#SkinSchool: Why is your skin breaking out?

Breakouts can be frustrating at the best of times, but they can be even more so when you can't discern what is causing them. With working from home leading to many of us forgoing our (often polluted) commute and usual make-up application (which can clog pores), you might have expected your skin blemishes to become clearer, but unfortunately that isn't always the case.

Wider environmental factors as well as stress, hormones and even our skincare, all play a part. We spoke to the experts to discover exactly how to tell what is causing your breakouts and how to tackle them when they appear.

Remind me. What exactly is acne?

"Acne develops from blocked pores and too much oil from our sebaceous glands, clogging up our skin," says dermatologist Dr Sam Bunting. "When this happens, it leads to the formation of comedones. Those annoying skin-coloured bumps, often seen best under unkind lighting, are called closed comedones. If these are open to the air, they are called blackheads. A bacteria called P. acnes thrives in the clogged, oily pore, and as a consequence we get inflammatory lesions."

Can make-up cause breakouts?

"A lot of women blame their cosmetics for triggering breakouts, hence the expectation that by wearing it less often, their skin might improve," says Dr Bunting. "I hear this a lot in clinic too - many women are in the habit of removing make-up as soon as they get in from work for the same reason."

"I think the truth of the matter is that breakouts can be triggered by certain types of cosmetics that aggravate pores that are already prone to clogging – long-wear foundation is probably the worst offender," continues Dr Bunting. “But it’s often just one piece of the puzzle and even if it is contributing to your breakouts, we’ve probably not been locked down for long enough to know for sure. Any change to reduce breakouts usually takes from six-to-12 weeks (one-to-two skin cycles) to really make a difference to skin."

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Deep cleanse

“Make sure you double cleanse at night using an oil or balm to lift away dirt, grime and impurities,” says Bolder. Try No7’s Radiant Results Nourishing Cleansing Balm or Elemis’ Pro-Collagen Cleansing Balm. Then follow your chosen formula with a foaming cleanser, such as Shiseido’s Clarifying Cleansing Foam, if you have oily skin or a cleansing water, such as La Roche Posay’s Micellar Water, if you have a sensitive complexion.


“Add a gentle exfoliator to your routine to remove dead skin cell clusters on the skin surface, and to boost cellular renewal,” says Dr Broussard. Look for ones that contain salicylic or lactic acid that are quite gentle but still help to unclog pores, such as Waso’s Soft + Cushy Polisher which you can use daily, or try Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Gel Exfoliant for something a little stronger.

A manual exfoliating device, such as Foreo’s Luna 3, which combines cleansing and exfoliating action, can also help you get the deep clean you need. Or, if you are feeling especially overwhelmed by what your skin might need, why not sign up for one of the brand’s online skincare consultations.


“Breakouts are best treated with a combination of non-comedogenic skincare and a structured approach to acne using actives,” says Bunting. “Retinoids normalise exfoliation of skin cells inside the pore so they don’t clog. They may also have some anti-inflammatory benefits and they help eliminate the dark marks blemishes leave behind. They also have great anti-ageing benefits, which is of huge reassurance to the many adult women facing the conundrum of premature ageing at the same time as dealing with persistent breakouts.” However, heed the advice given above if this is the first time you’re introducing retinol into your regime.

Soothe and hydrate

It’s a good idea to protect your skin with a targeted serum to boost your skin’s natural barrier and combat the effects of stress, pollution and other aggressors. Shiseido’s Ultimune Serum is a good option, as is Aurelia’s calming concentrate that utilises prebiotics to keep your complexion balanced.

“Combining a retinoid with an anti-inflammatory like niacinamide and azelaic acid reduces the redness in existing inflamed spots too,” continues Bunting. The dermatologist’s Flawless Nightly Serum contains both of these ingredients.

The make-up to use (if you want to)

“I suggest using a light base combined with concealer just where it’s needed,” says Dr Bunting. “The combination of Nars’ Radiant Tinted Moisturiser and Soft Matte Concealer is hugely popular with many of my patients. I’m a big fan of wearing light cosmetics even whilst working from home – it boosts confidence and importantly reduces the risk of someone touching or squeezing their blemishes, which only ever makes matters worse.”

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