Despite the overwhelming oasis of skin-care products out there, most of us can agree that blemishes can’t merely be wiped away with a wicked cleanser or killer spot treatment—no matter how convincing the commercial's claim may be. Although most of us will simply attribute acne to clogged pores
or hormonal imbalances
without a second thought, blemishes in certain areas can actually indicate underlying health problems that will only clear up once the problem is resolved.
The alternative medicine practice of examining the location of acne on the face to diagnose health issues is known as face mapping, and it dates back thousands of years to the days of ancient Chinese medicine. Although the technicalities of the method have evolved over time, the core foundation remains the same: by studying where your breakouts lie, you can discover potential health issues inside your body, thus finding a way to nix both the internal and external situation.
We’ve teamed up with Dr. Roshini Raj, certified gastroenterologist and co-founder of TULA, to map out what popular acne zones could be trying to tell you about your health. Keep in mind that face mapping is definitely not an exact science, so don’t assume that having a pimple or two in one of these areas indicates a serious health issue. Still, if chronic acne frequently appears in the same area with no sign of budging, you might want to consider consulting your doctor to examine something beyond Proactiv.
“There are lots of causes to acne, and many people don’t realize that internal factors—from how much you sleep to the air you breathe—can affect your complexion," says Raj. "Great skin comes from taking care of both what you put on your skin and how you take care of your body.”
Poor digestive issues and stress are often the leading causes of breakouts on your forehead. To help flush out toxins and aid digestion, swap caffeinated and overly processed drinks with good ol' H2O. According to Raj, “sleeping at least seven hours a night, drinking plenty of water, and eating a balanced diet can help reduce pimples on your forehead. It can also be caused by topical factors that impact skin health: try to keep hats and hair off of the forehead area so that friction and hair products like conditioner don’t clog your pores.”
Acne near the tops of the cheeks are linked to the respiratory system, so if you are frequently walking in cities or driving with your windows open, you’ll want to take extra care cleansing your face. “Making sure that the air at home is clean can help: get an air purifier or a few air-purifying plants
. You may not realize it, but a lot of things come into contact with your cheeks every day, so cleaning the items around you can help reduce cheek pimples as well,” says Raj. Lower cheek acne usually indicates poor dental hygiene, but surface bacteria is also a big culprit. Be sure to frequently sanitize the items that come in contact with your face on a consistent basis, i.e. your cell phone, makeup brushes, and pillowcase. (Find out exactly how dirty your phone screen is here).
The T-zone refers to the area from between your eyebrows down to your nose and chin. Acne here is often prompted by gastrointestinal imbalances or food allergens. “Some experts recommend reducing dairy, red meat and fast food consumption and eating more leafy vegetables to improve your T-zone complexion,” says Raj. “There are also more oil glands on skin in the T-zone than on the rest of the face, which makes the area more likely to break out. Make sure to cleanse and use skin care which works to unclog pores.” Acne on your nose specifically is linked to the liver and kidney, so a flushed nose or pesky acne could signify high blood pressure or liver dysfunction. Try cutting back on those after-work happy hours and consumption of overly spicy dishes. (Sorry, Sriracha fans).
Chin acne indicates the biggest blemish instigator we know all too well: hormonal imbalance. Raj recommends, “Try a regular sleep schedule and healthy diet, but if you continue having chin acne, consult your dermatologist and gynecologist and see if birth control or spironolactone could help.” Drinking spearmint tea and taking Omega-3 supplements are good options for assuaging capricious hormones. In addition, make sure you aren’t resting your chin on your hands or touching the skin more than necessary.
Back, Arms, and Thighs
Hormonal fluctuations and genetics are often the root cause of acne on the back, arms, and thighs, so controlling acne here can be particularly tricky. In addition, damp fabric from sweat rubbing against the skin can irritate and generate breakouts. According to Raj, “Reduce pressure from carrying a backpack or purse, which can cause friction that causes acne. Wear clothes that are clean and not too tight. Evaluate shower gels and soaps, body lotions, laundry detergent, and sunscreen for pore-clogging ingredients like natural oils.” (Check here for our list of essential natural oils for acne).
Cotton clothes should always be inspected for seams that can incite irritation, as well as hidden embroidery or labels. If acne still remains, consider switching to different fibers; cotton can actually absorb irritating chemicals from its production and cause breakouts in people with sensitive skin. Leg and arm acne is also frequently confused with rashes, rosacea, or folliculitis, so contact a doctor if the problem persists.