Stubborn acne. You know what I’m talking about, those groups of pimples that always seem to show up in the same spot (or spots) no matter how much you stay on top of a good cleansing routine.
By analyzing where pimples and blemishes frequently occur on the face, known as face mapping, we’ve begun to decode the clues as to what may be causing breakouts.
So what can we learn about stubborn acne around the cheekbones and jawline of your face? Experts have found that breakouts here can in many cases be caused by frequent cell phone use.
Cell phones have undoubtedly become an extension of ourselves, considering the amount of information and access they contain. The average cell phone user checks their phone anywhere from 60-150 times a day - not including the interaction from picking our phone up to move it, or taking it out of bags and pockets. That’s a lot of chances for dirt and oil from our hands to make it’s way onto the screen. During the day we are also interacting with germy surfaces such as gas pumps, door handles and elevators, keyboards, money and bathrooms - all of which land back on our cell phone.
The how and why
Smartphone surfaces can harbor more than 7,000 types of bacteria - 18 times more bacteria than found in public restrooms. There’s also the startling chance that 1 in 6 phones contain traces of fecal matter.
Bacteria such as Streptococcus (responsible for strep throat and other infections), Staphylococcus (staph infections), and Corynebacterium are the most common, all of which are naturally found in the mouth and skin. These bacterium are essentially harmless, but problems can arise when these and other bacteria overpopulate. Talking on our cell phones transfers heat and moisture into the screen surface, making it the perfect environment for bacteria to breed. We also store phones in dark warm places such as bags or pockets, helping bacteria to populate.
Additionally, the pressure caused by pressing the phones to our skin while we talk on the phone causes manual stimulation of our oil glands. This not only urges the glands to produce more oil, but forces bacteria, dirt and makeup into pores and traps them there. This ends up clogging the pore to form blemishes or deep acne cysts.
Trapped bacteria, heat and perspiration paired with rubbing or pressure from a cell phone can similarly lead to a rash of tiny pimples along the cheeks called acne mechanica_._ This is a cousin of everyday acne, typically seen in along the chin strap areas on athletes, chin rest areas in violinists, helmet areas and even underneath tight clothing.
Other sources of bacteria for acne found on the cheek and jawline include:
Dirty or overused pillow cases
Dirty makeup brushes
Certain types of blush
Dermatologists stress that not all of what’s on your phone surface is acne-causing, and often, our skin’s natural defense can fight off bacteria before it forms a breakout or rash. But if you notice what looks like small clusters of pimples that isn’t acne, you may have an allergy or sensitivity to nickel - also contained in some phones.
Preventing acne caused by cell phone use
Stopping cell phone use entirely to get rid of acne breakouts is pretty unrealistic, but there are things you can do to reduce the risk:
Make better use of that speakerphone button. If that’s not your thing, using a headset, headphones, or bluetooth can reduce screen contact with your skin.
Dermatologists recommend washing your face with a gentle cleanser after phone calls that are 15 minutes or longer. You don’t need to carry out your full routine, which could dry out your skin or produce even more oil. A basic gentle cleanser or cleansing wipes are best.
Clean your phone. An Oregon State University study found that 82 percent of the bacteria found on our hands, is also found on your cell phones. though we may wash our hands, we can’t just douse our tech devices in soap and water. Whether or not you have breakouts, cleaning your phone regularly is a must. Wipe your phone with a microfiber towel, a q-tip with alcohol, or use a special phone sanitizing wipe or device to help reduce bacterial and dirt buildup.
Being better aware of our surroundings and the different environments that can cause acne on our skin is key in learning how to better care for our skin. However, the best way to diagnose what may be causing stubborn acne is to visit your dermatologist.
Kristina Brooks is a gluten-free digital editor at HealthCentral, with a background in animal biology, ecology, and health science. While studying broadcast journalism, she discovered the great need for health reporters that could translate research to the public. In her work, she hopes to use research to help consumers make smart decisions about their healthcare, and empower patients to stay confident and in charge of their chronic conditions. Kristina works on the HealthySelf newsletter, as well as HealthCentral’s MythWeek.