Acne face mapping: What your skin is trying to tell you

Where you experience breakouts could be a clue into not only what’s causing your acne but also how to treat it.

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Curology Team
Oct 21, 2021 · 6 min read

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We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.
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Figuring out what causes acne can be tough, and helping to prevent breakouts can feel like detective work. If your blemishes are specific to one spot, you may be able to identify what could be causing your acne. And if you know what’s causing it, you’re one step closer to knowing how to help prevent it in the future.

What is face mapping?

Think of your face as a map and the areas of your face that are more prone to breakouts as the starting points of a treasure hunt (for clearer skin!). While many factors can lead to acne breakouts, the location on your face can be a revealing clue. Face mapping, as a concept, can be key to help identify the specific cause of your acne.

Woman's imperfect skin through magnifying glass

Acne breakouts on your face, in the same place

There are a few possible reasons why pimples would pop up in the same place repeatedly. Acne can come back in the same spot due to certain habits, such as resting your chin in your hand while you’re reading or working on your computer, touching your phone to your face when you’re making a call, or putting certain makeup or skincare products on the same area on a regular basis. 

Picking or squeezing your pimples may also cause worsening breakouts in that area. Why? Well, when you pop, you can push the contents of the pimple deeper into the skin. This can lead to more noticeable and painful acne.¹

Infographic Illustration of an acne Face Map

Jawline and chin acne

Pimples popping up on your lower cheek, jawline, and chin could be a “hormonal pattern.”² Common factors that can lead to hormonal acne include: 

  • the skin’s oil glands overreacting to normal hormones³

  • stress⁴  

  • the (perfectly normal) fluctuations that happen during menstrual cycles⁵

  • hormonal imbalance due to conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)⁶

Neck acne

Similar to jawline and chin breakouts, acne on your neck can be caused by your skin’s oil glands reacting to hormone fluctuations.⁷

Ways to help prevent breakouts along your collar include minimizing or preventing contact with anything that causes heat and friction like: 

  • tight-fitting clothing

  • athletic equipment

  • backpacks

These can lead to increased sweating and clogged pores, which, in turn, can result in acne. You can generally treat neck acne like the acne on your face to help clear it up and prevent future breakouts.

It also helps to read up on what can cause acne, including what foods and other factors may lead to an acne-triggering reaction, and how to treat it

Many different things can lead to or worsen breakouts, such as hormones, diet, genetics, or stress, to name a few.⁸

Nose acne and blackheads

Blackheads are small clogged pores (aka open comedones) that turn black because the trapped oil and skin cells are exposed to the air.⁹ People often notice blackheads on oily areas (such as the T-zone!), though this isn’t always the case. 

Since your nose might get oilier than other parts of your face, you might not need to apply moisturizer as much there. 

Acne on cheeks

Our cheeks are one of the more common places to break out, and this can happen for a variety of reasons: touching your face, friction or sweat and product buildup from the pillow you sleep on, sleeping on your hand, or wearing certain makeup products to name a few. There may not be a single specific reason you can pinpoint for cheek acne—in fact, it’s likely a variety of reasons (bummer, we know)!

To help prevent cheek acne, try these tips:

  1. Wipe down your cell phone

  2. Clean your makeup brushes more often 

  3. Wash your pillowcases regularly

Pimples on forehead

Forehead pimples can be caused by certain ingredients in hair care products, shampoos, and conditioners, so if you’re breaking out there, check for pore-clogging ingredients such as sodium lauryl sulfate and isopropyl palmitate.¹⁰

Another possible cause of forehead bumps is pityrosporum, a type of fungus. Fungal acne from pityrosporum is easy to confuse with regular acne,¹¹ so if you’re unsure, consulting with your medical provider is never a bad idea.  Another easy way to help prevent breakouts on your forehead? Keep your hands off of it! If you’re prone to blemishes above your brow, try to catch yourself in the act before you facepalm.

Young man with acne problem and magnifier on light background

Pimples around your mouth

If you’re often breaking out around your mouth, check your toothpaste for sodium lauryl sulfate or sodium Laureth sulfate. Some people break out more when their skin comes into contact with toothpaste foam because it’s made with these potentially irritating ingredients.¹² 

If you’re breaking out around your lips, try switching to an SLS-free and fluoride-free toothpaste for a couple of months—it might make a difference! Check out brands such as Tom’s of Maine, Sensodyne, and Jason Natural Cosmetics for SLS-free toothpaste options.

What are the different types of breakouts?

Identifying your types of pimples is another solid game plan for effectively treating acne. Combining that with face mapping clues puts you one step closer to saying goodbye to blemishes. Here are some different types of acne:

  • Whiteheads: Small clogged pores that look like a small white bump because of trapped oil and dead skin cells

  • Blackheads: Small clogged pores that turn black because the trapped oil and dead skin cells are exposed to the air

  • Papules: Tender bumps with redness and swelling caused by inflammation, usually less than 5mm in size

  • Pustules: Large, inflamed pimples that might look like a big whitehead 

  • Nodules: Large, firm, reddish lumps without pus that extend deeper than a papule and are often painful 

  • Cysts: Large, soft, under-the-skin pimples that go deep under the skin’s surface and may feel swollen and tender

  • Fungal acne: Typically presents as small, uniform bumps that tend to spread across a central area—especially on the forehead, jaw, chest, or back.

Extra tips to help prevent acne

With face mapping and understanding what type of acne you have, you are armed with the knowledge to tackle your breakouts. When it comes to your skincare products, you can look for a few specific ingredients that can fight your acne. Here are a few ingredients to help keep blemishes away.

  1. Salicylic acid. This acne-fighting ingredient has been shown to reduce acne lesions.¹³ Many cleansers will contain this ingredient, making it easy to work into your routine.

  2. Benzoyl peroxide. This ingredient is another common acne treatment that is often used to treat breakouts.¹⁴

  3. Oral prescriptions. One way to treat acne is through oral prescription medications like spironolactone, isotretinoin, and hormonal birth control.¹⁵ You would have to see a medical professional to be prescribed these acne treatments if they are the right fit for you.

  4. Retinoids. Retinoids like tretinoin are another common acne treatment because they fight existing breakouts and help keep your pores clear.¹⁶

  5. Topical antibiotics. Topical antibiotics like clindamycin are used to treat acne by fighting bacteria that contribute to acne and reducing inflammation.¹⁷

Diligently dedicating yourself to a daily skincare routine is crucial to allowing your skin time to benefit from the products. That said, if you don’t see instant results, don’t give up! Think of applying your moisturizer, serums, and SPF as some indulgent self-care to take charge of your skin health.

Help treat acne with Curology

Seem like a lot to take in? If so, we get it. For being a four-letter word, acne is anything but a simple matter. At Curology, we’re all about empowering you with information when it comes to your skin, and if you want to take some of the hard work out of it, we’re here to help.

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

Subject to consultation. 30-day trial. Just cover $4.95 in S&H.
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Curology was founded by dermatologists to make prescription-grade skincare more accessible. All of our products are non-comedogenic, too. So whatever the cause of your acne and whether you have dry, oily, or sensitive skin, your custom Curology formula is made to help you clear it all up.

You can get your first 30 days of Curology for free—just pay $4.95 to cover the cost of shipping and handling.

FAQs

What is face mapping?

Think of your face as a map and the areas of your face that are more prone to breakouts as the starting points of a treasure hunt (for clearer skin!). Face mapping, as a concept, can be key to help identify the specific cause of your acne.

What are the different types of breakouts?

Here are some different types of acne:

  • Whiteheads: Small clogged pores that look like a small white bump

  • Blackheads: Small clogged pores that turn black

  • Papules: Tender bumps with redness and swelling

  • Pustules: Large, inflamed pimples

  • Nodules: Large, firm, reddish lumps without pus

  • Cysts: Large, soft, under-the-skin pimples

  • Fungal acne: Small, uniform bumps that tend to spread across a central area

P.S. we did the research so you don’t have to:

  1. American Academy of Dermatology. Pimple popping: Why only a dermatologist should do it. (n.d.).

  2. Elsaie M. L.  Hormonal treatment of acne vulgaris: an update.Clinical, cosmetic and investigational dermatology. (2016, September 2).

  3. Cleveland Clinic. Hormonal Acne. (2021).

  4. Cleveland Clinic, Hormonal Acne. Ibid.

  5. Cleveland Clinic, Hormonal Acne. Ibid.

  6. Elsaie M. L.  Hormonal treatment of acne vulgaris: an update. Ibid.

  7. Cleveland Clinic, Hormonal Acne, Ibid.

  8. Zaenglein, A. L., et al. Guidelines of care for the management of acne vulgaris. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (2016).

  9. Cleveland Clinic.Blackheads.(2021, November 21).

  10. Fulton J. E. Comedogenicity of current therapeutic products, cosmetics, and ingredients in the rabbit ear. Clinical Review. (January 1984).

  11. Rubenstein, Richard M, and Sarah A Malerich. Malassezia (pityrosporum) folliculitis. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology. (March 2014).

  12. Branco, N., et al., Long-term repetitive sodium lauryl sulfate-induced irritation of the skin: an in vivo study.Contact dermatitis, (2005).

  13. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, A double-blind, placebo-controlled evaluation of a 2% salicylic acid cleanser for improvement of acne vulgaris, (2013).

  14. Zaenglein, A. L., et al. Guidelines of care for the management of acne vulgaris. Ibid.

  15. Zaenglein, A. L., et al. Guidelines of care for the management of acne vulgaris. Ibid.

  16. Leyden, James et al. Why Topical Retinoids Are Mainstay of Therapy for Acne. Dermatology and therapy (September 2017).

  17. Zaenglein. A. L., et al. Guidelines of care for the management of acne vulgaris. Ibid.

This article was originally published on October 21, 2021, and updated on May 5, 2022.

*Subject to consultation. Subscription is required. Trial is 30 days + $4.95 shipping and handling. Results may vary. 

 

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Our policy on product links:Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Nicole Hangsterfer Avatar

Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C

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