Last Updated on September 20th, 2019
One of the most frustrating kinds of acne is jawline acne. Unlike acne on the forehead or nose, it is not usually caused by oil and it may have any number of causes. However, once you find what is causing your jawline acne and learn a few simple tricks for reducing it, there is a good chance it will improve dramatically. Some causes of jawline acne can be eliminated entirely, and others can be reduced through a few minor lifestyle or skincare changes. There are no products made specifically for jawline acne, but there are specific tips we can offer to reduce it. In this article, we will explore the various causes of acne around the jawline, explain a few factors that could be making it worse, answer some of the most commonly asked questions about jawline acne, and of course, offer solutions.
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Typical acne is called acne vulgaris, and it is caused by any number of things: stress, age, genetics, you name it. Acne mechanica is not an entirely different condition, it’s just more specific. Acne mechanica is the term for acne caused by friction or extended pressure, and is often called sports acne. This isn’t really the best name for it though, because sports are definitely not the only cause of acne mechanica.
But how does friction or pressure cause acne? The initial cause of all acne is inflammation. If the skin swells even microscopically, it can close pores. When pores close, they trap dead skin cells, natural skin oil often called sebum, and acne-causing bacteria. This causes everything from blackheads to cystic acne. When something rubs against the skin, it causes irritation, and irritation triggers the skin’s inflammation response. Similarly, when something presses against the skin for a significant amount of time, it traps skin cells, sebum, and bacteria in much the same way.
Sports are the best known culprits of acne mechanica because of tight uniforms or chin straps from helmets. Tight uniforms don’t affect the face, but chin straps can definitely cause jawline acne1.The strap runs right along the jaw and remains pressed there for a considerable length of time. This is also a common problem for people who play instruments2, specifically those who play in marching bands or play the violin. Marching bands wear hats that also include a chin strap in most cases, and in order to play the violin, it must be pressed against the jaw.
If you have acne mechanica because of your extracurricular activities, you can’t necessarily avoid the irritant causing the acne, but there are still ways to reduce acne. One of the best strategies is to wash your face as soon as you can after the activity. All you need to do is gently rinse your jawline with warm water. This should help open up pores to release any sweat or bacteria that have gotten trapped. Although it helps to wash your face after a game, show, or performance, we do not recommend washing more than three times a day total. This can dry out the skin3, cause further irritation, and lead to more acne.
Along this same vein, it also helps immensely if you can keep your chin strap or instrument clean. You can get alcohol wipes for relatively cheap, and simply wipe it down before and after each use. Before doing so, make sure that alcohol won’t hurt your equipment, whatever that may be. If it is negatively affected by alcohol, there are specialty stores for sports equipment, instruments, and more that should provide the proper cleaning tools.
There are two major acne regions on the face: the T-zone and the U-zone. The T-zone is an area including your forehead and extending down your nose. It is typically much oilier, with more sebaceous glands (glands that produce sebum) in that area than in the rest of the face put together. With more oil production comes more clogged pores and more acne. Still, the U-zone can also have significant acne, it just depends on your skin type. The U-zone includes your temples, cheeks, jawline, and chin. This area is often much drier than the T-zone, but dryness can also cause acne4. If you don’t have much acne in your T-zone but have significant acne in your U-zone, you may have a dry skin type, and are more likely to deal with jawline acne.
People have dry skin for many reasons. For some people, this is just their natural skin type, for others, aging can dry out skin. If you have naturally dry skin, be sure to avoid retinoid acne treatments, as they make skin cells shed more quickly, which is usually not helpful for dry skin. It can cause irritation, which causes inflammation and acne. Dry skin caused by aging is very normal, and for many people, it is how their acne finally clears up in adulthood. This isn’t the case if you already had relatively dry skin, though. If you have dry skin and significant acne around your jawline, the best way to treat it is with a moisturizer.
Moisturizer is not usually marketed toward people with acne, because it is believed that moisturizer will clog pores and cause more acne. Although some might, the right kind of moisturizer can actually be a huge help. Dry skin is more exposed to irritants, and is more likely to become inflamed, thus producing more acne. So keeping the skin moisturized could be the key to clearing your acne. The best kind for acne is water-based, rather than oil or alcohol-based. Most moisturizers contain small amounts of alcohol to help mix the ingredients evenly, but if you see more than one or two alcohol compounds listed, it will probably dry out skin and should be avoided.
Similarly, moisturizers probably contain some oils, but it shouldn’t be more than one or two. As a reference to know which kinds of oils are most likely to clog pores and should be avoided completely, see this comedogenicity chart which ranks various oils by their pore-clogging abilities. Check the packaging for words like “non-comedogenic,” “oil-free,” or “non-pore-clogging.”
Shaving cream, makeup, even acne products themselves can all cause acne along your jaw, so it’s important to know which products to trust and which to avoid. Similar to the other common causes of jawline acne, shaving cream can lead to acne on your jaw because it can irritate your skin. The two ingredients that you want to avoid if you have jawline acne are sodium lauryl sulfate (or other sulfates) and any fragrance.
Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is a harsh chemical used to foam up shaving cream, but when it gets into the pores, the skin is often irritated5 and may set off the inflammation response. Fragrances created by essential oils are usually okay, but if the ingredient list just says “fragrance,” you may want to try a different product. Fragrance chemicals are also big-time irritants.
To avoid SLS, we recommend using a shaving gel instead of shaving cream, since it doesn’t require any harsh chemicals to make it foamy. A quick Google search for “SLS-free shaving gel” should turn up a couple of good options, like Every Man Jack, which is SLS-free, fragrance-free, and vegan to boot.
Makeup can also be a factor in jawline acne, but not for the same reasons. Sometimes makeup can irritate the skin6, but often its main offense is clogging pores. Similar to searching for a moisturizer, when buying makeup you should always look for words like “oil-free” or “non-comedogenic.” But if you don’t remove your makeup at the end of the day, it can still cause acne issues. You might remove most of the makeup on your face, but if you have significant acne around your jaw, you may be missing that area.
It turns into a vicious cycle: you have acne around your jaw, so you apply makeup to cover up. Then at the end of the day when you go to remove your makeup, the jaw acne isn’t as obvious because it’s covered up and the angle of your jaw might often hides minor blemishes. You forget to remove the makeup, and apply more the next day after some rubs off at night, probably onto your pillowcase or sheets. The layers of makeup clog pores and lead to more acne, so you use more makeup.
To break the cycle, we suggest writing yourself a note on the mirror, reminding yourself to remove the makeup around your jaw.
The last products we want to warn about are actually acne treatment products themselves. Although these can cause issues all over, because the skin around the jaw is typically drier, they may impact that area especially. Many acne treatment products focus too much on clearing acne immediately, so they use very high concentrations of acne-fighting ingredients. This does provide fast results, but then it starts drying and irritating the skin and the acne comes back.
Benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and other ingredients should be used at low concentrations at first, to see how your skin reacts and to avoid irritation7. For benzoyl peroxide, we recommend starting at 2.5%, and for salicylic acid, 0.25%. These levels can be found in many over-the-counter products, but we recommend Exposed Skincare. Their products are strong enough to fight acne, but gentle enough to avoid the pitfall many other products fall into: being too harsh and irritating the skin. Exposed combines scientific ingredients with natural ingredients, like aloe vera or green tea extract, and it creates a solution that works for every skin type and every kind of acne.
What is your body language like when you’re bored? If you’re like most people, your elbows are on the table, and your chin is being held up by one or both hands. This is a natural pose for someone who’s tired, bored, or stressed. Unfortunately, it could be contributing to acne along your jawline.
Similar to the acne mechanica brought on by sports, instruments, and other causes, when your hands are pressed against your skin, they block the pores from releasing the sebum they naturally produce. The sebum is pressed back into the skin instead, creating a clogged pore, and potentially irritating the skin. To make matters worse, your hands collect all kinds of germs throughout the day. Although only one kind of bacteria directly contributes to acne, other bacteria can trigger the immune system8 and the inflammation response. When you take all of these factors together, resting your head in your hands is the perfect recipe for acne.
To avoid this particular acne-causing pose, and the first step is to realize that you’re doing it. Try to be aware of your body for a few days to figure out if this is a problem that might be contributing to your jawline acne. If you notice your head in your hands several times a day, then it’s on to step two: breaking the habit. Breaking habits is incredibly hard, but there is one way to ensure that your hands are nowhere near your face. It might seem childish, but if you are in a meeting or class where you don’t need to take notes, and you feel yourself getting sleepy or stressed, sit on your hands. This physically stops you from pressing your palms into your jaw, and it can keep you from picking or scratching at your face as well, if that is another problem for you.
There are many oral medications that are meant to improve acne, but there are some oral medications that address unrelated symptoms that could cause acne as a side effect9. These medications don’t affect the jawline alone, but they could be a factor in jawline acne. Certain kinds of anticonvulsants, antidepressants, and contraceptives have all been known to increase acne, but that does not mean you should stop taking them or decrease your dose on your own. If you check out your medications and find one that lists acne as a side effect, you should speak with a dermatologist and ask if they believe your acne is caused by a drug interaction.
Sometimes acne caused by medications looks just like normal acne, but oftentimes, it differs slightly. Instead of a natural mix of all the different kinds of acne in all their varying shapes and sizes, acne caused by a medication usually looks uniform. For example, you may have pimples that are the same size and shape, and very few blackheads or whiteheads. Even if you notice this pattern, you are still not advised to discontinue or decrease medication. If medication is causing acne, then you need to speak with the doctor who prescribes your medication.
This doctor can determine if it is safe for you to decrease your dose, change medications, or stop taking them completely. It is not safe to determine this on your own, and definitely not safe to stop taking medications without the supervision of a doctor. If you see a dermatologist and they say they can manage your other medications, run the other direction. Dermatologists specialize in skin, not the brain or reproductive system. You should always manage your medications with the doctor who prescribed them, if possible.
Acne can be a very frustrating condition. All of the acne product advertisements are designed to make you feel bad about your skin, everyone else’s seems to look better, and it’s just one more thing to worry about. Studies show that acne actually has serious effects on mental health, and can contribute to serious mental illnesses like depression or anxiety.
Because of this, sometimes we don’t treat our skin well when we’re trying to get rid of acne. There’s a common myth that if an acne treatment stings or burns, that means it’s working. This is untrue, and in direct opposition to what your skin is telling you. It is sending you signals for pain, indicating that it is hurt, and whenever the skin is hurt, it protects itself by becoming inflamed. This is why harsh products that sting or burn do not work, they simply make the skin inflamed and cause even more acne.
The same applies to harsh scrubbing. Many people with acne do not like their skin. One major factor in this is the way acne commercials use words like “hate,” “disgusting,” or “dirty.” It’s impossible not to absorb these messages to some extent. This is exactly what the skincare industry wants, because if you dislike your skin, you are more likely to treat it poorly by using harsh products (that they are selling you) or scrubbing at your skin.
In an act of aggression toward our skin, we try to physically scrub the acne away, thinking we can make ourselves “clean.” But this is guaranteed to irritate the skin, cause inflammation, and only make acne worse. Instead of scrubbing, try using the pads of your fingers to gently spread acne treatment products onto your skin. It won’t feel as satisfying at first, but it will be better for your skin, and it is an act of kindness toward yourself that you deserve.
Q. Could my hormones be causing acne along my jaw?
A. Hormones don’t necessarily cause acne in any particular place, but they could be worsening your acne in general. Hormonal fluctuations related to menstruation, pregnancy, or polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) either increase testosterone or decrease estrogen. Everyone has both of these hormones, just at differing levels, and it isn’t the exact amount of a hormone that can cause a problem, it’s the hormone level relative to other hormones.
Testosterone and other androgens, when out of balance with other hormones like estrogen, can cause the sebaceous glands to go into overdrive and produce more sebum than they usually do. This increased sebum clogs pores and provides extra food for acne-causing bacteria, which consume sebum as their main food source. This can lead to more blackheads, whiteheads, and pimples.
It could contribute to jawline acne specifically because that area is usually drier, but if you have oily skin and your hormones fluctuate and you produce more oil, the dry areas could develop more acne as well.
Q. Are there any special products to help with jawline acne?
A. There are not any jawline-specific acne products that we would recommend. This is both good and bad. It’s nice to buy a product that you know is meant for the specific problem you are having, but it’s less expensive if you can find a product that does it all. The best way to prevent and treat jawline acne is a full acne treatment system. This includes a gentle facewash, a cleanser/toner, and a moisturizer. Because the jawline is in the U-zone, moisturizer is probably the most important step for acne around the jaw, unlike forehead acne, which would benefit most from the toning step.
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