Chin acne is the worst, and it usually involves big, painful pimples that continue to pop up again and again. They can creep along the jawline and multiply seemingly overnight. (And you're not alone: Celebs from Miley Cyrus to Demi Lovato have talked publicly about dealing with breakouts.)
Chin acne is usually caused by hormones, which might make it seem like the problem is out of your control. Or is it? It turns out that educating yourself and taking the right steps toward a skincare routine specifically targeted to chin acne can go a long way. We talked to board-certified dermatologists and leading skincare experts to help us understand what causes chin acne, how to treat it, and how to prevent it.
Chin Acne Causes
Hormones are typically behind cystic acne along the chin and jawline. When hormone levels surge, so does the production of sebum. Sebum is an oil, and that is what's causing the hormonal acne on your chin. Hormone production is in overdrive for teens, which is why teens are more susceptible to this type of acne. It's also common for women of all ages to have acne flare-ups throughout the month due to their menstrual cycle (and the hormonal fluctuations that come along with that).
"Women tend to break out on the lower third of the face, especially the jawline and chin, but the neck may also be involved," says Dr. Joshua Zeichner, the director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Medical Center. "This pattern, which I affectionately refer to as the 'beard of acne,' is a hormonally responsive area. Hormones stimulate oil production, which promote acne causing bacteria to grow and encourage pores to become clogged."
How to Get Rid of Chin Acne
Don't be afraid to use more than one product. "Combination therapy using medicines that address as many factors that lead to acne as possible is the best way to treat the skin. In terms of over-the-counter treatments, you can combine benzoyl peroxide with salicylic acid. Together, they kill acne-causing bacteria, open pimples, promote eoliation, and help remove oil," says Dr. Zeichner.
In other words: Being strategic about what products you group together can lead to better success at banishing chin acne altogether.
"From resting your hand on your chin while sitting at a desk or table to picking your skin while deep in thought, it’s important to keep your hands off this area," says esthetician and skin-care expert Renée Rouleau. "For chin and jawline breakouts, I recommend a nondrying, sulfate-free cleanser that uses salicylic and glycolic acids — salicylic acid helps keep bacteria out of the pores, and glycolic acid smoothes and fades post-breakout marks. (Her eponymous brand's AHA/BHA Blemish Control Cleanser contains both, plus lactic acid.)
This tip goes hand in hand with not touching your face, and for good reason: "Behaviorally, anything we can do to reduce the amount of bacteria coming on contact with the skin lessens the chance of breaking out," says board-certified dermatologist Dendy Engelman. "Whether or not it's not touching your face, always wipe down your cell phone with an alcohol swab — I do it at least once a day with my phone."
It's not just something to ward off wrinkles or fine lines — exfoliation is an essential step in keeping skin looking clear and avoiding breakouts long-term. "You can get chemical exfoliation through retinoids, physically using like a Clarisonic or an exfoliating brush, or with a very gentle physical exfoliant," says Dr. Zeichner. We love Caudalie's Deep Cleansing Exfoliator as a gentle option, but no matter which form you use, be sure not to overdo it. Anywhere from three to five times a week should be enough to keep skin soft and smooth without damaging the barrier.
You already know that greasy foods or chocolate can sometimes cause your face to flare up, and for some, dairy might be another culprit. "Your skin acts as an excretory system to eliminate substances that don’t agree with your body," says Renée. "When you ingest more dairy than your body can digest, it can be excreted through cystic acne on the chin and jawline."
Renée suggests taking a step back and examining your eating habits so you can attempt to pinpoint the culprit foods behind chin acne. Try eliminating certain food groups (like dairy) and documenting how each one affects the condition of your skin—daily intake of certain foods can affect the natural balance of your skin and cause inflammation, which actually speeds up the formation of cysts. "The best way to determine if your acne is directly related to your intake of dairy is to completely cut dairy out of your diet for three weeks," Renée recommends.
If during that time you don't experience any more chin breakouts, you just might have found the root cause. She adds that you don't have to eliminate foods from your diet forever. "Slowly introduce [the food] back into your diet, and if you start breaking out again, that's your body's tolerance level," she explains.
You can also treat your current acne while preventing future acne with LED lights. "Blue LED light is awesome for killing bacteria underneath the skin, so even an at-home device works great," Joanna says. The Neutrogena Light Therapy Acne Mask uses blue light to kill bacteria and red light to fight signs of inflammation. And, even better, it's available at the drugstore and doesn't come with a hefty price tag.
Another big key to preventing cyst formation along the chin is to focus on proper lymphatic drainage, which ensures liquids beneath the skin don't get trapped, or build up. The easiest way to do this is by incorporating sonic cleansing into your routine. A face brush, like the Clarisonic Cleansing Device, helps stimulate the cells and promote proper circulation—plus it encourages gentle exfoliation.
If you find yourself in pain thanks to your acne (hey, those acne cysts are no joke), you can reduce the pain by applying ice wrapped in a clean cloth for five minutes or less. There's no need to apply pressure—just rest your ice pack on the affected area and chill. Not only will this help calm down the pain, but it will also bring down the redness.
Sometimes it takes a prescription-strength product to get the job done. "If your face is not improving after a few weeks, visit your dermatologist for a prescription. In terms of topicals, you may be instructed to use benzoyl peroxide (at an Rx strength), topical antibiotics, topical retinoids (like Tazorac, or Retin-A), or topical dapsone, like Aczone. Another popular retinoid, Differin, is a formerly prescription-only formula that is now available at a drugstore price point. They also may want you to try oral antibiotics, hormonal therapies, or, in severe cases, Isotretinoin," says Dr. Zeichner.
"Oral antibiotics directly kill acne-causing bacteria and can help reduce inflammation in the skin. They work while you are taking them and oftentimes for a few months after discontinuing, but the acne can recur. I rarely give out an oral antibiotic by itself—instead I have patients use a topical acne medication at the same time and continue to use the topicals as maintenance after discontinuing the oral antibiotic," continues Dr. Zeichner.
In addition to antibiotics, your dermatologist can talk to you about other treatment options, including cortisone shots, certain birth control pills, chemical peels, and laser therapy.
It seems like a lot to consider, but knowing that there's help available is, well, a big help. Oh, also? You'll like the sound of this: "Chin acne is treatable, and we can prevent the development of permanent scars with early, appropriate action," Dr. Zeichner reassures. Hormones have nothing on that.