Why You Break Out and How to Treat It

Whether it’s a nagging pimple in the middle of your forehead or a slew of clogged pores and blackheads on your nose, it’s hard to think of a more frustrating skin problem than acne. But while breakouts on certain parts of your face can be directly attributed to stress or hormonal imbalances, which means their treatment plan is often a bit more direct—acne on your cheeks can be a little harder to figure outsince your cheeks come into contact with so many things every day (like your phone, makeup, hair, pillowcases, etc.).

But don’t worry: cheek rashes are totally treatable, especially when you pinpoint their exact cause. And to help you, I talked to dermatologists Rebecca MarcusMD; Joshua Zeichner, MD; and Adam LuberMD, to tell you everything you need to know about cheek acne, from what can cause acne on your cheeks to how to get rid of pimples on your face fast.

What does cheek acne look like?

Unlike your T-zone, cheeks rarely see a lot of blackheads or whiteheads. Instead, “the cheeks are usually prone to inflammatory papules, pustules, nodules and cystic acnesays Dr. Marcus. Basically, the red, angry, and notoriously hard-to-remove lesions are the ones that most commonly affect the cheeks. Fun.

What causes cheek acne?

Cheek acne is usually caused by oil that gets trapped in the pores, allowing acne-causing bacteria to grow to higher than normal levels and create inflammation in the skin, says Dr. Zeichner. This oil buildup can happen for a number of reasons, from using the wrong skincare products in your routine to fluctuating hormones (yes, hormonal acne on your cheeks is a very real thing) and even daily habits that you may not even realize. your skin.

“Acne on the cheeks can be triggered by touching your face or resting your face in your hands, pressing your dirty phone against your cheek, not changing your pillowcase often enough, or rubbing while wearing a cover. -protective face,” Dr. Marcus said. Explain. Even using a dirty makeup brush or waiting to wash your face after a workout can lead to cheek acne.

How to get rid of acne on the cheeks?

Home remedies for cheek acne:

As frustrating as cheek acne can be, fortunately there are plenty of solutions to get rid of it. The most affordable and accessible is to use home skin care with topical ingredients designed to fight acne. “For angry pimples, your ingredient of choice is benzoyl peroxyof,” says Dr. Zeichner. “It reduces levels of acne-causing bacteria on the skin and also helps unclog pores.”

You can find benzoyl peroxide in everything from acne-fighting face washes to acne spot treatments. It is available in a range of strengths, although most dermatologists recommend starting with 2.5% and then gradually increasing the percentage, as benzoyl peroxide can dry out the skin.

Another very effective ingredient for treating cheek acne is salicylic acid. thanks to its ability to exfoliate dead skin cells and dissolve excess sebum in the pores. “A salicylic acid cleanser goes a long way in removing oil and debris from pores,” says Dr. Marcus, who is a big fan of the Bliss Clear Genius Clarifying Gel. But you can also find salicylic acid in a host of leave-in treatments, from acne serums to exfoliating toners, so it’s super easy to incorporate into your existing routine.

Beyond benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid, over-the-counter retinols and retinoids for acne are excellent for treating cheek acne. They work at the cellular level to help kick-start your cell turnover rate, reduce inflammation and decrease oil production-all key functions to keep pores clear and skin free from breakouts. Another great option? Hydrocolloid pimple patches. “They can be helpful in speeding up the healing of an acne lesion and avoiding hands to reduce the urge to attack acne lesions,” says Dr. Marcus.

Prescription Cheek Acne Treatments:

For particularly treatment-resistant cheek acne, your dermatologist may suggest prescription, oral, or topical medication. “Topical prescriptions often belong to the drug families of topical antibiotics and topical retinoids,” says Dr. Luber. “They target different causes of acne and can be very powerful when they work in synergy.”

In addition to retinoids, such as tretinoin, prescription options may include a premium benzoyl peroxide, an anti-inflammatory medication called dapsone gel, or a topical that targets hormonal acne called clascoterone. There’s also Twyneo, a new topical prescription medication that combines benzoyl peroxide and tretinoin to effectively target cheek acne.

Oral prescription medications are popular for acne that doesn’t respond well to topical treatments. Spironolactone, a diuretic that has been shown to be very effective in getting rid of hormonal acne, and isotretinoin (aka Accutane) are among the most popular and, as Dr. Marcus points out, “can work wonders.”

Your in-office treatment options:

In addition to the many home and prescription acne solutions, there are also several in-office treatments to help treat cheek acne. Facials and extractions are obvious places to start, as well as red or blue light therapy, chemical peels and lasers like clear and bright. Even the right facial can be powerful: “HydraFacial helps remove dead surface skin cells, unclogs pores and simultaneously infuses treatment serums, which can be customized for acne, into the skin”, explains Dr. Marcus.

But the real excitement for Dr Marcus, Dr Zeichner and Dr Luber comes from AviClear, a new FDA-approved laser that has been shown to permanently get rid of acne. “It targets the sebaceous glands and decreases oil production and has shown promise in treating mild to severe acne,” says Dr. Marcus. “Although not yet widely available, this promising new treatment was approved by the FDA in 2022 and will therefore hopefully become more accessible in the coming months.”


Acne is one of the trickiest skin problems to deal with, but this is especially true for rashes on the cheeks. These papules, pustules, cysts and more can be the result of hormonal or genetic factors, but they can also be triggered by lifestyle habits, such as frequently touching your face or not washing your pillowcase enough. The good news is that there is no shortage of solutions, including readily available skincare products, prescription medications, and in-office treatments. So, the next time you get a rash on your cheeks, be sure to try one (or more) of these helpful remedies.

Meet the experts:

  • Rebecca MarcusMD, is a board certified dermatologist of North Dallas Dermatology Associates in Dallas, TX, and the founder of Maei MD, a medical-grade skincare brand. She treats a full range of skin concerns, with a particular focus on acne, rosacea and cosmetic skin rejuvenation.
  • Joshua ZeichnerMD, is a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Zeichner Dermatology in New York, NY. Dr. Zeichner is one of the nation’s leading experts on acne and rosacea, and his research and clinical work has been published in top peer-reviewed dermatology journals.
  • Adam LuberMD, is a board certified dermatologist of Southwest Skin Specialists in Phoenix, AZ. Dr. Luber treats a variety of skin conditions and has a particular interest in the cutaneous manifestations of internal disease and the prevention and treatment of skin cancer.

    Why trust Cosmopolitan?

    Gabby Shacknai is a New York-based journalist with years of experience researching, writing and editing beauty and wellness stories. Gabby is an authority on all skincare categories, but she’s an expert when it comes to acne. She works with top dermatologists in the industry to evaluate new acne treatments, products and medications.

    About Sally Dominguez

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