Experiencing acne on your cheeks? Here's what might be causing it

Dealing with stubborn acne can be frustrating — here are some simple fixes.

Written by
Lucinda Starr
Medically reviewed by
min read
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Pimples. They're a common skin issue that often seems to appear at the most inconvenient times. Dealing with skin problems can be frustrating, especially when it comes to stubborn acne.

Out of all the places that breakouts can strike, cheek acne can be one of the most common (and most frustrating to navigate).

Whether you experience occasional breakouts or have been struggling with acne for years, we have listed some of the most common causes of cheek acne and a few simple ways to reduce and treat cheek acne that suits your skin type.

What does acne on your cheeks mean?

Understanding the underlying cause of cheek acne is crucial before jumping into treatment options. The first thing to understand about cheek acne is that there are 2 different types: acne vulgaris and acne mechanica and the root cause of each is quite different.

Acne vulgaris is commonly seen in teenagers and young adults, but can occur in anyone, and is caused by excess oil production that blocks pores and clogs hair follicles [1].

Hormonal fluctuations and imbalances are one of the most common culprits behind acne vulgaris (especially when it shows up as cheek acne).

On the other hand, acne mechanica is a result of friction on the skin and is preventable [2]. Friction irritates the hair follicles leading to inflammation which may eventually cause acne.

Cheeks are more prone to this type of acne because of the pressure and friction often placed on this area when lying down or using mobile phones. Touching the skin with our hands frequently is also another common cause of things like cheek acne.

What causes cheek acne?

Dealing with stubborn acne can be frustrating, especially when concentrated in one area. Finding the root cause of cheek acne will help you on your journey to clearer skin.

If your frequent breakouts have left you wondering what causes cheek acne, your lifestyle and daily habits are a good place to start.

Let's explore some common lifestyle factors that might be contributing to your cheek breakouts (or even chin acne), along with some simple fixes.

Sleeping on dirty sheets and pillowcases

Bedding and pillows can harbour bacteria, dust, dirt and a whole host of other allergens that can irritate the skin leading to inflammation and breakouts.

Regularly washing your bedding and replacing your pillows can help minimise the chance of bedding leading to unwanted cheek acne.

Using synthetic fragrances

While fragrances may not typically cause acne on their own, they can contain allergens that can cause sensitive skin, leading to inflammation that can make treating acne difficult.

It's best to avoid synthetic fragrances, particularly if you are prone to sensitive skin.

Reactions to haircare products

'Pomade acne' can occur when hair styling products are transferred to the skin throughout the day, which can clog pores and lead to acne.

Consider using non-comedogenic products or finding a way to keep your hair away from your face to prevent this.

Resting on your hands or frequent face touching

Throughout the day, our hands come into contact with all sorts of surfaces like phones, kitchen sponges, and shared door handles which are home to all sorts of bacteria.

Touching our faces can transfer these bacteria to our faces, clogging pores and causing pimples. Try to break the habit of frequently touching your face.

Infrequent cleaning of makeup brushes

Makeup brushes and other beauty products that come into direct contact with the skin are another breeding ground for bacteria. Clean your brushes regularly, and opt for a baby shampoo or gentle cleanser to help prevent acne-causing bacteria.


While the evidence about the links between diet and skin health isn't exactly clear, some studies have suggested that consuming more fresh, whole foods can help improve skin. Limiting dairy might also be beneficial for improving skin complexion [3].

It's important to refrain from popping and squeezing pimples as this can result in more acne forming. Trust us, we know how tempting this can be! Instead, take a step back from the mirror, examine your daily routine and see if you can pinpoint the root cause of your cheek acne instead.

While acne on the cheeks doesn't necessarily indicate poor hygiene, making sure you regularly wash your sheets, makeup brushes, and towels and try to limit the use of your phone in the bathroom (which can transfer bacteria onto the phone) can help improve moderate acne.

If you've made changes to your lifestyle but still aren't seeing results, the root cause of your cheek acne might be hormonal. In this case, seeking the advice of a doctor for an effective treatment plan is the best course of action.

Is it cheek acne or rosacea?

If you notice red bumps on your skin, especially on your face, you might immediately think it's a breakout. But there are a few other possibilities to consider, such as rosacea. Given the similarities, it's easy to get acne and rosacea confused. So how can you tell the difference?

Rosacea is a skin condition that leads to red, flushed, rough and bumpy skin, which can sometimes develop into pustules. Sounds like acne, right? But unlike acne, the redness associated with rosacea tends to cover larger areas of skin and extends beyond the pimple or lump.

Another thing to look out for with rosacea is that the affected skin might grow thicker over time [4]. Another key sign that you're experiencing rosacea is that it can be worsened by sun exposure, heat, alcohol, mental health, caffeine, and spicy foods [5].

What's behind recurring acne on cheeks?

So, you've made changes to your daily routine and seem to have excess oil under control, but can't get seem to get rid of the pimples — now what?

If acne breakouts keep happening in the same area, even after you've washed your sheets and stopped touching your cheeks, it might be time to learn more about hormonal acne.

Hormone levels might be the culprit behind your acne breakouts, whether it's hormonal changes or hormonal imbalances. But what hormones cause acne?

Androgens are the hormones responsible for stimulating the sebaceous glands. Both men and women have these hormones, but men typically have more. Androgens cause the oil glands in the face, neck, back and chest area to produce more oil [6].

While some hormonal fluctuations are normal, particularly throughout the menstrual cycle, excessive fluctuations can increase sebum production, leading to oily skin. Because oily skin creates the ideal environment for bacteria to grow, it can often lead to acne [7].

How to treat cheek acne

Understanding the root cause is only one part of the puzzle of treating acne. Identifying the best acne treatment for your skin type will help to reduce inflammation, clear your clogged pores, and reveal radiant and blemish-free skin.

Some of the top-performing ingredients to look out for in pimple-fighting skincare products are salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide. Topical treatments, such as pimple patches, may also be effective in clearing surface level or newly formed pimples located close to the outermost layer of skin.

Software's Acne Kit harnesses these ingredients to address acne at all stages. The topical and oral treatments include our Salicylic Acid Foaming Wash, Ceramide Repair Balm, Acne Supplement and AHA/BHA Pimple Patches to help reduce acne inflammation, clear away dead skin cells, balance oil production, control emerging breakouts and repair the skin barrier.

If adjusting your skincare routine and introducing topical treatments don't eliminate your cheek acne, acne treatments like antibiotics may be necessary, especially for severe cases.

What if my skin isn't responding?

It's important to remember that treating acne takes time and it can take a few months before you start seeing results, so try to keep going with your treatment and don't give up if you don't see improvements right away [8].

If you've started to include ingredients like salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and glycolic acid, it's essential to consider where these ingredients are coming from and the 'delivery system'.

This term is used in the skincare industry to refer to the mechanism for how active ingredients reach the deeper layers of skin in order to optimise results.

Many over-the-counter acne treatments contain lower dosages of these active ingredients, meaning they might not deliver the results you're looking for.

In the journey to prevent acne on the cheeks, a combination of lifestyle changes paired with powerful prescription-level ingredients and a custom skincare routine, like Software's personalised acne treatment, can help reduce breakouts on your cheeks and across your face.

Software's treatment contains medical-grade prescription ingredients such as retinoids, niacinamide and hyaluronic acid and is personalised to your individual skin concerns.

Simply take an online consultation, upload selfies and share your skin goals with your practitioner. From here, your practitioner will formulate a personalised skincare prescription, which is then compounded by our partner pharmacy and delivered straight to you.

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* Software lifestyle survey of 116 patients who were using
Software for ageing concerns, June 2022