The Independent Pharmacy

Face Mapping: Determining The Causes Of Acne On Parts Of The Face

Donald Grant
Dr Donald GrantMB ChB DRCOG MRCGP Dip.orth.medGP & Clinical Advisor

Reviewed on 6 Nov 2023

Acne, sometimes referred to as acne vulgaris, is a common skin challenge many of us face, often starting in puberty but sometimes continuing or even beginning later in life. If you're experiencing this, please know you're not alone. Acne spots and breakouts can appear almost anywhere on the body (though they are more commonly found on the face, back and chest). But did you know that you can determine the cause of acne based on where you find it?

This is sometimes known as ‘face mapping'.

In this guide, we'll be taking a closer look at face mapping and determining the causes of acne based on where it is found on the face. Not only will this help you understand why your flare-ups are happening in the first place, but it will also help you treat existing acne and prevent flare-ups from happening or worsening in the future.

For more information on acne, you can visit our in-depth acne guides or visit our acne treatments page to view the acne medication available at The Independent Pharmacy.

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What Is Face Mapping?

Face mapping comes from ancient Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine. The traditional method links specific locations of acne on the face to health issues affecting organs or systems elsewhere in the body. However, while these traditions may offer insights, modern dermatology may not always support these beliefs.

There is little scientific evidence to support the theory that health issues with organs in the body relate to where acne breaks out on the face. However, some research does suggest that specific factors can relate to acne on certain areas of the face.

As we've mentioned before in our acne FAQs article, the precise location of spots and pimples on your face can sometimes shed some light on what's causing the problem in the first place. By observing where flare-ups happen most, we can get some idea of what is causing these acne breakouts — and how to treat them.

Acne Location Chart

There are various factors that might contribute to breakouts. It's important to remember that everyone's skin is unique, and what affects one person might not affect another. It's all about finding what's true for you.

Whether it's related to hormones, hygiene, genetics, allergies, or beauty products, there are all sorts of reasons why you may be experiencing acne on your face.

This is where face mapping is useful. We've created the acne location chart below to help you identify some of the most common acne-causing culprits linked to different areas of the face.

Find out what acne means on different parts of your face here:

Acne zones

Lifestyle habits

Internal factors

External factors

Recommendations

Brow & forehead acne

Dehydration

Poor sleep

Too much sugar

Stress and worry

Digestive problems

Liver or intestinal issues

Lactose intolerance

Dirty hats or caps

Hair products

Food allergies

Keep your hair clean and off your skin

Use lighter shampoos

Use gentle cleansers rather than harsh products

Spots on cheeks

Poor sleep

Too much sugar

Smoking

Stress and worry

Digestive problems

Liver or intestinal issues

Dirty hats or caps

Hair products

Dirty pillowcases

Dirty makeup brushes

Dirty phone

Regularly wash pillow cases & make-up brushes

Wipe-clean your phone

Wash your face before bed

Reduce sugar in your diet

Stop smoking

Spots around nose

Too much meat and sugar

Too much makeup

Respiratory problems

Allergies

Stress and worry

Digestive problems

Reduce meat in your diet

Take make-up off before bed

Choose makeup for sensitive skin

Avoid oil-based products

Spots on mouth

Respiratory problems

Allergies

Stress and worry

Digestive problems

Dirty makeup brushes

Dirty phone

Regularly wash pillow cases & make-up brushes

Wipe-clean your phone

Spots on chin & jaw

Hormonal changes

Respiratory problems

Allergies

Stress and worry

Digestive problems

Dirty pillowcases

Dirty makeup brushes

Dirty phone

Stick to a balanced diet - more fruits & veg, less dairy

Regularly wash pillow cases & make-up brushes

Wipe-clean your phone

As you can see from the face mapping and acne location chart above, there are some specific causes of acne in certain areas of the face.

However, there is a clear crossover between the underlying causes of acne, regardless of whether it appears on the face. Similar issues such as stress, hormones, poor hygiene, digestive problems and allergies can be causes of acne in all areas of the body.

It is worth looking at these underlying causes in more detail, regardless of where the acne is present, to identify the root of the problem so that you can improve your skin and prevent future acne flare-ups.

Brow & Forehead Acne

Acne affecting the brow and forehead is often indicative of digestive issues or high levels of stress. Irregular sleep patterns can also lead to increased acne in this area.

The brow and forehead are prone to acne breakouts due to the concentration of oil glands in this region. When the body is under stress, there is an increase in stress hormones which stimulate oil production. This excess oil mixes with dead skin cells and clogs pores, resulting in acne.

Digestive problems like lactose intolerance can cause inflammation, impacting acne on the forehead. An unhealthy gut biome disturbs hormone balance, increasing oil production. Getting sufficient fibre, probiotics, omega-3s and hydration supports gut and skin health.

Lack of sleep is another culprit, as overnight is when the skin renews itself. Insufficient sleep leads to increased cortisol (a stress hormone) and compromised skin cell repair. Aim for 7-9 hours per night, maintaining a consistent sleep schedule. Blue light exposure before bed can disrupt circadian rhythms, worsening acne.

To treat brow and forehead acne, use a gentle cleanser containing salicylic acid to unclog pores without drying the skin. Spot treatments with benzoyl peroxide can target existing breakouts. Stay hydrated, reduce sugar and processed foods, and manage stress through exercise, meditation or breathing exercises. See a doctor if acne persists despite lifestyle changes.

Spots on Cheeks

Spots on the cheeks are often caused by external factors like dirty phone screens, pillowcases, hats and hair products. Allergies and respiratory issues can also trigger cheek acne.

The delicate skin on the cheeks is vulnerable to irritation from outside sources. Grease, dirt and bacteria accumulate on frequently used items like phones, pillows and hats. When this debris comes into contact with the skin, it can clog pores and instigate breakouts.

To clear acne from the cheeks, be diligent about washing pillowcases weekly and wiping down phones regularly. Use oil-free hair products and avoid letting hair touch the cheeks. Cleanse skin morning and night, and use acne spot treatments containing salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. An oral antibiotic may be prescribed for severe inflammatory acne on the cheeks. With diligent hygiene and care for the skin, cheek acne can be minimised.

Spots Around Nose

Spots around the nose are often linked to high sugar or dairy intake, overuse of cosmetics, and respiratory allergies or infections. The creases around the nose trap dirt and bacteria, leading to clogged pores.

This area is prone to acne because it contains a high concentration of oil glands. An excess of sugar and dairy products in the diet can negatively impact hormonal balance, increasing sebum (a sticky, oily substance your body produces to keep your skin moisturised) production from these glands. The delicate skin around the nose is also sensitive to heavy makeup and skin care products, becoming clogged and irritated.

Other medical conditions affecting the nose and sinuses, such as allergies (allergic rhinitis) or inflammation of the sinuses (sinusitis), cause inflammation in the nearby nasal region. Congestion and mucus overstimulate oil glands, while nose blowing can spread bacteria. Managing allergies, avoiding irritants, and proper nose hygiene help clear acne around the nostrils.

Gently exfoliate to lift dirt from creases, but avoid scrubbing sensitive areas. Use oil-free, non-comedogenic cosmetics and hydrating cleansers. Spot treatments with salicylic acid can help dry out existing blemishes. Reducing dairy, refined carbs and sugar balances hormones and limits breakouts. With care, makeup and irritants can be minimised to clear acne around the nose.

Spots on Mouth

Spots around the mouth area are often linked to hormonal changes, oral hygiene issues, and contact with irritants like lip balms. The delicate skin is sensitive to inflammation.

Hormonal fluctuations during the menstrual cycle or due to contraceptives can stimulate oil glands around the mouth. Bacteria from the nose and mouth also get trapped along the lip line, causing flare-ups. Lipsticks, balms, and oral hygiene products may contain irritants that clog pores.

To prevent acne around the mouth, avoid oil-based lip products and opt for gentle, fragrance-free formulas. Use a mild cleanser rather than harsh scrubs. Shave carefully to avoid irritation and ingrown hairs. Drink plenty of water, learn how to manage stress, and get sufficient sleep. Salicylic acid spot treatments can help dry out existing blemishes.

For severe or persistent mouth acne, oral antibiotics or hormone-regulating medications may be prescribed. Under a doctor’s care, the underlying cause can be determined and treated. With diligent skin care and attention to triggers, acne around the mouth can be minimised for clearer, healthier skin.

Spots on Chin & Jaw

Pimples on the chin and jawline tend to stem from hormonal changes, birth control pills, stress, and inconsistent facial hygiene. This area is packed with oil glands.

When hormones fluctuate during puberty, menstruation, or menopause, changes in hormone levels can lead to more breakouts along the jaw. Even some birth control methods, like certain pills, can change these hormone levels and result in acne.

High stress levels cause the body to produce more cortisol and androgens (hormones that support growth and reproduction). These hormones increase the production of oil in the skin, clogging pores with this oil called sebum and dead skin. Lack of sufficient sleep further intensifies acne issues. Establishing a consistent cleansing routine can help control flare-ups.

Use acne spot treatments containing benzoyl peroxide or retinoids to target jawline breakouts. Reduce sugar, dairy and refined carbs while increasing fibre intake through whole foods. Incorporate relaxing activities like yoga and meditation to manage stress. See a dermatologist for severe hormonal acne, which may require oral medication or hormone therapy. With a multifaceted approach, acne along the chin and jaw can be cleared.

Your Next Steps With The Independent Pharmacy

Here at The Independent Pharmacy, we offer a wide range of acne treatments, including topical and oral treatments. Start your free online consultation today to find the right acne treatment for you, and get it delivered to your door with same-day dispatch.

Although acne cannot be cured, it can be controlled with treatment. There are lots of different treatments that can help, whether they are over-the-counter medicines to treat mild acne or stronger prescription-only medications. These may be cream, lotion or gels that can help to treat your spots or oral tablets like antibiotics.

Here are some of the acne medications we offer at The Independent Pharmacy:

Speaking to a pharmacist for advice is often a great start — The Independent Pharmacy team is available if you have any queries about acne and how best to treat it.

Remember, everyone's journey with acne is unique. It's okay to seek support, whether it's medical, emotional, or both. Your experience is valid, and there are resources and treatments available to help you.

There are lots of effective acne products that can help — visit our acne treatments page to browse our available treatments.

People Also Ask

How do I identify my acne?

There are several types of acne that can appear on the face or body. Mild acne appears as small, non-inflamed spots called whiteheads or blackheads. Moderate acne shows up as raised, red spots called papules or pustules (which contain pus), which are red, inflamed lesions. Severe acne consists of painful nodules and cysts deep under the skin. Identifying your acne type helps guide treatment.

What are the 4 levels of acne?

The four grades of acne severity are: Grade 1 - Mild (whiteheads, blackheads, papules); Grade 2 - Moderate (many papules and pustules, may have nodules); Grade 3 - Severe (numerous painful nodules and pustules, could have scarring); Grade 4 - Very Severe (mainly cysts and nodules, prone to scarring).

What year is acne the worst?

Acne typically flares up the most during the teenage years, especially ages 14-19. This correlates with pubertal hormonal surges. However, many adults in their 20s to 40s also suffer from acne breakouts. Hormonal changes throughout life can stimulate acne.

Does the location of acne mean anything?

Where acne is located on the face can give clues about the underlying cause. Breakouts along the jawline, chin and lower face are often hormonal. Acne on the cheeks and around the mouth may stem from external irritants. Forehead acne can signal digestive issues. But location is not definitive.

How do I know if my acne is bacterial or hormonal?

Bacterial acne consists of inflamed papules and pustules, tends to be asymmetrical, and improves with antibiotics. Hormonal acne manifests along the jawline and lower face, worsens around the menstrual cycle, and resists antibiotics. A dermatologist can help determine the type.

How do I know if my acne is hormonal or stress?

Hormonal acne flares up cyclically and is concentrated along the lower face/jawline. Stress acne occurs more randomly, may worsen with lifestyle factors, and is not solely along the jaw. Keeping a symptoms journal can help identify triggers. Blood tests can check for hormonal imbalances.

Resources:

A Review of Advancement on Influencing Factors of Acne: An Emphasis on Environment Characteristics - PMC (nih.gov)

Acne: more than skin deep - PMC (nih.gov)

Insomnia - NHS (www.nhs.uk)

Which birth control pills can help reduce acne? - InformedHealth.org - NCBI Bookshelf (nih.gov)

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