Acne Face Mapping: Here's What Causes Breakouts on Every Part of Your Face
The location isn’t a coincidence.
Got acne? Before you slather pimple cream all over your face, some blemishes can’t simply be eliminated with a killer cleanser or spot treatment. These products help by targeting breakouts on a topical level, but not all pimples are due to oily skin and clogged pores. Acne in certain areas can indicate underlying health or lifestyle issues that will only clear up once the problem is resolved. Dubbed face mapping, it’s a practice that’s been done for thousands of years, and while it has evolved since the ancient days, many dermatologists still rely on it for diagnosing the best treatment.
If the eyes are the window to the soul, think of your face as a window to your health. “Acne face mapping splits the face into zones that correspond with specific medical or lifestyle triggers,” says Claire Chang, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. “It stems from ancient Eastern medicine, suggesting that a person’s skin may be a reflection of their inner health. Bodily imbalance was thought to trigger breakouts in the skin, with specific areas of the face representing specific organs. In recent times, modern face mapping has evolved to include more scientific and evidence-based causes of acne breakouts.”
Intrigued? Us, too. However, you should take the practice with a grain of salt. According to Dr. Chang, face mapping may help point to some possible triggers, but it is nowhere near a universal rule that works for everyone. “Face mapping can be used as one tool in our toolbox in diagnosing and treating acne but should not be considered foolproof. Rather, we need to take the patient as a whole into consideration. Genetics, hormones, diet, lifestyle, and environmental triggers also play a key role.”
If you do find your breakouts always appearing on the exact same spot on your face, we’ve put together the most modern acne face mapping guide by merging the best of Eastern medicine with dermatologist-confirmed statistics. Keep scrolling to find out how to best diagnose your spots based on location.
“In Chinese medicine, the forehead is linked to the digestive system," says Dr. Chang. "Breakouts in the forehead region is said to represent digestive imbalances, like poor diet, improper digestion, or irritable bowel syndrome." To help flush out toxins and aid digestion, swap caffeinated and overly processed drinks with some H2O. If you have bangs or naturally oily hair, you may also want to stay away from thick hair oils and wash your hair more frequently. According to Dr. Chang, dirty hair could exacerbate the sweat and oil clogging the pores, thereby worsening acne breakouts on the forehead. Wearing caps or hats that cover your head can also trap bacteria in the area, triggering breakouts.
According to ancient Chinese mapping, the temples correspond to the kidneys and bladder. Infections or inflammation in these areas can present themselves as acne, so you’ll want to watch your alcohol consumption, in addition to heavily processed or greasy foods. If you still find your temples flaring up, consult a doctor to see if it requires more intensive medication.
Acne near the tops of the cheeks is 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. Try employing an air purifier or a some air-purifying plants in your home. On the other hand, Dr. Chang notes you may also want to take a look at possible environmental triggers in your lifestyle, including dirty pillowcases, bed sheets, and cell phone cases. A lot of things come into contact with your cheeks every day, so cleaning the items around you can help reduce new pimples from cropping up.
Chin acne indicates the biggest blemish instigator we know all too well: hormonal imbalance. According to Dr. Chang, “Hormonal acne tends to occur cyclically, worse with menstrual periods and menopause due to higher relative levels of androgen over estrogen. Excess androgens stimulate more oil production in the skin, leading to clogged pores and breakouts.” Try your best to maintain a regular sleep schedule and healthy diet to assuage capricious hormones, but if you continue experiencing chin acne, you may want to consult your dermatologist and gynecologist and see if birth control or spironolactone could help.
Acne on the hairline suggests certain hair or skincare products as a trigger, says Dr. Chang. Hairline acne can sometimes be called “pomade acne.” Pomades are thick, oil-based products that clog the pores and cause acne breakouts. If you find most of your pimples clustered around the rim of your head, it’s best to stop using oil-based hair products and switch to non-comedogenic alternatives, including shampoos and conditioners. We recommend SEEN’s fragrance-free haircare line ($50; seen.com), which is developed by a dermatologist and without anything that could clog pores, like sulfates, silicones, phthalates, parabens, dye, or gluten.
Ah, the pesky nose zit. There are more oil glands on your nose than the rest of the face, which makes this area most prone to breakouts. Make sure to cleanse thoroughly and use skincare that works to unclog pores. Try a topical retinoid like Differin Adapalene Gel 0.1% Acne Treatment ($13; amazon.com), which helps normalize skin cell turnover and reduce inflammation. In Chinese face mapping, nose acne has also been linked to the liver and kidney, so it may be worth double-checking with your doctor to see if you have high blood pressure or liver dysfunction. If you suspect that’s the case, try cutting back on those after-work happy hours and consumption of overly spicy dishes (sorry, Sriracha enthusiasts).