Breakout Breakdown: What Is Actually Causing Your Spots?

Stubborn spots on your chin, neck or forehead? Each breakout could have very different causes...

Squeezing spot

by Ellie Wiseman |

There are very few of us lucky enough to have never woken up in the morning with a red blemish on our face (or spots on our neck, around our mouth, spots on our forehead - wherever your own nightmare-zone happens to be). Welcome to adult acne. Whether it's one spot, blemish or pimple every now and then or regular breakouts, almost all of us have had to battle a spot or two. Although these blemishes might not be noticeable to anyone else, they become a constant source of irritation and insecurity.

The general idea is that as we grow up, we grow out of our spots - but adult acne is actually just as common as teenage acne. According to American Academy of Dermatology 85% of people aged between 12 and 24 have experienced at least one bout of acne. The condition is on the rise, too, and recent research suggests psychological stress can trigger acne. Sigh.

It’s common knowledge that the secret to tackling pimples is to identify the cause, but in recent years Chinese dermatology has taken diagnosing blemished skin one step further, by aligning the location of your spots to varying health issues. This is called face mapping, in which the face acts as an outside view of the body's internal health.

face mapping acne
©pinterest

From pimples on your chin to breakouts on your forehead and spots on your back, what is your skin trying to tell you?

What do spots on your cheeks mean?

What do spots on your cheeks mean?
©Getty

If you’re break­ing out reg­u­larly on your cheeks it could be due to a num­ber of things. The cheeks are said to re­veal res­pi­ra­tory dis­tress - so smok­ing, al­ler­gies or pol­lu­tion could be re­spon­si­ble. Or, your cheeks may flare up if your me­tab­o­lism is slow and your body is not ab­sorb­ing nu­tri­ents fast enough.

Prob­a­bly the most com­mon cause for spots on cheeks, though, is due to the spread of bac­te­ria from your hands, your phone, and your pil­low­cases. So, pur­chase some hand sani­tiser to take in your bag, wash your pil­low­cases weekly, clean your phone screen (care­fully…no wa­ter dam­age please) and do not ever touch your face. We mean it.

What do spots on my neck mean?

What do spots on my neck mean?
©Getty

Pim­ples on your neck mean that you’re prob­a­bly about to get your pe­riod. The hor­mones that fluc­tu­ate around your cy­cle can cause your glands to pro­duce more oil, which in turn blocks pores, caus­ing spots. With so many sweat glands here, you may find that spots on the back of your neck is a com­mon prob­lem. Try to avoid them by do­ing the same things as above for back and chest acne - namely, wear­ing man-made fi­bres and looser cloth­ing.

What do spots on your forehead mean?

What do spots on your forehead mean?
©Getty

Spots on your fore­head are be­lieved to in­di­cate prob­lems with the blad­der or the di­ges­tive sys­tem, so if you’re get­ting pimples here it could mean you’re de­hy­drated or eat­ing too many processed and high in sugar foods. The fore­head is also linked to the ner­vous sys­tem, so high stress lev­els could be con­tribut­ing to your break­outs.

What do spots on your hairline mean?

What do spots on your hairline mean?
©Getty

They may be easier to hide than spots on your nose or bang in the middle of your forehead - but they're definitely no less annoying. Ac­cord­ing to ex­pert fa­cial­ist Kate Kerr, if you’re ex­peri­enc­ing break­outs around the tem­ples or hair­line, the cul­prit could be as ob­vi­ous as your hair prod­ucts. The in­gre­di­ents in sham­poos, serums etc. can ef­fect every­one in dif­fer­ent ways and some cause con­ges­tion in the pores. Try out a few dif­fer­ent brands to find out which is the kind­est on your skin. Bumps on your fore­head can also be caused from ex­er­cis­ing, as your sweat glands and hair follicles can be­come eas­ily clogged in this area. Try show­er­ing as soon as pos­si­ble af­ter a work­out and cleanse your face thor­oughly (shop our favourite cleansers here).

What do spots in-between your eyebrows mean?

What do spots in-between your eyebrows mean?
©Getty

If you’re get­ting spots in the mid­dle of your fore­head or be­tween your eye­brows it could mean that you’re con­sum­ing too much al­co­hol and rich foods, or could mean you’re al­ler­gic to a type of food.

What do spots on your ears mean?

What do spots on your ears mean?
©Getty

Ac­cord­ing to Chi­nese der­ma­tol­ogy those painful stub­born spots you get in your ears may be a sign that you need to drink more wa­ter and cut down on caf­feine and al­co­hol, as your ears are linked to your kid­neys.

What do spots around your eyes mean?

What do spots around your eyes mean?
©Getty

Eyes, like ears, are linked to the kid­neys, so de­hy­dra­tion is most likely the rea­son why you have blem­ishes in this area. Sim­i­larly, dark cir­cles, though mostly hered­i­tary, are wors­ened by not drink­ing enough wa­ter.

What do spots on your nose mean?

What do spots on your nose mean?
©Getty

Spots on your nose will most likely flare up if you have high blood pres­sure. Also, if you’re us­ing come­do­genic makeup prod­ucts they will of­ten clog your pores and make you break out in this area. Shop our edit of the best non-comedogenic products here.

What do spots on your jawline and spots on your chin mean?

What do spots on your jawline and spots on your chin mean?
©Getty

Spots on the lower third of your face are gen­er­ally re­lated to hor­mone levels and tend to sync with your men­strual cy­cle so are, an­noy­ingly, harder to tackle. Even as adults, our oe­stro­gen and prog­es­terone lev­els are con­stantly shift­ing, and the hor­monal im­bal­ance can be re­spon­si­ble for un­wel­come flare-ups.

Women who suf­fer with hor­monal acne can usu­ally see re­sults by tak­ing the con­tra­cep­tive pill, but each woman re­acts to birth con­trol pills dif­fer­ently. Un­sur­pris­ingly, stress is an­other rea­son why you may be break­ing out around your jaw or mouth. Also, your chin mir­rors the small in­tes­tine so a poor diet filled with carbs and sugar can also lead to pesky pim­ples.

What do spots around your mouth mean?

What do spots around your mouth mean?
©Getty

If you’re break­ing out around the mouth it could be caused by the residue from any greasy or fatty foods in your diet. Try cut­ting down on these, or rinse your face af­ter eat­ing.

You may have also noticed more breakouts since wearing a mask, otherwise known as 'maskne', and that's because our skin is sweating under occlusion - which can clog the pores. Consultant Dermatologist, Dr Joyce Park recommends removing the mask as soon as you can and cleansing the surface of the skin to remove sweat and dirt.

What do spots on my back or chest mean?

What do spots on my back or chest mean?
©Getty

The back and chest are ar­eas where we have a higher num­ber of sebaceous glands, and we tend to sweat more pro­fusely here. Wear­ing ma­te­ri­als that don’t quickly draw sweat away from the skin, such as cot­ton, can re­sult in ir­ri­ta­tion, lead­ing to out­breaks. Man-made fi­bres that are de­signed to be fast dry­ing will help re­duce this and are par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant to wear dur­ing ex­er­cise. Also, try loos­en­ing your bra straps and carry less weight on your shoul­ders to keep skin ir­ri­ta­tion to a min­i­mum.

On the flip-­side, as with our face, it can be ben­e­fi­cial to sweat as it plays an important role in flushing the skin of cell de­bris from within the pores. It’s im­por­tant, how­ever, that the skin is clean and makeup or mois­turiser free to al­low the process to work its magic.

Shop: The Best Pimple Patches 2021

READ MORE: The Very Best Products That Will Help Spots And Acne-Prone Skin

READ MORE: Are Pimple Patches The Answer To Maskne? (AKA Acne Caused By Wearing A Face Mask)

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us