5 Unexpected Ways You're Causing Breakouts

by Amber McKinnon

Breakouts and blemishes affect most of us at some time or another. Between stress, genetics, and hormones, there are some breakouts you just can’t help. But then there are things we do each day that are causing many of our breakouts, and we don’t even realize it. Here are five unexpected ways you're causing breakouts and what you can do to fix them.

1. Your cell phone is filthy. (No, seriously, it is.)
Day in and day out we use our phones to text, tweet, and take pics for the ‘Gram. We often fail to realize that our hands are depositing germs and bacteria onto our phones and its screen. So every time you put your phone to your face to make a call, those germs and bacteria have now hopped their way onto your face. Bacteria can then go deep into pores, causing pimples, so it’s important to disinfect your phone regularly.

Pour a sparing amount (you don’t want to damage your phone) of isopropyl alcohol onto a soft cloth or cotton pad and wipe the screen, back and sides of your phone or phone case clean. If your phone doesn’t have a screen protector on it, take extra care not to get the screen too wet. (You can also check your phone’s manual for any specifics on cleaning or moisture.) Make sure no liquid gets into any of the phone’s openings (speakers, headphone, charger, etc). Remember: the goal isn’t to soak your phone in alcohol, but to lightly wipe it down. You’ll be surprised to see the dirt that comes off on that cloth!

Bonus Tip: The same applies to the phone you use at work. Regularly wipe it down with alcohol or disinfectant wipes or spray.

2. You’re not changing your pillowcases often enough.
Every night that you lie down on your pillow to get some beauty sleep, dirt and oils are being transferred onto your pillowcase from your skin and hair. If that weren’t enough, your pillowcases are also picking up dirt from the environment. Obviously, this isn’t helpful for keeping skin breakout-free, but it can easily be remedied by regularly changing your pillowcases.

Change your pillowcases once per week, but if you’re consistently suffering from breakouts, you may want to bump it up to two or three times per week. Also, be mindful of the laundry detergent and fabric softener you use, as they can leave behind a film on your sheets. You may need to try a different brand or opt for a fragrance-free, dye-free version.

Bonus Tip: Every time you buy a new set of sheets, also purchase an extra pack of the matching pillowcases. They usually come in sets of two, and tend to be inexpensive. If you’re not in the market for a brand new set of bed linens, just pick up a pack or two of pillowcases at Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, etc. That way you’ll always have extras on hand. Hit up those January White Sales!

3. You’re using your bath towel on your face.
If you’re using the same bath towel on your face that you use on your body and/or hands, you’re headed for trouble, girl! Yes, I know you just took a shower or just washed your hands, which means that both you and your towel are both clean. However, there’s still less-than-desirable germs and microscopic debris living on your towels.

Unless you change your hand towel after every single use, or at minimum every single day, there’s bacteria lurking on your towel from every hand that’s touched it. Lord help you – and your towel – if you flush without closing the lid. Those rich, hydrating body washes and hair conditioners we use are great for our body and hair… but we don’t necessarily want them on our face. Ever notice how after bathing, your towel smells like your body wash or shampoo? That’s your product leaving a film on your towel.

You can avoid all of this by having towels that are dedicated to face use only. Keep a set of washcloths or hand towels on hand that are strictly for your face. Be sure to change them regularly, or you’ll defeat the whole purpose of having them. These towels don’t have to be fancy, so keep it simple… and cheap. I typically buy the store-brand packs of 8 or 10 towels for $5 in Target, but most stores have similar deals.

Bonus Tip: If you use washcloths to wash your face or remove your makeup, you not only need face-only washcloths, but you need to change them daily. That’s right. One wash then toss it in the hamper!

4. You touch your face.

I hate to keep harping on germs being on your hands but, uh, there are germs on your hands. As soon as you’re done washing your hands fabulously clean, you’re back out in a world that’s covered in germs. Your car door handle, your debit or credit card, the file folders and meeting handouts at work or school—they’re all covered in bacteria. Obviously, we wash our hands multiple times a day, but unless you become a complete germaphobe and wear gloves around the clock, there’s no way to avoid bacteria completely. So what’s a girl to do? It’s simple: Stop. Touching. Your. Face. We tend to underestimate how often we touch our faces throughout the day, so here’s a little test for you. Spend a day or two counting the number of time you touch your face and you’ll realize just how often you’re doing it. After that, stop touching your face.

Bonus Tip: Wash your hands before you wash your face. There’s no point in washing your face if you're doing it with hands that are less than clean. Also, make sure your hands are clean before applying any products to your face or dipping your fingers into any products that are in jars (germs will stay in the jar). Bust a sud first and your face will thank you!

5. You Aren’t Washing Your Makeup Brushes
There are two reasons why you need to wash your brushes. First, every time you use a brush, you transfer the oils and dirt that are on your face onto the brush. Every day you use those same brushes you add more oil and more dirt. Plus, every time you dip those dirty brushes into your makeup, you spread those same bacteria onto your makeup. This creates an ugly cycle of bacteria spreading back and forth between your brushes and your makeup, both of which end up on your face. Secondly, using and reusing dirty brushes affects your makeup application. You’ll never get a true color or formula application if your brushes are covered in whatever makeup you wore yesterday. At minimum, wash your brush once a week, particularly if you're really blemish prone. If you really can't do it once a week and you wear very little makeup (and your breakouts are occasional), you might be able to get away with once every two weeks.

Bonus Tip: You don’t need expensive brush wash. Dawn dish soap and baby shampoo are popular brush cleaners, but my favorites are vegetable based soaps like Dr. Bronner’s Liquid Soap or Whole Foods’ W 365 Vegetable Glycerin Bar Soap. A bottle of Dr. Bronner’s lasts for ages and Whole Foods store brand soap is less than $2 a bar. I use the unscented versions of both brands. You can also use an antibacterial brush spray with a paper towel or cloth to keep brushes clean between washes.

Have you figured out how to keep your skin clean and clear? Share your tips with us in the comments!

Photo: Shutterstock

Amber A. McKinnon is a beauty and lifestyle blogger. Visit her website at

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