Causes of Cheek Acne & How to Get Rid of It

Causes of Cheek Acne & How to Get Rid of It

Is all acne the same? Not exactly. The location of your facial acne is crucial to treating it, as it's one of the most telling indicators of what's causing it. (1)

Before we get into cheek acne, we first need to address acne in general. Acne is caused by retention hyperkeratosis, which means one's pores are genetically predisposed to produce excessive amounts of keratin protein, which becomes trapped within the pores. It means the pores are genetically predisposed to becoming more clogged. 

So what causes acne in general? There are a plethora of reasons that acne can occur, but the four primary reasons are hormone imbalances, topical pore-cloggers, an overly processed diet, and food allergies.

Why Am I Breaking Out on My Cheeks?

You're breaking out on your cheeks, and you're desperate to find the cause as well as a solution, but where do you start? What are the causes of acne on the cheeks? 

Dead skin cells, debris, dirt, and oil that clog pores are often known as the main culprits of  U-zone acne. U-zone acne differs from the T-zone as the T-zone refers to acne on the forehead, nose, and even the chin. U-zone acne refers to acne that’s located on the cheeks and jawline. (2

Although there are various reasons why acne develops in the cheek region, your genes and susceptibility to acne are the most common causes of cheek acne. But, in addition to your genetic predisposition, some of the most common daily routines could also be to blame. Anything on or around your face for an extended period of time can lead to an accumulation of oil, bacteria, and dead skin cells, leading to acne. (3

So, if you are someone who touches your face often throughout the day, for example, that could be the simple reason for your cheek acne. In addition, commonly used items such as your cell phone, pillows, linens, and even your hands could, in fact, be the culprits of your cheek acne.

Is It Acne or Papular Rosacea?

It's important to note that redness or pimples on the cheek area could also be acne rosacea or “Papular Rosacea.” Rosacea can result in redness and tiny red pimples on the cheeks. (3)  

Acne-related redness is often exclusively limited to the pimple area, and in contrast, rosacea-related redness can affect a large area of the cheek. Although acne can include redness, it's more likely to include blackheads and clogged pores. (3

Although cheek acne and papular rosacea display similar symptoms, they are very different. Acne treatments like benzoyl peroxide and tretinoin / Retin-A, when used on general rosacea, can irritate and perpetuate the problem. So, it's crucial to determine if you have rosacea or cheek acne. If you suspect the redness on your cheeks is from rosacea, it's recommended to see a dermatologist and get with a gut health specialist. (2

How to Get Rid of Cheek Acne

Pillowcases and bedding

You may be surprised to find out that dirty pillowcases and linens may trigger cheek acne in those who are prone to breakouts already. This is mainly because hair product residue, dead skin cells, and bacteria can transmit from your skin to your bedding every night while you sleep. (4) It is crucial to check your hair conditioner and leave-in hair products for pore-clogging ingredients, otherwise you will continue to break out on the cheeks, neck, ears, and upper shoulders. If you notice your acne is worse on your main sleep side (typically the right side) then it's a strong indicator that it’s your hair conditioner. The main ingredients in hair products that commonly cause pillowcase acne are isopropyl myristate, coconut oil, shea butter, soy, and wheat. These ingredients are rated high on the comedogenic scale which means they are very likely to clog your pores as the residue gets smushed into your pores every night while you sleep. This is a huge cause of acne that is under-represented and needs to be paid attention to.

If this sounds familiar, check your hair products now using this list

Aside from hair products, dirt and oil can accumulate in the threading of your pillows and sheets, especially if you don't wash your face regularly before bed. The accumulation of dirt, oil, and dead skin cells can clog pores, resulting in acne breakouts. To prevent acne from occurring, it's recommended to change your pillowcases and all of your bedding every few days to reduce and minimize oil production, and be sure to cleanse your skin every night before bed.

Touching your face 

Acne can be made worse by touching, squeezing, or picking at your face with your hands. Picking at the skin, squeezing pimples, or scratching off scabs can worsen acne since you’re transferring bacteria from your hands to your face. In addition, you cause more inflammation to your skin by popping, picking, or touching your cheek acne. Overall, squeezing or picking at pimples is a recipe for disaster. Oftentimes it’s hard to know if a skincare routine is working for you because if you look in the mirror and only see red scabs and scars you will think you’re not getting better, but you may be. (5

When you do this, you further damage your skin when it is already vulnerable. So it's a best practice to keep your hands off your face altogether. Use an ice-roller to massage your skin instead of picking it, that way you still get the satisfaction of “doing something” but it’s actually helping you instead of hurting you. It's also essential to wash your hands often to mitigate any bacteria, dirt, or oil that may transfer from your hands to your face. It’s also important to be aware that hand lotion usually has pore-clogging ingredients, so you really don’t want to transfer that to your face. (2)


We are attached to our phones. When we aren't holding them in our hands scrolling away on Instagram or Tiktok, they're bound to our face! (2

But because things like makeup, dead skin cells, dirt, bacteria, and face oils can accumulate on our phone screens throughout the day, our cell phones can, in fact, also be the cause of cheek acne. All-day long, we transfer bacteria and dirt onto our cheeks every time we use our phones. 

In addition, all day long, we're touching objects and picking up environmental pollutants that are transferred from our cell phone screens to our faces, more specifically, our cheeks. All these pollutants, dirt, germs, and bacteria can clog our pores and trigger or even irritate existing cheek breakouts. PRO TIP: wipe your phone off with rubbing alcohol at night.

Diet & Food Triggers

It is widely known that dairy (milk, cheese, whey) contributes heavily to acne. This is true- and dairy acne generally shows up on the chin. However, cheek acne can be often caused by eating eggs. Eggs are actually a top allergen for many people and can bother the lymphatic system, which shows up on the face in the cheek area. If you are having eggs more than once per week, reduce it immediately to gauge your skin’s response. At San Diego Acne Clinic, eggs are one of the top causes of cheek acne that we see. If eggs are baked into something that’s OK, but the amount of actual egg protein is the thing to watch. Eggs also have a high amount of naturally occurring progesterone so some people may experience hormonal acne from eating too many.

Another food trigger for cheek acne is gluten. Gluten, even if you are not celiac, is highly inflammatory for most people and bothers the lymphatic zone/cheek region. Reduce the amount of gluten you consume and monitor your reduction in inflammation.

Proper exfoliation 

Exfoliation removes dead skin cells that inevitably clog pores and allows moisturizing treatments to permeate more deeply into the skin, increasing their effectiveness.  (6)

The optimum exfoliation is determined by your skin's health and sensitivity. If you have susceptible skin or severe acne, you should carefully select an exfoliating product and approach. For example, those with acne-prone and sensitive skin should be sure their exfoliation products are gentle yet powerful enough to unclog pores and remove dead skin cells. 

An effective option is to use a cleanser containing AHAs/BHAs like glycolic and salicylic acid to remove the environmental debris, dead skin cells, and unclog blocked pores. CLEARITY  AHA Mandelic Acid Serum is an award-winning exfoliating serum that includes Vitamin C and Turmeric. “Chemical exfoliation” is the term for AHA’s and enzymes, and these types of exfoliants are vital to unclog pores. Do not let the word “chemical” scare you (even water is a chemical). Mandelic acid is the favorite here because it is stronger than salicylic but not as harsh as glycolic, and it even works on fungal acne. (7)

Mandelic acid unclogs pores, dissolves excess oil, and stimulates collagen production- especially when combined with vitamin C, which CLEARITY is. It's known as the "The Blackhead Dissolver," as blackheads dissolve within about 10 minutes, leaving skin brighter, healthier, and free of blackheads. 


Acne-prone skin tends to have more oil production, so, hydration might be the last thing on your mind. (Especially when most moisturizers have pore-clogging ingredients that make skin worse!) However, if you actively use medical-grade acne treatments, those tend to dry out your skin and wreck your skin barrier. Excessively dry skin can lead to the overproduction of oil, which can then cause more breakouts, and it also makes you more susceptible to UV damage which causes accelerated aging. A daily light moisturizer that is free of pore-clogging ingredients can help to solve your acne problems and make your skin better overall. (8)

So what kind of moisturizer should acne-prone skin use? 

Look for a moisturizer that's oil-free, non-comedogenic (won't clog pores), and has collagen-loving ingredients like bakuchiol and stem cells. A great option for acne-prone and sensitive skin is CLEARSTEM's HYDRAGLOW stem cell moisturizer

It's a potent stem cell moisturizer that is expertly crafted with bakuchiol (a natural alternative to retinol) and is perfect for all skin types. It's safe for acne-prone skin because it contains no pore-clogging ingredients and helps with acne scars because stem cells act as skin superfood while the bakuchiol & amino acids encourage new collagen production. This moisturizer is anti-aging as well, for these reasons.

The Takeaways

Acne on your face, specifically on your cheeks, is not a pleasant experience, but some key habits can be modified to help prevent or reduce your cheek acne. Especially if you discover your diet or lifestyle choices or habits are causing breakouts on your cheeks. (3

Changing your habits that promote the blocking and clogging of pores and finding the right skincare products are the most vital aspects to preventing and ending cheek acne. Check all your current skincare products and ensure that they are safe for acne-prone skin. This list of pore-clogging ingredients should help!

If you have already changed your daily habits to encourage clean and healthy pores and have been using safe, non-comedogenic skincare products to no avail, it's recommended to seek a board-certified dermatologist or a clear skin coach for a more in-depth, individualized, and professional plan. (3



Source 1: Here’s What’s Causing Acne on Every Part of Your Face

Source 2: How to Get Rid of Cheek Acne

Source 3: Here’s Why You Keep Breaking Out on Your Cheeks

Source 4: Spending Too Much Time in Bed Can Actually Wreak Havoc on Your Skin

Source 5: Does Touching Your Face Cause Acne?

Source 6: The Importance of Exfoliation

Source 7: 10 Foolproof Ways to Unclog Pores, According to Skincare Experts

Source 8: Moisturizer: Why You May Need It If You Have Acne