To skin experts, acne is a bit of an enigma. We know, to a degree, what causes it; but its unpredictability can create quite a bit of head-scratching. Hormones, genetics, and bad skin habits are just a handful of the factors that can contribute to breakouts. And, just when you think you’ve figured out why you’re breaking out, something new triggers them and you’re back to square one. It’s one of the many frustrating facets of acne.
For instance, why in the heck do you suddenly find yourself with ear pimples? Not only do they hurt like a mother, but they also completely defy the logic of adult acne — or what little logic we currently have around it. In fact, there are quite a few places where pimples pop up that feel totally random.
Which is why we went to dermatologist Dr. Ellen Marmur to make some sense out of these seemingly senseless bumps. Keep reading to find out the five weirdest places you break out and how to avoid them in the future.
The Place: Your Ears
Why It Happens: Dr. Marmur says this one is pretty straightforward — they are caused by blocked pores. Excess oil builds up and, since we don’t regularly exfoliate our ears (but, hey, good for you if that’s your thing), it continues accumulating. This creates a tiny blocked pore, a.k.a. a comedone.
How To Stop It: To prevent these annoying — and painful! — bumps, Dr. Marmur recommends using peel pads daily at night on the area. The salicylic acid in Clearasil Stubborn Acne Control 5-in-1 Pads ($8) help prevent blackheads and pimples by dissolving the dead skin and oil that clogs your pores. If you are already using them on your face, simply extend that application to your ears.
To treat existing ear zits, someone needs to extract the pore gunk that’s built up in there. Easier said than done as it’s kind of impractical to try and get in there with your fingers — plus, it’s not hygenic! Instead, grab two cotton swabs and press downwards on the skin directly next to the pimple. No way to sugarcoat it: This is going to hurt. Once the comedone has been removed, we promise you’ll feel so much better. If it doesn’t pop after a few tries, visit your derm for assistance, so you don’t damage your skin.
The Place: Your Neck
Why It Happens: In most cases this is a symptom of good old-fashioned hormone imbalance. Breakouts in this area can be traced back to androgens, male hormones that both men and women have in their bodies. Androgens can cause oil glands to be overstimulated; when coupled with significant levels of the bacteria, it can create hormonal breakouts. Since your jawline and neck contain a large amount of oil glands, that’s where androgens can proliferate and cause those painful bumps.
How To Stop It: While there’s not much you can do to prevent it,, treating it is pretty simple. Just extend your usual acne-fighting routine to your neck.
Dr. Marmur likes a gentle salicylic acid cleanser like Boscia’s Clear Complexion Cleanser ($28) — it uses willow bark extract, a natural version of salicylic acid — followed by prescription bacteria-killing gel. In-office, she likes using blue LED light, which kills the acne-causing bacteria and minimizes the effect that excess oil will have. And for the love of all things holy, do not attempt to pop those suckers. Your neck is already very delicate and you can increase your risk of damage or even scarring. Not to mention how painful it will be. If the pimples have been lingering for more than a week or are excessively painful, head to your doctor’s office to have them provide some pro advice and treatment options.
The Place: Your Eyebrows
Why It Happens: Yeah, this one is probably the most random of the bunch. Dr. Marmur says that these aren’t actually acne, but rather folliculitis, an inflammatory bacterial infection in the hair follicle. The bacteria is usually staphylococcus aureus, aka staph. Fun. These bumps can look just like pimples — red, inflamed, and sometimes full of pus. They can also happen as a result of ingrown hairs, usually an unfortunate side effect from waxing or tweezing when the hair grows into the skin rather than out of it.
How To Stop It: Dr. Marmur uses steroid creams or a prescription medication commonly used to treat eczema. She’s also a fan of in-office red LED light, which may reduce inflammation. To avoid a recurring issue, Dr. Marmur warns that you might have to give up regular brow shaping or waxing if you continue to see issues post appointments. Instead, do minimal tweezing at home to get rid of obvious hairs until the bumps clear up.
The Place: Your Scalp
Why It Happens: This is another case of folliculitis, says Dr. Marmur, caused by a combo of that pesky staph bacteria and dead skin cells. It can be a particularly bad problem for those prone to flaky scalps or dandruff. It can also be caused by a common skin condition called seborrheic dermatitis, a type of rash that results in red, itchy skin and flaky skin. These dry, painful bumps can be attributed to everything from a type of yeast that lives on the skin to stress to what kind of climate you live in.
How To Stop It: The good news is there are a lot of effective options to help care for the scalp. Beauty brands have made scalp health a priority, with old standbys like Head & Shoulders and new luxury players like Sisley ($105) and Oribe ($44). These exfoliating and skin-calming treatments can get rid of that build-up while soothing irritated skin. If things are getting out of control, Dr. Marmur says you may want to see your derm and get a prescription for a bacteria-killing treatment. Or, if seborrheic dermatitis is your issue, ask your doc about a prescription for a hair-specific cortisone foam.
The Place: Your Booty
Why It Happens: If you’re a fan of working out—or lounging around in yoga pants all day—chances are you’ve seen a few red bumps crop up on your derrière. The culprit here, says Dr. Marmur is a combination of tight clothing, dead skin, and sweat causing yet another type of folliculitis. Seems to be a common theme here, no?
How To Stop It: If you’re prone to bumps, you might have to ditch the yoga pants in favor of looser, more breathable fabrics (remember sweatpants?). After working out, make sure to immediately get out of those tight clothes and wash up. Exfoliate with a gentle scrub (we like Dove Exfoliating Body Polish with Crushed Macadamia and Rice Milk, $6). If you need more help, see your doctor about getting a prescription acne medication to kill any bacteria.
Another tip is to keep a pack of cleansing wipes, such Yes To Tomatoes Blemish Clearing Facial Wipes ($4), in your bag to clean the area anytime you feel sweaty. Or try Dr. Marmur’s more novel approach and spray your bum cheeks with antiperspirant. Yes, really. Mist on a sweat-stopping duo like Degree Men UltraClear Black + White Antiperspirant Deodorant Spray ($7). She promises it will keep your booty sweat-free and nip that folliculitis in the bud. Hey, desperate times!