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15 Habits That Cause Acne – How To Avoid Breakouts

a woman with acne problems and dehydrated skin

Acne, a common skin condition that causes spots and oily skin, can also be traced to certain everyday lifestyle habits. Some of these seemingly innocuous lifestyle habits might be unknowingly contributing to your breakouts. This article aims to shed light on 15 habits that can lead to acne, providing the necessary insight to combat this widespread skin issue. Awareness and understanding of these habits are the first steps towards maintaining clear, healthy skin. Dr Justin Boey, Medical Director of Sozo Aesthetic Clinic, shares more from his personal experience. By identifying and adjusting these habits, you’ll be well on your way to achieving and preserving a blemish-free complexion.

1. Poor Skincare Routine

Inadequate cleansing can leave behind dirt and oil, which clog the pores, leading to acne. On the other hand, excessive scrubbing or over-exfoliation can irritate the skin and disrupt its natural barrier function, making skin dry and more prone to breakouts.

Using harsh skincare products is another habit that contributes to acne. Such products can strip the skin of its natural oils, causing it to overcompensate by producing more oil – a key factor in acne formation. Therefore, it’s crucial to maintain a balanced skincare regime, incorporate a gentle cleanser and exfoliator suitable for your skin type, and refrain from using harsh products that could exacerbate acne.

To achieve healthy and clear skin, it is crucial to understand your skin type, whether oily, dry, combination, or sensitive. This knowledge helps you choose the products that are best suited for your skin. Always cleanse your skin twice daily using a mild cleanser free from alcohol and strong detergents. Once you’re done cleansing, use a toner to remove any impurities that may be left behind. It’s recommended that you use a hydrating toner without alcohol. Gently exfoliate your skin once or twice weekly to eliminate dead skin cells and prevent clogged pores. Finish off with a lightweight, non-comedogenic moisturiser that won’t block your pores. In the morning, use a broad-spectrum sunscreen to protect your most sensitive skin from harmful UV rays.

2. Picking and Popping Pimples

a woman trying to squeeze acne which causes bacteria build up

Picking and popping pimples is a common habit many of us are guilty of, especially when a conspicuous zit appears before a vital occasion. However, this habit can worsen acne and lead to further skin complications. When a pimple is squeezed, the action can force the pus deeper into the skin, causing inflammation and potential scarring. This can also spread the bacteria that cause acne, leading to more pimples.

Instead of squeezing your pimples, try using a warm compress to soothe the inflammation and promote natural drainage of the pimple. An over-the-counter topical acne treatment containing salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide can also help accelerate healing. If you’re dealing with persistent or severe acne, it’s worthwhile to consult with a dermatologist, who can prescribe appropriate treatments or acne medications. 

To prevent the urge to touch your face, keep your hands busy with activities or hold something in your hand. Regularly changing your pillowcase can also help keep bacteria away from your face, reducing the chance of breakouts. Lastly, remember that patience is key. Waiting for a pimple to clear up can be frustrating, but your skin will thank you in the long run.

3. Not Removing Makeup Before Bed

Leaving makeup on overnight can have severe consequences on your skin health. Cosmetics can trap dirt and oil, leading to clogged pores, which in turn cause acne breakouts. Moreover, certain makeup products may contain ingredients that can irritate the skin, causing inflammation and redness when left on for prolonged periods. 

Properly removing makeup and caring for your skin before sleep cannot be overstated. A dedicated nighttime skincare regime allows your skin to breathe and rejuvenate during sleep. Oil-based cleansers are especially effective for removing makeup, even waterproof products. Follow this with a water-based cleanser to remove all makeup and oil traces. 

After cleansing, consider using a gentle toner to rebalance your skin’s pH and prepare it for the following skincare routine steps. Hydrating serums or rich night acne creams can help nourish your skin and aid in its natural repair process. If you have acne-prone skin, look for non-comedogenic products that won’t clog your pores. 

Lastly, don’t forget about the delicate skin around your eyes. Use a gentle, hydrating eye cream to prevent wrinkles and fine lines. Remember, consistency in following a proper nighttime skincare regime is a significant step towards maintaining a healthy, blemish-free complexion.

4. Excessive Sun Exposure

a person having excessive sun exposure

Prolonged exposure to the sun may feel invigorating, but it can have detrimental effects on your skin, including exacerbating existing acne or triggering new breakouts. The heat from the sun dries out your skin, causing it to produce excess sebum (oil) to compensate for the dryness, which can lead to clogged pores and acne. Furthermore, sunburn or suntan may give the illusion of a temporary improvement in acne, but in reality, this can lead to skin damage and aggravate acne in the long run.

However, you should still avoid the sun entirely. Sunlight is a natural source of vitamin D, which is beneficial for skin health. The key is managing your exposure and protecting your skin from harmful UV rays.

  • Protecting your skin from the sun is crucial when spending time outdoors. To shield your skin from the harmful effects of the sun, wear a wide-brimmed hat and choose clothing that covers your skin. Avoid sun exposure during peak UV times, typically between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

  • When it comes to sunscreen, you should choose a broad-spectrum product with an SPF of at least 30. Broad-spectrum means that the sunscreen offers protection against both UVA and UVB rays. For those with acne-prone skin, opting for ‘non-comedogenic’ sunscreens formulated to prevent pore blockage is recommended. Use sunscreen generously and reapply it every 2 hours or more often if you’re sweating or swimming.

A balanced approach to sun exposure can help maintain skin health and manage acne effectively. Always take good care of your skin, and consult a dermatologist if you have any concerns about acne condition or questions about skincare or managing acne.

5. High Sugar and Processed Food Consumption

a woman with poor diet

Diet is crucial for skin health. Certain food choices, like high sugar and processed foods, can trigger acne. High glycemic index (GI) foods or refined carbohydrates such as sugary drinks, cakes, pastries, and some bread and pasta cause rapid blood sugar spikes. This increases insulin levels, promoting sebum production and skin cell growth, contributing to acne. Processed foods often contain additives that inflame and stress the skin.

For a balanced, acne-friendly diet, include whole foods rich in skin-friendly nutrients. Choose low GI complex carbs like whole grains and legumes to regulate blood sugar. Eat lean proteins, such as chicken, fish, and tofu, for tissue repair. Antioxidant-rich fruits and veggies like berries, spinach, and bell peppers fight inflammation and support skin health. Omega-3 fatty acids in salmon, flaxseeds, and walnuts reduce inflammation and promote clear skin.

Lastly, hydration is key. Drink plenty of water to keep your skin hydrated and flush out toxins. Remember, a balanced diet and consistent skincare help manage acne effectively.

6. Not Changing Pillowcases and Bedding

Often overlooked, dirty pillowcases and bedding can be significant contributors to causing acne breakouts, too. As you sleep, oil, dirt, and dead skin cells shed from your face and accumulate on your pillowcase and bedding. This creates a breeding ground for bacteria, which can infiltrate your pores and cause acne. The friction from rough, dirty bedding can irritate your skin, exacerbate acne, and cause more breakouts.

Regularly cleaning your bedding, especially your pillowcase, is essential in keeping your skin clean and free from excess oil and bacteria. Aim to change your pillowcase once or twice a week and your bedsheets every one to two weeks. Opt for a gentle detergent that is gentle on the skin and free of harsh chemicals and fragrances that can irritate the skin.

For those prone to acne breakouts, consider investing in pillowcases made from natural fabrics or materials specially designed to combat acne, such as silk or antimicrobial pillowcases. These materials are less likely to absorb skin oils and are gentler on the skin, reducing the chance of irritation and acne. 

7. Stress and Lack of Sleep

a woman having stress and lack of sleep at work

Stress and lack of sleep contribute to acne. Stress increases cortisol, promoting oil production and clogged pores and triggering inflammation, causing acne. Inadequate sleep disrupts skin repair and hormone regulation, leading to increased sebum production and acne.

Try relaxation techniques like meditation, deep breathing, or yoga to manage stress. Physical activity and a balanced diet also help cope with stress.

Improve sleep quality by aiming for 7-9 hours each night. Create a sleep-friendly environment, establish a routine, and limit screen time before bed. Incorporate relaxing activities like reading or taking a bath.

Managing stress and sleep are vital for skin health and overall well-being.

8. Touching the Face Frequently Can Make Acne Worse

Frequently touching your face is yet another habit that may exacerbate acne. Our hands come into contact with numerous surfaces throughout the day, picking up dirt, oils, and bacteria. You unknowingly transfer these impurities to your skin every time you touch your face, potentially clogging pores and aggravating your acne. In particular, if you tend to pick at or squeeze pimples, you’re further spreading bacteria and may cause inflammation, infection, or even acne scars. 

Practising mindful hand hygiene can be a crucial step in managing acne. Regularly washing your hands with soap and water can help minimise the transfer of bacteria and oils to your face. Moreover, becoming aware of how often you touch your face and consciously working to reduce this habit can make a significant difference in your skin’s health. 

Remember, your skin is delicate and deserves to be treated gently. Avoid unnecessary touching, and let your skin breathe and heal naturally. A consistent skincare regime, a balanced healthy diet, and good habits can promote clear, healthy skin.

9. Using Dirty Phone Screens

a woman sticking a mobile phone at her face

Many may need to be aware of the role of dirty phone screens in contributing to acne. Our mobile phones are a constant companion, coming into contact with various surfaces throughout the day and thus becoming a breeding ground for bacteria. When we hold our phones against our faces, these bacteria are transferred onto our skin, potentially clogging pores and leading to more acne breakouts. 

Cleaning your phone screen is a simple yet effective step in managing acne. Wiping your phone screen daily with an antibacterial wipe or a microfibre cloth dampened with a little alcohol can significantly reduce the transfer of bacteria to your face. Using earphones or speaker mode during calls can also help minimise direct contact between your phone and your skin. Remember, a cleaner phone means cleaner skin. 

10. Excessive Exfoliation on Acne Prone Skin

Exfoliation is crucial for skincare, removing dead skin cells and promoting a fresher, brighter complexion. However, excessive exfoliation can harm your skin. It disrupts the protective barrier, making it more vulnerable to damage and infections. Over-exfoliation causes redness, irritation, and dryness, making acne worse. It can also lead to excess oil production and clogged pores.

To maintain healthy skin:

  1. Adopt a balanced and gentle exfoliation routine.

  2. Exfoliate once or twice a week, depending on your skin type.

  3. Use a suitable and gentle exfoliator to remove dead skin cells.

  4. Listen to your skin and adjust your routine accordingly. If you experience irritation, reduce the frequency or switch to a gentler product.

11. Using Harsh Products

Using skincare products with harsh chemicals or excessive alcohol is another habit that can harm your skin, making acne worse. These substances can strip your skin of natural oils, causing it to overcompensate and produce more oil, leading to clogged pores and acne flare-ups. Additionally, such products can cause unnecessary irritation, dryness, and inflammation, further exacerbating acne symptoms.

Using milder, skin-friendly products that maintain the skin’s natural balance is highly advisable. Look for non-comedogenic products that won’t clog your pores and are free from alcohol and harsh chemicals. Ingredients such as salicylic acid, niacinamide, and tea tree oil are known for their acne-fighting properties and are gentle on the skin. Always patch-test new products and introduce them gradually into your routine to minimise potential reactions. 

12. Not Moisturising

a woman apply acne medication and dehydrated skin procedures

Contrary to the common misconception, oily skin needs as much hydration as any other skin type. Not moisturising, even if your skin is oily, can cause your skin to overcompensate for the lack of moisture by producing more oil, which could result in clogged pores and acne breakouts. 

Furthermore, many acne treatments can dry out the skin, and moisturisers help restore the necessary hydration. It’s crucial to use a non-comedogenic moisturiser designed not to clog skin pores. Such moisturisers hydrate your skin without contributing to acne and ensure your skin’s protective barrier remains intact, reducing the likelihood of inflammation and breakouts. Proper skin hydration is key to acne prevention and overall skin health.

13. Neglecting Hygiene in Workout Gear

Failing to maintain hygiene in workout gear is a common habit that can contribute to body acne. Sweat-soaked workout clothes can create a warm and moist environment, perfect for acne-causing bacteria to multiply. This, combined with the friction from tight-fitting gym clothes, can lead to the clogging of pores and subsequent acne breakouts. 

Proper hygiene practices for workout gear and the body are essential in managing and preventing acne. Always change out of your sweaty clothes as soon as possible after a workout, and cleanse your skin to remove any sweat and bacteria. Regularly clean your workout gear after each use, and consider using a mild, fragrance-free detergent to avoid skin irritation. Opt for breathable, moisture-wicking fabrics for your workout clothes to help reduce sweat build-up. Keeping your skin and workout gear clean can help keep acne at bay.

14. Ignoring Environmental Factors

environmental pollution and industry exterior

Environmental factors such as pollution and humidity can significantly impact your skin health and develop acne. High pollutants can clog your pores, which contributes a lot to causing acne breakouts. Additionally, these pollutants can cause oxidative stress, accelerating the ageing process and damaging your skin’s overall health. Humidity, however, can increase oil production in your skin, leading to clogged pores and acne. 

To protect your skin from these environmental stressors, adopt a skincare regime that includes cleansing, toning, and moisturising. Cleansing your skin effectively removes dirt, oil, and pollutants that have accumulated on your skin throughout the day. A toner can help restore your skin’s pH balance after cleansing and remove residual impurities. Moisturising helps hydrate your skin and strengthen your skin’s protective barrier, which can help combat the harmful effects of pollutants.

Incorporating antioxidants into your skincare can also be beneficial. Antioxidants like vitamins C and E and green tea can neutralise the harmful effects of oxidative stress caused by pollution. Using sunscreen is another crucial step in your skincare regimen. UV rays can exacerbate the harmful effects of pollutants and accelerate skin ageing. Therefore, using sunscreen daily, even on cloudy days, is essential to protect your skin from UV damage.

Oil-free, non-comedogenic skincare products can help prevent clogged pores when managing humidity. A lightweight, gel-based moisturiser can help hydrate your skin without making it feel too greasy. It’s also important to cleanse your skin regularly in high-humidity conditions to prevent excess oil accumulation.

Remember, while you may not control the environmental conditions, you can control how you protect your skin from these factors.

15. Ignoring Professional Advice

Ignoring professional advice can harm your skin health, especially when managing a persistent issue like acne. Dermatologists and skincare professionals possess the knowledge and expertise to accurately diagnose your skin conditions, recommend suitable treatments, and guide you towards effective, personalised skincare routines. They can help you understand your skin type, its unique needs, and the root causes of your acne. This in-depth understanding can empower you to make informed decisions about your skincare, leading to more effective acne management and overall skin health.

For those struggling with acne, seeking help from a professional can be the key to achieving clear skin. One such trusted place is the Sozo Clinic. Known for its evidence-based and highly personalised approach to skincare, Sozo Clinic offers a range of treatments tailored to individual needs. Their team of certified professionals will provide a thorough skin analysis, followed by a customised acne treatment plan focusing on your specific skincare concerns and goals. They are dedicated to ensuring optimal results in a safe, comfortable environment. By choosing Sozo Clinic, you’re not just treating your acne but investing in your skin’s long-term health and beauty.


Managing acne is not merely about a spot acne treatment or temporary solution. It’s a holistic process that involves understanding your skin and its needs, adopting suitable skincare routines, maintaining hygiene, being mindful of environmental factors, taking acne medication evenly, and seeking professional advice when needed. Comprehensive skincare practices like these can help prevent and manage acne and promote overall skin health. 

Remember that although there isn’t a universal remedy for acne, consistent dedication, patience, and proper guidance can lead to clearer and healthier skin. It’s always possible to begin prioritising your skin’s well-being; even the smallest adjustments can yield significant results.


Medical Director

After graduating from the National University of Singapore, Dr Boey’s journey in aesthetics brought him to esteemed institutions such as Harvard Medical School, American Academy of Aesthetic Medicine and Queen Mary University of London in diverse cities like Seoul, London, Boston and New York.