Rodan + Fields / Blog / Pro Tips

Why Am I Breaking Out? 6 Unexpected Reasons for Acne Breakouts

Are you breaking out and can’t figure out why? It might be due to one of these unexpected reasons!

Girl looking in mirror at acne blemishes

Breakouts…they’re the worst. No matter if you’re in your preteens, teenage years or living your adult life, breakouts can happen. So, how can you narrow down the culprits? What exactly is causing your breakouts and how can you treat and prevent them? Read on to learn about surprising reasons you could be breaking out, and some simple solutions to get back to glowing skin.                                                                

What are breakouts?

Breakouts are hair follicles (also known as pores) that have been filled with excess sebum (oil), dead skin cells or bacteria. Breakouts usually occur in areas where skin has the most oil glands or places where dirt or dead skin cells can build up, such as on your face where you hold your cell phone. Breakouts can appear pretty much anywhere on the body, including your chest, face, back and shoulders, and are usually accompanied by redness and inflammation.

What Causes Breakouts?

The American Academy of Dermatology (also known as AAD), says acne is the most common skin condition in the United States. Acne can often be a debilitating skin condition, having a big impact on confidence with teens and adults alike

Many factors can contribute to a breakout, with the most common being hormones, diet, stress and genetics. Having good hygiene, healthy habits and attention to potential allergies is important from an early age to get ahead of breakouts. When pores are clogged or a reaction happens underneath the skin from an irritant or allergy, there is an inflammatory response, also known as acne or a pimple. A damaged skin barrier could also be the culprit.

6 unexpected reasons your face is breaking out

We’ve all been there. We complete our usual nighttime skincare routine, which we swear is helping (not hurting) our skin, only to wake up and find a breakout.  “What happened? Why am I breaking out?” Reasons for breaking out can vary, but here are some of the most common ones.


Asking family members about their experience with acne and breakouts is always a good place to start. Uncovering their journey can help you understand any genetic patterns and sensitivities that may apply to your skin and lifestyle.


Food and beverage items that contain dairy are a very common culprit for breakouts. Sugar is also known to “feeds” bacteria and comedones (clogged pores).  Seaweed and kelp trigger breakouts for some folks. Every body is different. We highly recommend keeping a food journal to reference what went into your body the days and weeks leading up to your breakouts and begin to make those connections. Just like dehydration shows up on the skin, so do food sensitivities.  


If you see your face breaking out in little bumps, it could be an allergic reaction to food, skincare, or other products. Start to take note of everything that goes into your body or onto your skin. This includes laundry detergent that you wash your clothes and towels with, clothing (and shoe!) fabrics, food, beverages, supplements, hair care products, medications, and topical products such as sunscreen or lotion. As mentioned, keeping a food journal can help narrow down the potential issue.


When you are stressed, it can lead to poor sleep, poor eating habits and disregard for your usual skincare routine. Environmental factors such as pollution, UV rays and weather also affect the skin. A stressed mind and body means stressed skin, so managing stress in healthy ways helps keep your skin clear and happy.


Fluctuating hormones can trigger breakouts. For example, women may notice that they break out once a month during a certain point in their menstrual cycle. It also happens during puberty or pregnancy. When progesterone and estrogen levels fluctuate, it causes sebaceous (oil) glands to create more sebum, which can lead to clogged pores and breakouts.

Clearing Up

A positive reason to be breaking out? Your pores and skin are on their way to clearing up! When you identify skin stressors and switch your diet or eliminate other issues causing breakouts, pores begin to purge and renew. It can be hard to tell the difference if a change you’ve made is working, especially if it’s causing your skin and pores to purge. Consult with your dermatologist to determine pore purging vs. breaking out.

How to Stop Breakouts?

Breakouts can be prevented and treated using products and making lifestyle changes. Here are some pro tips for general skincare tips and acne treatments

Breakout-Friendly Products

Prevent breakouts with clean, noncomedogenic skincare products. Clean beauty is a buzz in the industry right now, and some stores have a section available for shoppers with sensitive and breakout-prone skin. There are also breakout-friendly products that are recommended particularly during breakouts to help not exacerbate the breakouts and help prevent scarring or dark marks. For example, sensitive or acne-prone skin can enjoy benefits of niacinamide, a nutrient that protects skin against environmental stressors while helping build up proteins in the skin.

Lifestyle Changes

Lifestyle changes can absolutely help with breakouts, you just have to stick with them to see and feel the benefits. Washing your face more or less, implementing the right diet changes, and washing your pillowcases often are all easy ways to see rewards on your skin. Keeping a food, skincare and product journal (such as the laundry detergent you are using) can all help uncover lifestyle choices and habits that may be working against your skin.


Now, the next time you want to contact your dermatologist with the loaded “why am I breaking out?”…consider these key points! When it comes to something as personal as breakouts, remember to take it slow and be kind to your skin. It will pay off!