What your acne is telling you about your health

Getting acne on your forehead or chin can be totally embarrassing, no matter how old you are. When you're a teenager, getting acne is basically a rite of passage, but that doesn't mean the skin condition goes away when you get older. In fact, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, "approximately 85 percent of people between the ages of 12 and 24 experience at least minor acne." Acne is totally normal, but that doesn't mean it's not trying to tell you that something else is going on with your body.

There are so many reasons people get breakouts, and that's why it's important to pay attention to what kind of acne you're dealing with and where you're usually breaking out. Getting pimples on your forehead, nose, or even your back can all point to different health concerns. From having dry skin to having more serious conditions like hormonal imbalances, acne can definitely show you other health issues you might not know you're dealing with.

If you get back acne, you should take a closer look at your skin

Getting acne on your back — or anywhere on your body — is actually super common. In order to understand what back acne might be telling you about your health, it's important to know what causes body acne. "Facial and body acne share several similarities, and can both be driven by overactive oil glands, delayed sloughing of dead skin cells and colonization with P acnes bacteria," Dr. Marla Diakow, MD of Schweiger Dermatology Group in Garden City, N.Y., told Well + Good. However, there is a difference between the two. "Acne-like bumps on the body are more often from folliculitis, which is triggered by inflammation of the hair follicles," Diakow said. 

Back acne might point to one of two main issues: super dry skin or oily skin. If your skin is too dry, your oil glands will overproduce oil to compensate for that, causing breakouts. On the other hand, if your skin is oily, body breakouts are inevitable. Either way, if you get acne on your body, make sure you aren't dealing with dry skin, as that can become more of an issue, especially in the winter and during dry months.

Acne on your chin or jawline usually points to a hormonal imbalance

While most people struggled with some kind of acne as a teenager, acne has become more and more common for women in adulthood. "Acne occurring in adults is increasing, affecting up to 15 percent of women," according to the American Academy of Dermatology. That said, women especially struggle with hormonal acne more than men, which usually presents itself on the chin or jawline. If you have breakouts along your jawline or on your chin more than anywhere else, you might have a hormonal imbalance. 

"The hormones that cause this type of acne are fluctuations of estrogen and progesterone, which both vary widely throughout the menstrual cycle month," S. Manjula Jegasothy, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and the founder of Miami Skin Institute, told Self. "In addition, the ratio of each of these hormones to each other can also affect women's testosterone levels, and can also be causative in hormonal acne." If you notice you have this kind of acne, your hormones might be out of whack, so talk to your doctor to learn more about what may be going on in your body. 

Cystic acne could mean you have an intolerance to this food

If you have ever struggled with cystic acne, you know how painful it can be. According to Medical News Today, this kind of acne is "a severe type of acne in which the pores in the skin become blocked, leading to infection and inflammation." Ouch.

Medical News Today noted cystic acne is often due to hormonal changes in puberty, but adults can also experience cystic acne. That said, many people who struggle with cystic acne have found that cutting out dairy has helped their acne heal. "The best way to determine if your acne cysts are directly related to your intake of dairy is to completely cut dairy out of your diet for three weeks," celebrity skincare expert and esthetician Renée Rouleau told Teen Vogue. "If you don't develop any new cysts, then this might solve your problem." So, if you struggle with cystic acne and can't find a solution, your body might be trying to tell you to cut back on dairy products like milk, ice cream, and cheese.

Cystic acne could be telling you to change your diet

All acne is difficult to deal with, but cystic acne is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to treating and understanding. Along with being one of the most painful forms of acne, it can also be embarrassing to deal with. Getting a cystic breakout can mean a huge, red spot on your face for days or even weeks at a time. If you've struggled with cystic breakouts for a long time and you've already eliminated dairy from your diet to no avail, there could be another component of your daily food intake that's causing the breakouts to occur. "The best thing you can do for cystic acne is become mindful of what you are doing to cause it, including, lack of sleep, [too much] sugar and caffeine," founder of Joanna Vargas Salons and Skincare Collection and celebrity facialist Joanna Vargas told Teen Vogue

As much as it sucks, it's true that sugar or caffeine might just be triggering your cystic acne. In other words, it might be time to break up with Starbucks

Cystic acne could be pointing to a larger issue for women

Cystic acne could be a sign that something isn't right with your body, and, for women who have cystic acne, a larger culprit might be responsible. Speaking to InStyle about what cystic acne might mean, dermatologist Dr. Melanie Palm explained, "This can be caused by excess androgen sources or hormonal imbalances." She continued, "The most common culprit of this is PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), in which women have cystic ovaries, abnormal or heavy periods, hirsutism (hair growth in male pattern such as facial or chest hair), and oftentimes acne." 

PCOS is a relatively common issue, which affects "1 in 10 women of childbearing age," according to WomensHealth.gov. While there is no cure for PCOS, there are many forms of treatment, so if you think cystic acne is your body's way of telling you that you have PCOS, definitely talk to your doctor about it. Plenty of women manage their PCOS every day, but it's still important to seek medical attention. 

Getting blackheads on your cheeks can be a wakeup call

Almost everyone in the world has dealt with a blackhead at some point in their lives. According to Byrdie, most blackheads form on your nose. So if you find yourself seeing more and more blackheads on your cheeks, something else might be going on. In fact, according to one doctor, those annoying little black dots on your cheeks could mean your body is experiencing sun damage. 

"Blackheads on the cheeks, also called open comedones, can be specifically caused by sun damage and smoking as well as by the typical causes of blackheads which include excess sebum production, clogging of pores with oil from moisturizer or makeup," Michael Wiederkehr, MD, contributing medical advisor for Zwivel.com, told Byrdie. If you notice that you're getting blackheads on your cheeks instead of just on your nose, try applying more sunscreen or quit smoking and see if new blackheads stop forming.

Acne like whiteheads usually point to a genetic issue

As opposed to blackheads, whiteheads aren't as common but are still frustrating to deal with. According to Healthline, "A whitehead is a type of acne that forms when dead skin cells, oil, and bacteria become trapped within one of your pores." Whiteheads are especially frustrating to deal with because they seem so visible compared to blackheads. And unfortunately, they aren't so easy to get rid of. 

One study in 2006 discovered that acne, especially whiteheads, were oftentimes caused by genetics and not much else. Healthline explained, "Several studies have found that genetics also play a role in the development of different types of acne, including whiteheads," noting, "If someone in your family suffers from acne, you have a higher risk of developing it too." So, if you struggle with whiteheads and your siblings or parents do, too, it's probably in your genes. 

An acne-prone, oily T-zone could mean digestion issues

A person's T-zone is one of the most common areas in which they break out. Turns out, if you have an oily T-zone or get a lot of breakouts on your forehead, you might be dealing with digestive issues. International Business Times explained, "There is an ancient Chinese practice called 'face reading,' which is based on the idea that you can gain clues about a person's health by simply 'reading' his face. Face reading tells us that forehead skin problems are usually linked to problems in the digestive system." 

Additionally, if you eat a lot of fast food, forehead pimples might be your body's way of telling you that you aren't digesting it that well. "Breaking out on your forehead? Fast food could be the culprit," International Business Times noted. "Too much fatty, greasy foods take a toll on your digestive system as it tends to slow down the digestive process." Forehead pimples are annoying and hard to cover up, but they might mean your digestive system is struggling and you should listen to what your body's telling you.

Non-cystic acne on your cheeks could be hinting at a sanitation issue

Since acne presents itself in many different ways, there are a number of different things about your body and your health that your acne may be indicating. While a pimple on your jawline could mean you have a hormonal imbalance and cystic acne could spell out a lot of different issues, plain, old cheek pimples could mean something less complicated is going on. Specifically, pimples could be due to poor sanitation of your phone and other things that touch your face, all which can be hosts for harmful bacteria. 

"It's not just fecal matter," Healthline reported. "You've probably got traces of E. coli and other bacteria on your phone, too. And anytime you hold your phone to your face, you're spreading that bacteria to your skin, potentially causing more acne. Persistent acne on one side of your faces tends to be due to dirty phones, pillowcases, and other habits like touching your face."

So, if you notice a cheek pimple or two, try sanitizing your phone screen and washing your pillowcases more often. It could make a huge difference. 

Your acne might be a sign to change your haircare habits

Believe it or not, but your skin health can actually be related to your hair health. If you constantly deal with breakouts along your hairline, it's likely that your hair care products are to blame. Think about it: The shampoo and conditioner you use on your hair gets right on your hairline and forehead. Breakouts along those regions aren't uncommon, but they might mean there's an issue with your haircare products. 

"Acne surrounding the hairline on your forehead also shares the name 'pomade acne,'" Healthline explained. "Pomades are in thick, often mineral oil-based hair products. This ingredient keeps the natural oil or sebum in our hair follicles from exiting. That blockage is what creates a pimple." If you continuously struggle with acne on or around your hairline, the products you're using may be causing your skin to break out... or you might not be washing your hair enough. Either way though, breakouts near the top of your forehead mean it's time to examine your haircare routine.

You may be getting acne because you're too stressed

Understandably, stress can cause a lot of health issues, including acne. If you've been worried about a huge project at work or a relationship issue, for example, and you're stressed about it, it could lead to acne. Specifically, stress seems to be a big factor for acne in women. "We do see more acne in adult women than we've ever seen before, and there are theories that stress could be an influence," Dr. Alexa Kimball, a professor of dermatology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, told Time

In fact, Dr. Adam Friedman, an associate professor of dermatology at George Washington University, told Time that a "stress-related hormone called CRH ... can bind to receptors in the skin's sebaceous glands, and that binding drives up the skin's oil production — which can cause pimples." So, if you keep breaking out and just can't understand why, stress might be to blame, so try to relax!

Your acne may be a sign you need to get better sleep

A lack of sleep is another huge cause of acne, as not getting enough rest can have a huge impact on multiple aspects of a person's health. In fact, according to NHS.uk, "regular poor sleep puts you at risk of serious medical conditions, including obesity, heart disease and diabetes — and it shortens your life expectancy." Additionally, there have been links between poor sleep and several health problems, including weight gain and a weakened immune system, according to Healthline

A 2014 study published by the journal Acta Dermato-Venereologica found that there was a link between a lack of sleep and acne. "To our knowledge, this is the first study to show that fatigue upon waking is strongly associated with the presence of acne," the study reported. Getting regular breakouts might just be your body's way of telling you to slow down and rest.

If you're getting acne, menstruation might be around the corner

If acne can mean that a woman has a hormonal imbalance, then it's not surprising that acne can also signal that a woman is about to start menstruation. In fact, getting breakouts before the start of a woman's period is completely normal. "For many women, acne can persist for decades, with flares common a week before menstruation," the Mayo Clinic noted. "This type of acne tends to clear up without treatment in women who use contraceptives." 

Aside from contraceptives, such as the birth control pill, there's not too much that can be done to prevent a breakout before your period, other than taking good care of your skin. "Menstrual-related acne is not a matter of hygiene; it is an internal effect," OB/GYN Elizabeth Gutrecht Lyster told WebMD. "However, women still need to take special care of their skin around their periods in order not to make things worse." Breaking out before your period is totally normal, so don't sweat it.

Gut health has also been linked to acne

If you struggle with acne, you could have an issue with your gut health. According to Well + Good, leaky-gut syndrome, which is "when things leach out of your small intestine into your bloodstream," can cause inflammation on your skin like acne. When you eat certain foods that are known as aggravators, your gut can't handle them, and your skin breaks out. "Aggravators are foods that trigger inflammation in the intestines by an immune or allergic response," nutritionist Charles Passler told Well + Good. "These inflammatory messengers end up in your skin, leading to acne and other skin disturbances. Foods that contain gluten or dairy are often the culprits in this category." 

If you struggle with persistent acne, your body might be trying to tell you that something else is up with your health. Don't hesitate to talk to your health care provider, as clear skin and better health could be just a doctor's visit away.