on your hand or arm, wearing tight doo-rags, wave caps, sleeping scarves, hats, caps, visors, headbands (and moving them up and down on the forehead). More trouble: Poor-fitting glasses, football helmets, tight bra straps and bands, leaning and putting more pressure on one side of your butt as you sit, heavy shoulder bags and backpacks, clothing with chemical additives, over-scrubbing and rubbing with a towel. Don’t lean on your phone! Use a Bluetooth® device, headset, speakerphone or earbud.

Don’t scrub off dead skin cells. Washcloths, spa gloves, abrasive scrubs, sonic or spin brushes, buffing pads, alcohol-based astringents and rubbing with a towel can cause over-exfoliation, irritation, darkening, dead skin build-up, and more flaking. Learn more here.

Acne and Your Health

Severe “photo-sensitivity” is normal for many, but can be caused by weight gain and prescription medication, which leads to dark blemishes, brown patches, blotchiness, hyperpigmented acne, darkening of existing scars, and uneven darker skin tone on the outer cheeks, neck, eye area, forehead, temples, knuckles, chest and other areas. Photo-sensitizing meds include all hormones, birth control pills, shots, implants and devices, hormone replacement, oral diabetic drugs, diuretics, blood pressure meds, antihistamines, antibiotics, systemic acne meds, retinoids, and certain anti-depressants. Weight gain can also cause darkening of the skin tone and is caused by insulin resistance, hormone changes, and sun exposure.

Some medications are acne triggers including many hormones, birth control pills, shots, and implants, systemic and topical steroids, anti-rejection meds, testosterone boosters, and anti-convulsive drugs. Cold and flu meds with bromide can also aggravate acne.

Tell us about changes in your skin, health, medical history, medications, lifestyle, home address, email address, and phone number.

Medical conditions: Thyroid, liver and kidney disease, diabetes, lupus, scleroderma, sarcoidosis, RA, MS and other auto-immune diseases, hemochromatosis (storing too much iron), obesity and rapid weight gain, menopause, peri-menopause, pregnancy, PCOS, irregular periods, hormonal imbalances and changes, fibroids, anemia and smoking can cause delayed healing, acne breakouts and sun-sensitivity resulting in darkening of the entire face or outer cheeks, forehead, upper lip, neck and orbital eye area, and slow-to-heal skin lesions, including acne and dark blemishes.

Don’t smoke tobacco! Cigarettes, cigars, vaping, hookah, and weed rolled in tobacco are major acne triggers and can cause breakouts, blackheads, and scarring, clog your pores, age your skin, cause blackened lips, gums and under-eye circles, and keep acne and blemishes from healing.

Avoid recreational drugs. Blunts (marijuana rolled in tobacco), cocaine, X, and meth all aggravate acne. Alcohol consumption doesn’t cause your acne to worsen unless you’re too drunk to apply your home care products.

Pore-clogging chemicals: Avoid acne aggravating products that contain acne triggers. Avoid the aggressive fatty acid IPM (isopropyl myristate) and its chemical cousins, including isopropyl palmitate, isopropyl lanolate, myristyl myristate, myristic acid, isopropyl isothermal, isostearyl neopentanoate. Also, potassium chloride, sodium chloride, decyl oleate, oleic acid, oleyl alcohol, octyl stearate, isocetyl stearate, PPG myristyl propionate, sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), sodium laureth sulfate, laureth-4, lanolin and acetylated lanolin, and most natural butters and oils, except fragrance-free sunflower and mineral oil.

Avoid seaweed. Look for names like spirulina, kelp, marine algae, algin, alginate, alginic acid, chlorella, carrageenan, red algae, sea aster,  corallina officinalis, asparagopsis armata, bladderwrack, dulse, rockweed, ulva lactuca, sargassum, laminaria fucus, and vesiculosus.

Evaluate all hair products if breakouts are concentrated on the hairline, forehead, temples, sides of the face, neck and jawline, sideburns, scalp, behind the ears or upper back. Whatever you put in your hair will migrate onto your skin. You perspire when you toss and turn in your sleep, get stressed, rush through your day, climb stairs, and exercise. Hairspray must be light and unscented; cover your face with a cheap paper plate before you spray. This trick won’t work with oil sheen, braid spray or scented hairspray.

Avoid: (1) pressing creams, butters and oils; (2) oil-sheen, hairspray and braid spray; (3) mousse; (4) locking wax (except hard beeswax); 5) curl activator; (6) scalp grease; (7) brown gel; (8) scented gel; (9) keratin treatments and protein conditioners; (10) aromatherapy oils; (11) other oils (see below).

Problem oils: Coconut oil, cocoa butter, shea butter, sweet almond oil, carrot oil, olive oil, apricot kernel oil, palm kernel oil, castor oil, products labeled “argan oil”, Moroccan oil, vitamin E oil, wheat germ oil, aromatherapy oil blends, jojoba waxes and esters, and scented oils.

Safe oil: Fragrance-free sunflower oil

Synthetic and human hair:  Some batches of synthetic hair are coated with toxic chemicals that can cause severe allergic reactions and acne-like lesions, even if the hair is kept off the face and neck. This can vary batch to batch and company to company. The chemicals in synthetic and even some human hair can cause itching, rashes, and acne, and varies batch to batch. If a reaction begins to happen after you’ve braided your hair, you often have no choice but to take it down. Synthetic hair should be soaked in an apple cider vinegar solution first. Human hair should be shampooed before your weave or braids.

Avoid these product lines if you’re acne prone: Abba, Affirm, African Pride, Argan Oil, Aussie, Aveda, Avlon, Beautiful Textures, Bed Head, Bee’s Wax hair products, Biosilk, Blue Magic, Bone Straight, Botanicals, Bumble & Bumble, Cantu, Care Free (except Care Free Lite), Carol’s Daughter, Carrot Oil, Circle of Friends, CitreShine, coconut oil, Crème of Nature, Curl Junkie, D’arcy’s Botanicals, Dark & Lovely, Davines, Design Essentials, Deva, Doo Gro, Dr. Miracles, Dove, Dudley, Duke, Eden, Enjoi, Enjoy, Garnier Fructis, Giovanni, Glover’s, Goldwell, Hair Rules, His Mix (Mixed Chicks for Men), IC, Influance, Isoplus, Jessicurl, JLife, JML, Joico, Kemi Oyl, Kenra, Keracare, Kerapro, Kinky-Curly, Kiti Kiti, Let’s Jam, Luster, Mane and Tail, Marrakech Oil, Matrix, Miss Jessie’s Curly Pudding, Mixed Chicks, Mizani, Mop, Moroccan Oil, Motions, Murray’s, Nairobi, Neutrogena T-Gel, Nexxus, Nioxin Protectives, Ojon, Olive Oil products, One Better “Instant Shine” Finishing Gloss, Optimum, Organic Root Stimulator, Organix, Oyin, Pantene Relaxed & Natural, Paul Mitchell and generics, Philosophy, Phyto, Pink Oil, Proclaim, Proline, ProStyle, Purology, Quidad, Redken, S Curl, Sensitive by Nature, Shea Moisture, Shea Terra, Soft Sheen “Optimum Oil Therapy”, Sportin’ Waves, Suave, Sulfur 8, TCB Hair Food, Talijah Wahid, Tresemme, Warm Spirit, Wen and dozens more.

Safe hair products: Neutrogena T-Sal Shampoo, Care Free Lite Gel Activator, Gabriel Correctives, Free & Clear shampoo, conditioner, gel and dandruff products, Original Formula Infusium 23 leave-in, L’Anza spray leave-in, American Crew Firm Hold Gel, Vanicream, Vaseline and fragrance-free sunflower oil.

Toothpaste can cause small breakouts and darken the skin around and below the corners of the mouth, especially if it contains sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), tartar control, fluoride and aromatic flavors. Keep toothpaste in your mouth, where it belongs. If it gets on your skin, use cleanser to remove it. Look for SLS-free toothpaste.


Avoid problematic cosmetics: Red dyes, know acne triggers, are found in foundations, blushes, lipstick and powders, MAC foundations, mineral make-up and powders (especially Studio Fix), Shiseido, Lancôme, Estee Lauder, Makeup For Ever, L’Oreal, Chanel, Fashion Fair, Posner, Iman and many other cosmetics. Re-evaluate your cosmetics and moisturizers if breakouts continue. Avoid make-up that sticks to the sink when you wash it off. Acne-safe red dye alternatives: Iron oxides and carmine. See the Color Additive Labeling Guide to identify FD&C red dyes by their CI number. Scaling, inflammation and/or itching on the scalp, hairline, ears, brows, forehead or side of the nose? You may have seborrhea or seborrheic dermatitis, common genetic conditions that are easy to treat. Part of an oily, acne-prone, sensitive skin profile, this worsen dramatically (a) in cold weather, (b) during stressful times, (c) when using harsh soaps and perfumes, and (d) with infrequent shampooing.

Ignoring scalp issues can lead to moderate-to-severe dandruff, unsightly scaling, reddening of the inner cheeks, forehead and hairline, hyper-sensitive skin, a pink or light-pigmented patchy rash, tiny red bumps on the face and scalp, an itchy scalp, thinning hair and hair loss (brows, scalp and eyelashes). Warning: Don’t use a brush, scratch your scalp (or let a stylist do so), pat or rub your scalp. Thinning hair, itching, dead skin build-up, inflamed sores and bumps will only get worse. Low thread count pillowcases can thin fragile hair on the side you sleep, so switch to satin, silk or high count cotton. Make sure pillowcases are white if you’re using acne medication.


Hormones can be acne triggers and linked to breakouts and hyperpigmentation, including many low estrogen birth control pills, birth control shots and implants, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), hormonal changes, fibroids, imbalances, irregular periods, PMS/PMDD and obesity (fat cells can boost the body’s estrogen production). The birth control pills advertised to help clear acne don’t live up to the claims and can cause breakouts, dry eye, sun sensitivity, melasma, and other major health problems. HMOs routinely make contraceptive substitutions that are cheaper for them, but not true generics. Want an IUD? Choose the hormone-free T-shaped copper IUD over hormone-containing IUDs and implants, which are known to cause a truckload of side effects, including acne pore-clogging, weight gain, mood swings, depression, yeast infections and hair loss.

Pregnancy, post-partum and menstrual cycles can cause hormonal flare-ups. Use a calendar or smartphone app to track your cycle. Practice diligent skin care and suncare throughout the month. Pay close attention to your lifestyle to counteract problems during these times. Avoid direct sun. Protect your neck (which darkens) and face (watch for dark melasma patches) with zinc oxide-based sunscreen and reapply often.

Pregnant and lactating women should discontinue herbs and nutritional supplements (except prenatal vitamins), NSAIDS, retinoids, and hydroquinone. Discuss active skin care products, prescriptions, OTC medications, and systemic acne meds with your physician.

Note: Individual results may vary and require compliance with corrective home care products, diligent sun protection, professional treatments, recognizing your acne triggers, and making important lifestyle changes, all of which must be monitored and maintained on a long-term basis.

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