Some breakouts pop up and heal in a matter of days—if you’re lucky. Other breakouts (the cystic kind) seem to stick around forever or come back again and again with a vengeance. And if it seems as though the latter kind always creeps up along your chin and jawline, you’re not alone. Blemishes on the chin (like blackheads, whiteheads, congestion, or inflammation) are often caused by hormones. Breakouts in this area are typically deep, painful, hard to get rid of, and oftentimes unresponsive to typical acne treatments. But if you're equipped with the right knowledge, chin acne doesn't have to be so scary.
That's why we talked with esthetician Kerry Benjamin as well as dermatologists Jeremy Fenton, MD, of Schweiger Dermatology Group; Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, MD, board-certified NYC dermatologist and founder of Entière Dermatology; and Ruth Tedaldi, MD, Boston dermatologist and cohost of The Gist to get their best insight for achieving and maintaining clear chin skin.
Scroll ahead to find out exactly how to get rid of your chin acne.
Types of Chin Acne
- Blackheads: Enlarged or clogged pores, blackheads form when the pores get clogged with oil and debris, such as dead skin cells. This clogging can even cause the pores to expand and become more noticeable. This form of chin acne becomes black in color because the contact with the air causes oxidation and darkening of the oils.
- Pustules: Formed when there is a layer of skin covering an inflammatory pimple near the surface. Oil and dead skin cells combined with bacteria trigger an inflammatory response by the body, which leads to the pus collecting under the skin.
- Cystic pimples: Pimples that are deeper under the skin. You don’t generally see the pus coming to the surface. It just manifests as a deep, painful red bump.
- Nodules: Similar to cysts except they are more solid and don’t have as much fluid-filled pus inside. These don’t drain.
Causes and Prevention of Chin Acne
- Hormones: Higher levels of testosterone trigger more oil production, which can clog pores and lead to breakouts.
- Lack of exfoliation: Excess oils, impurities, and clogged pores can lead to breakouts, particularly if the skin isn’t being exfoliated well. Regular exfoliation can help minimize the appearance of blackheads.
- Bacteria: With pustules, there is more of an inflammatory component that comes from the presence of bacteria trapped within the skin.
Treatment for Chin Acne
Consult Your Doctor About Oral Medication
So what exactly do hormones have to do with your skin? To answer that, Benjamin first gives us a quick biology lesson. Your 28-day menstrual cycle can be broken down into three sections. During the first seven days, estrogen levels are high. On days seven to 14, estrogen begins to drop. Day 14 through day 28 is when estrogen reaches its lowest levels. Benjamin explains that breakouts are most likely to occur seven to 10 days before your period because that’s when estrogen, which helps keep your skin clear, is lowest. Also during this time, testosterone increases, leading to an increase in sebum production. Progesterone levels increase too, causing your pores to constrict. So you’ve got low levels of the skin-clearing hormone, plus excess oil and constricted pores—basically the perfect storm for an acne flare-up.
If your cystic breakouts don’t respond to topical spot treatments, talk to your doctor about different oral medication options. Depending on your specific circumstances, they might suggest birth control or spironolactone (a medication that blocks hormones similar to testosterone called androgens) to regulate hormones and oil production, an antibiotic to target bacteria, or isotretinoin (better known as Accutane) to reduce sebum and prevent clogging.
Cut Dairy from Your Diet
Since, according to Benjamin, chin acne can be attributed to hormones, start by addressing all the factors that could be affecting you hormonally, like the food you eat. Fenton says that a change in diet, especially one that’s heavy in dairy, can have a significant difference in your skin. “Dairy has been shown to stimulate testosterone production in people who consume it, and spikes in testosterone can worsen acne. Dairy also naturally contains its own hormones, such as estrogen, which can exert their own impact on a person’s hormonal balance,” he said.
If you’ve already made the switch from cow’s milk to almond or soy milk and are still experiencing breakouts, you might be surprised to learn why. As it turns out, even those dairy substitutes can be the culprits behind hormonal breakouts due to the fact that they both contain high levels of estrogen. In short, be wary of dairy and do your research before selecting a nondairy substitute if you already have a hormonal imbalance.
Use a Retinoid
While retinol may be known for its anti-aging capabilities, it can also help prevent chin acne. "Using a retinol will increase cell turnover and lift debris from your skin," says Tedaldi.
“Even when your skin is doing well, you should continue your preventative skincare routine,” Levin told us. “That means in addition to regular daily sunscreen or sun protection, continue using your topical retinoid, such as Differin Acne Treatment Gel ($13). In addition to clearing existing acne, Differin Gel will also help to prevent future breakouts from forming by minimizing the clogging of pores.”
Exfoliation is key for keeping the pores clean and free of dead skin cells, bacteria, dirt, and debris that clog the pores, mix with the oil on your skin, and cause breakouts. Instead of a harsh mechanical exfoliator like a scrub, Levin suggests trying a gentle yet effective chemical exfoliant instead.
“If your skin is not irritated and can tolerate an exfoliator, try alpha-hydroxy acids or salicylic acid two to three times weekly,” Levin says. Salicylic acid works by cleaning deep within the pores while AHAs work to slough away dead skin. For a salicylic acid spot treatment, we like Origin’s Super Spot Remover ($19). And for an AHA, try a gentle lactic acid treatment, like the Sunday Riley Good Genes Treatment ($85).
Lactic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid that works to exfoliate the skin. Its molecule is slightly larger than glycolic acid, meaning it works a bit slower and doesn't penetrate the skin's outermost layer as easily.
For those that prefer mechanical exfoliants, Tedaldi suggests using a mild exfoliant. "Wash well but don't scrub," she says. "You can use an exfoliating cleanser to remove debris from the day."
Mix Your Own Spot Treatment
The bigger the breakout, the worse your tendency to overload on zit creams and topical treatments, right? But instead of applying a bunch of serums and spot treatments to the area and hoping for the best, make a small mixture of only a select few products so you don’t disrupt your skin’s protective barrier in the process. Next time you have a cystic breakout, apply a small combination of salicylic acid (to exfoliate), benzoyl peroxide (to kill the bacteria), and 1 percent hydrocortisone (to calm redness) to the affected area to encourage healing without overdoing it.
Benzoyl peroxide is an organic acid in the peroxide family that has been used to treat acne because of its keratolytic, moderate comedolytic, and antibacterial properties, which include the reduction of P. acnes and Staph. aureus on the skin.
Protect from Picking with a Hydrocolloid Patch
The same way you slap a Band-Aid on a small cut or wound to protect it from the outside elements while it heals, hydrocolloid patches do the same for pimples. Though these patches (aka zit stickers) aren't effective enough to tackle chin breakouts completely on their own, they are a nice bonus treatment to have on hand for a few reasons. If you can’t keep your hands off your face during a breakout (who can?), cover the spot with one of these little stickers to block yourself from messing with it and making matters worse. While the patch serves as a shield between your dirty fingers and your healing pimple, it also pulls excess oil from the area, thanks to the hydrocolloid dressing. Try the Peace Out Acne Spot Dots ($19), which also contains salicylic acid and vitamin A to clean out the pores and encourage skin turnover.
Keep Your Routine Simple and Gentle
More is not necessarily better when it comes to fighting an acne breakout. When you overuse strong acne ingredients, you run the risk of damaging your skin's protective barrier. When the barrier is compromised, bacteria are able to enter and cause skin infections. So when it comes to treating chin acne, keep it simple and gentle and only apply what you really need: a gentle face wash, a lightweight moisturizer, an exfoliant, and a spot treatment.
Try one of the exfoliants and spot treatments recommended above, and for a face wash, stick with a creamy cleanser like Vanicream Gentle Facial Cleanser ($9), which is mild enough for even the most sensitive skin types. A good moisturizer for oily, acne-prone skin can be hard to find, but we’ve found something that solves our blemish problem with this one from PCA. It contains marigold flower oil, lemongrass extract, and cucumber fruit extract to calm any redness or irritation and vitamin A to get you the clear complexion you deserve.