Helping People Achieve Clear Skin Since 2007

Helping People Achieve Clear Skin Since 2007

Acne on Cheeks: Surprising Causes and Treatment Options

By Dr. Jaggi Rao, MD, FRCPC, Double board-certified dermatologist

Stubborn acne on cheeks can seem impossible to treat, but a few fundamental lifestyle changes could do the trick. The good news is that acne on your cheeks often doesn’t require expensive treatments or additional products.

Unlike the forehead and nose, which are in the notoriously oily ‘T-zone,” the cheeks are part of the “U-zone,” which is typically drier. That doesn’t mean cheek acne is rare, though. It just means oil is probably not the main culprit for acne on cheeks.

It may even be the opposite: excessive dryness can lead to acne just as inevitably as excessive oiliness can. Our recommendation: Start a proven, consistent and safe skincare routine that includes one straightforward product: a water-based moisturizer.

Let’s explore how to clear up cheek acne, plus how to know if you have acne or rosacea. Plus, learn how some simple lifestyle changes will make a big difference in your cheek acne.

Acne on cheeks is treatable with a water-based moisturizer as part of a proven skincare line. This person saw results with Exposed Skincare.


  • Acne in the “U-zone” is very different from acne in the “T-zone.”
  • Before trying any treatment for acne on cheeks, make sure it’s acne and not rosacea.
  • Some products that could be contributing to your cheek acne include: shaving cream, foundation, sunscreen, even some acne treatment products.
  • Several lifestyle changes can help reduce the amount of acne on the cheeks. One example is washing your sheets and pillowcases more often.
  • Moisturizing your skin could help reduce cheek acne, but be careful—oil-based or alcohol-based moisturizers are all but guaranteed to worsen acne.
  • DIY acne treatments can cause more acne on cheeks, so stay away from them.
  • The easiest and most-cost effective way to treat most cheek acne is with a proven skincare routine that offers science-based ingredients at an affordable price. We recommend this Expanded Kit from Exposed Skincare.

Everything You Need to Know About Acne on Cheeks

If you have acne in your T-zone and your U-zone, you’ve probably noticed that they are very different. Your T-zone is an area of your face that includes the forehead and nose, and your U-zone is the complementing area, including your temples, cheeks, and chin. Your skin produces oil differently in those zones. The T-zone produces a significant amount of oil, or sebum, because it has the highest concentration of sebaceous glands anywhere on the body.

Sebaceous glands secrete sebum, and where there’s excess sebum, there’s sure to be acne as well. Sebum can clog pores and create blackheads and whiteheads, but it can also lead to pimples by providing more food for acne-causing bacteria, which consume sebum. Generally speaking, oil is heavily associated with acne.

So are you weird for having acne in your U-zone? Not at all! It is very common for people to get acne in their U-zone as well—it’s just caused by a different reason. There are few sebaceous glands in the U-zone when compared to the T-zone, which can prevent pores from getting clogged by sebum, but the lack of oil can sometimes lead to other problems.

Oil can clog pores, but it also protects the skin from irritants and outside bacteria, so without it, the skin is vulnerable in many ways. When the skin is irritated, it can become inflamed to protect itself, and this closes off the pore and traps dead skin cells and acne-causing bacteria under the surface, often leading to acne. Because the U-zone doesn’t have much extra oil to protect it from irritants, it is extra susceptible to irritation, inflammation, and acne.

Acne vs. Rosacea: Which Is It?

Rosacea is a skin condition that can look very similar to acne, but it requires very different treatment, so it’s essential to know the difference. There are several kinds of rosacea with a variety of symptoms, but generally, rosacea is a condition where the face can flare up with significant redness and sometimes swelling.

People with rosacea are often more prone to blushing, and their blushes are often deeper and last longer. In some cases, blood vessels in the skin become visible and bright red, while in others, the eyes may become swollen and red. One common symptom of rosacea is acne-like breakouts. Unlike acne, though, it is not necessarily caused by inflammation, bacteria, or excess sebum.

Doctors aren’t sure what causes rosacea yet, but they have found that many people have triggers or things that can worsen their rosacea. Some of the most common triggers are sun exposure, feeling emotional, spicy foods, and hot weather.

Acne may be further exacerbated by sun exposure and stress, but spicy foods and warm weather should have no effect on acne.

So if you notice your “acne” worsening after a particularly hot dinner, you may want to talk to your doctor about rosacea.

Rosacea and acne often look alike, but it will help in treatment if you know which one you’re dealing with. Rosacea responds much better to gentle therapies, and there are a few oral medications that could help that are not usually prescribed for acne. Acne, on the other hand, usually requires ingredients that are too harsh for rosacea to get rid of the acne. If you have rosacea and you’re using acne products to treat it, you may be making things worse. And if you have acne but are only using rosacea treatments, your acne will probably barely change at all.

Products That Could Be Making Cheek Acne Worse

One of the best ways to get rid of acne on cheeks is to look at what products you’re using on your face. Many skincare products aren’t very acne-friendly, and there are all kinds of ingredients you should be on the lookout for.

Acne Treatment Products

Believe it or not, the products you use to treat your acne may be causing it. This is because many acne products are far too harsh. Acne treatments use chemicals designed to help kill acne-causing bacteria and exfoliate the skin, which is great and effective, but many use too much of these chemicals to get rid of acne right away. The problem is, the acne will go away at first, but then it will return when the acne treatment starts irritating your skin.

The far better option is acne treatment products that take slightly longer to work, but treat your skin gently. Our favorite of these on the market right now is Exposed Skincare. We recommend Exposed because it works, and we like the company’s philosophy of using low levels of acne-fighting ingredients combined with natural botanicals. This combo helps clear up acne without irritating your skin.

Some acne treatments can actually cause acne, but Exposed is gentle enough to treat acne without causing more.

Sunscreen and Makeup

Sunscreen is an essential part of skincare, especially if you have acne. Many acne medications can increase the skin’s sensitivity to the sun, so it’s important to use sunscreen every day, even if it’s cloudy. But make sure that sunscreen isn’t clogging your pores and leading to even more acne. If a product says it’s “non-comedogenic,” “non-pore-clogging,” or “oil-free,” it should be safe to use on acne-prone skin.

Non-comedogenic just means non-pore-clogging, which usually means it’s oil-free or uses small amounts of oils.

Follow the same advice for makeup. Some makeup products can clog pores and just add to acne. The best way to avoid this is to look for makeup that is non-comedogenic, non-pore-clogging, or oil-free. Makeup containing lots of oil will clog your pores and generate more acne.

Face Cleanser

When using sunscreen or makeup, a key way to prevent acne on cheeks is to remove them before going to bed, using a gentle face wash. Because sunscreen and makeup can be thick, it’s tempting to really scrub to get it off, but that will almost definitely make acne worse, especially on the cheeks because it is already more sensitive to irritation.

Instead, gently make small circles with the pads of your fingers until there’s a nice lather, then rinse. Use a face wash with acne-fighting ingredients like salicylic acid, but in low levels to avoid irritating skin. Bonus points if it includes additional skin-soothing ingredients like pro-vitamin B5. This is why we love the Facial Cleanser from Exposed Skincare—the combo of salicylic acid plus natural, soothing ingredients means you treat acne while also protecting your skin.

Shaving Cream

Yes, shaving cream could be causing acne on cheeks. Many shaving creams contain sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), the chemical responsible for the way shaving cream foams up. SLS can also be found in toothpaste, shampoo and other hygiene products, and it is known for irritating the skin. Many shaving creams also contain fragrances, which are created by chemicals that can also irritate the skin.

Make the switch to SLS-free and fragrance-free shaving cream and skincare products. The skincare line we recommend is sulfate- and paraben-free and avoids added fragrance.

Lifestyle Changes to Reduce Acne on Cheeks

Cheek acne can be irritated by minor things in your daily life. The two biggest things you can change to reduce acne on cheeks are changing your sheets and pillow cases regularly and being careful not to touch your face too much.

When you sleep, oils and dead skin cells from your face transfer to your pillow case, and then when you lay your head down again the next night, those same oils and skin cells are transferred back to your skin. This process becomes bad for your skin and could cause more acne. If you can wash your sheets once a week or once every two weeks at the most, it could help reduce acne.

Regularly changing your sheets can help reduce acne on cheeks by cleaning away oils and dead skin cells.

Another small way to improve acne is to avoid touching your face. Many of us pick at our skin, run our hands over our face, or just rest our cheeks in the palms of our hands when we’re tired, bored, or stressed. Our hands contain all kinds of oils and bacteria, and if we touch our face in a way that irritates the skin (like picking or rubbing) it can get inflamed, trapping those oils and bacteria under the surface and creating a pimple. Try to pay attention to your little actions throughout the day, become aware of how often you pick at your skin to determine if it might be a factor in your acne.

Moisturizer and Acne on Cheeks

One of the best solutions we can offer to help reduce cheek acne is a good water-based moisturizer. Keeping the skin hydrated and healthy can reduce inflammation, which should in turn reduce acne.

We specify “water-based” because there are many moisturizers that are oil-based or even alcohol-based, and those will not help if you have acne. Moisturizers made with oil are much more likely to clog pores, and alcohol-based moisturizers are likely to irritate skin. A good water-based moisturizer, like Exposed Skincare’s Moisture Complex, can protect your cheeks from irritants, thus protecting them from acne.

Exposed Skincare users see reductions in their cheek acne.

Do-It-Yourself for Acne on Cheeks?

When it comes to acne on cheeks, you should be really careful with DIY treatments. Some of the DIY recipes we see for acne are actually very harmful. 🍋 Lemon, toothpaste, and baking soda, for example, should never be used on cheek acne. They will irritate the skin even more, causing more inflammation and more acne. One home remedy we can always safely recommend (unless you are under 2 years old) is honey. Honey promotes antioxidants, helps with wound healing, kills bacteria, and reduces inflammation.

Applying a small amount of pure honey to your cheeks each night can protect your skin and reduce your acne.

If that’s a little too sticky for you, there is some research that proves that eating honey can also have positive effects for your skin.

Frequently Asked Questions About Acne On Cheeks

I looked up rosacea, and it seems like that’s what has been going on with my skin for years. My dermatologist always said it was acne, how do I ask for rosacea treatment instead?

If you really think you have rosacea rather than acne, you may want to search for a different dermatologist. If you’re right, it’s very odd that your dermatologist didn’t catch it, and you may want a second opinion or just a doctor who is more observant. If you’re stuck with your current dermatologist, go to your visit prepared. Print out the resources you found that make you think you have rosacea rather than acne, and highlight a few of the key sections about which symptoms you relate to.

Ask if they’ve ever considered that diagnosis for you, and listen to what they have to say. There’s no clear-cut way to diagnose rosacea, so you’ll have to have an open conversation with your doctor. You and your doctor both want you to receive the best care possible, so be honest about what you think is going on, but also to be open to disagreement. You know your body better than anyone, and the dermatologist knows skin conditions better than anyone, so together you should be able to come up with a solution.

Why do I mostly have acne on my cheeks and in the U-zone if it’s more common to get acne in the T-zone? My T-zone usually has less acne.

This is an indicator that you have a dry skin type. The main skin types are oily, normal, dry, and combination. Those with dry skin tend to have less oily T-zones and thus less acne in that area, but their U-zones are often very dry, leading to more acne in that area instead. Unlike people with oily skin, you are unlikely to benefit from strong exfoliation. Instead, gentle, moisturizing products are likely to help with your acne.

If you have acne in your U-zone and T-zone, you may have combination skin, which is skin that is both oily and dry. Your T-zone may be extra oily and your U-zone may be extra dry, causing acne in both places. Gentle products applied all over are usually best for combination skin, but you may want to apply a drying product to the T-zone if gentler products aren’t doing the job.

I didn’t realize how much I touch my face throughout the day! Got any tips for how to do it less?

The first step is realizing how much you touch your face, but once you know, it can still be hard to stop. Some of our favorite tricks include mindfulness and sitting on your hands.

Becoming more aware of your surroundings and making every action intentional may help prevent you from messing with your face. It’s simply a habit, usually borne out of boredom or tiredness, but if you focus on living in the moment, calmly, the urge to touch your face may pass.

Our other solution is slightly more childish, but it works in a pinch. If you’re really struggling to leave your face alone, you can always sit on your hands for a bit.

My acne is so much worse than everyone else’s. It’s not just on my cheeks, it’s everywhere all the time. What do I do?

Acne has a way of doing that, of making us feel incredibly alone, even though statistics show that nearly everyone has acne at some point. But just because other people have it doesn’t mean they have it the way you do, and it doesn’t mean your acne is somehow not a big deal just because everyone else has it too.

Having acne can be very difficult. Many of us internalize that shame, and it can lead to serious mental health issues, like low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression. It’s not a crime to want clear skin.

That’s why we recommend a gentle skincare routine. It can be tempting to try and scrub your acne away, but this always makes it worse because it irritates the skin, causing more inflammation. Start with a pre-made skincare kit of products that are effective but still gentle to avoid causing more inflammation. We like the Exposed Skincare Expanded Kit because it includes every product you need to use every day to get your acne under control without destroying your skin in the process. In fact, besides just clearing up your acne, your skin will look and feel better.

We always recommend Exposed Skincare because it really does work.

There are a lot of things we like about Exposed kits, which is why we recommend them so often. Here are a couple of the pros of Exposed Skincare:

  • The kits are cost-effective, especially if you become a member.
  • The brand uses lower levels of acne-fighting actives, meaning you aren’t destroying your skin while trying to fight acne.
  • Exposed products are SLS- and paraben-free, use naturally-sourced ingredients and are made in North America.
  • The company offers a money-back guarantee. You can return your kit within a year and get your money back, which is almost unheard of in the skincare industry.
  • We’ve seen the results. Click here to see some before-and-after photos of Exposed users.

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