Know the Cause of Your Pimple Just by Looking at It

Do you sometimes wish that you can skip the expensive and sometimes fruitless trips to the dermatologist clinic and just do relatively accurate self-diagnosis of your own pimples? If you’re really short on cash, your schedule’s just a bummer or probably, you just feel like playing witch skin doc on yourself, then it seems that there might really be a way for you to know the cause of your pimples just by examining how they look like.

While looking for possible causes of forehead pimples, which I have been suddenly suffering from lately, I came across this very interesting article from High On Health that talked about a health journalist’s attempt at a (severe) diet overhaul to cure the sudden weird-looking pimple outbreak on his forehead. I wasn’t kidding when I said “severe” as the diet involved dropping almost all types of food known to a city dweller–no meat, rice, sweets, milk, cheese, etc. The diet consisted mainly of fresh salads, smoothies, nuts and other variations of rabbit food.

Anyway, back to DIY pimple diagnosis, the article also listed several common causes of acne and how they are related to its appearance. I’ve summarized them below with additional notes I got from related articles and encounters with Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners.

What could be Causing your Acne?
Unhealthy Liver
Skin is dry but congested with black/ whiteheads. Pimples usually have ‘heads’ (the eye/pus) and they surface easily. The surface pimples can be very red and sore to touch. I’ve also learned from a consultation with a TCM doctor that liver problems can cause back acne or scattered pimples all over the body.

Fungus/Mold Skin has uneven tone and the pimples look more like rash than normal pimples. They sit under the skin but would occasionally surface with very small heads. They are not painful. The affected area may be oilier than the rest of the face. This usually happens in the T-Zone. This condition is usually caused or can be worsened by too much sugar in the diet.

Hormonal Problems Painful, hard cystic acne that sit under the skin. The pimples don’t have heads and they can take weeks or even months to heal. This type of pimple is usually not related to the oiliness of the skin and even people with dry skin can get it. Women usually get it along the jawline.

Cosmetic Acne Wondering whether your make-up or skin care product is causing your pimple? Cosmetic pimples usually grow in clusters but they are small with little heads. Outbreak is accompanied by clogged pores with whiteheads and blackheads. Breakouts are mild (no cherry tomato pimple on the nose!) but frequent.

Puberty The pimples actually look like any other. It can be mild, severe or a mixture of clusters of small pimples with headless cystic ones. Guys are more prone to suffer the severe type. Well, if the sudden outbreak happened during the puberty age then it’s most likely puberty pimples unless the entire family is basically pimple-prone.

StressWhy am I not surprised? Pimples can range from mild to severe and are usually identical to hormonal pimples since stress affects hormones. Lone pimple on the nose? You got it.

Quite Accurate But…
Based on experience, I find the descriptions above quite accurate, especially the one about stress and cosmetic pimples. However, acne can be due to various more factors like sensitivities or allergies, other underlying health conditions beside a congested liver and most notoriously, genes. Also, there could be more than one cause at the same time. It could be a combination of any two or three of the causes mentioned above or a full unfortunate mix of everything! But still, it’s definitely a helpful piece of information, especially the part about fungus/molds/yeast outbreak. That’s definitely something I haven’t heard before but it all makes sense now. Chocolate, leave me alone.

EcoBeauty Q: Do you find the pimple descriptions above consistent with your own experiences? Share, share!

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  • loveaholic

    OMGSH! the hormonal acne is so true. i’ve always wondered why i have acne breakouts especially when i take really really good care of my skin. and it’s usually painful cystic ones along my jaw lines. and now i know for sure :/ no wonder why i use products and it doesnt work. it’s all internal and hormonal. sighs.
    GOOD POST! :) really resourceful

  • Swati

    for me the stress is the main cause…nice and informative post…thanks :)

  • Vivi

    @loveaholic: Glad you found the post useful. Mine is also hormonal but triggered by stress. Once in a while, I get a really big pimple on my nose. :'(

    @Swati: You’re welcome. Mine’s usually due to stress too but I still believe that taking extra good care of the skin externally still helps. At least the stress pimples don’t come too often.

  • espenine

    I think weather changes also cause, e.g. seasonal weather change, and travelling between countries with different climate.

    • Vivi

      Hi Espenine, I agree with you. A couple of months ago, I was traveling a lot and my skin had major tantrums. I think changing products more suitable to certain climates would help the skin adjust and prevent skin sensitivities.

  • Najwan

    Interesting read. I’ve also read that the location of the spots determines the problem too. If it’s hormones then the spots are on the chin and if it’s stress then they’re on the forehead. I get them on my forehead :(

    • Vivi

      Hi Najwan, this is a very, very late reply. Sorry, I missed you comment. I read about face mapping, too. I wish to write about it one of these days. :)

  • Serina

    Makes sense, currently on Clinique acne range, have had 5 Microdermabrasion treatments, had a Regima skin peel, facials every 2 weeks and still have painfull cystic acne along the sides of my cheeks and jawline. I’m 3 months away from my wedding and extremely stressed, now I know why all my efforts seems like a dead end, HORMONES!!!! are to blame.

    • Vivi

      Hi Serina, you seem to be doing lots of harsh treatments.. it might dry and irritate your skin some more. Have you tried taking fresh juices? When I had severe pimple that not even laser was able to cure, all I did was change my diet and my acne cleared up. The general condition of my skin improved drastically, too. But of course, the diet change was difficult to do… had to let go of all my sinful cravings like chocolates and juicy steaks.

      My problem then was also due to hormones, by the way.

  • Sakina

    Hey there! I love reading your blog :)

    Anyway, do you have any recommendations on clearing up COSMETIC acne? I rarely get acne related to digestive issues etc (Hormonal yes yes yes damn it), but sometimes I tend to overdo (I know its bad..) my exfoliation/ skincare regime and i end up with clusters of clogged pores and whiteheads + blotchy red skin. Hard tiny bumps whenever I run my fingers across my cheeks.

    Natural means? I dont use chemical products at all anymore. Currently using honey to soothe my tiny bumps/ redness on the face.

    Thanks alot in advance, and keep up with the enjoyable reads!


    • Vivi

      Thanks, Sakina! <3

      If it's due to cosmetic acne, best bet would be a good cleanser + a good moisturizer and creamy exfoliant to soften the hardened keratin layers on the skin that's causing the bumps. The very same thing happened to me about a month ago or so because I was using more than one exfoliating product (i hate blackheads and it seems exfoliants are the best way to boot them out my pores). But I read that too much exfoliation causes hard oil beads on the surface of the skin. Bingo.

      Limit your exfoliation to just once a week and stick to natural ones like a simple yogurt mask that moisturizes as it exfoliates (so you don't get the hardened bumps). Before the mask, try some facial steaming. Then after one month, limit the facial steaming to just 2x a month. Are you using a cream or oil moisturizer?

      • Sakina

        Thanks a lot for the recommendation! I’ll try my very best not to over-exfoliate. I keep telling myself less is more, but I get so restless and end up doing something counter the problem. And half the time it creates alot more havoc on my skin and I literally have to restrain my hands from slapping other products on my face hahaha.

        i’m using a facial oil as my moisturizer- a blend of ayurvedic herbs and essential oils, its called Varnya. Is there a difference in using cream vs oil moisturisers?

        • Vivi

          Hi Sakina, sorry for the late reply. I’ve tried Varnya previously, I kinda liked it but I needed something that brightens the skin ’cause I have pale skin that’s prone to pigmentations. I also felt that it clogged my pores sometimes (just sometimes).

          Oh, some creams actually cause hard beads on the skin, especially when they contain waxes. :)

  • Karen

    Hey guys,

    Who’s heard of oil pulling? After extensive research about how our teeth can affect our health, I’ve realised how and when my acne actually started. It’s been a year and it actually started after my root canal treatment. Toxins overload- root canal is basically a dead tooth in your body that gathering all types of bacteria and because its a dead tooth, the immune system is running crazy alarmed trying to fight the bacteria but it cannot reach it because the tooth has no nerves anymore so no blood supply. My acne is on my right cheek, near my mouth and only in that area. Yes I have some on my left but they are only marks. So it’s good to have your teeth checked out and look up “root canal coverup”

    Oil pulling is basically you swishing oil around your mouth for 20mims as what it does it pulls all the toxins from your body/mouth and you spit the oil out and overtime people have been healed of acne, arthiritis, sinus congestion and much more.

    Any ideas?

    • Vivi

      Hi Karen, I’ve tried oil pulling for a while but because it’s best done in the morning which is the most hectic part of my day, I stopped since I couldn’t afford the time.

      I’ve got two dead teeth (after root canal treatment). I actually never experienced any problem but it’s probably because my dentist covered them up really good. Although it makes sense that if there is a constant infection caused by the toxins left in the dead tooth, your body reacts violently which causes constant inflammations as well (Acne being one of the symptoms). I would think however that it might be more due to an allergic reaction to what you eat. I used to have HUGE pimples on my nose and they always happen on exactly the same spots. But after I stopped eating too much beef and taking so much dairy, I stopped getting pimples on that area. I now get small pimples on my forehead once in a while but they are very manageable and at least they don’t leave scars.

      I think oil pulling works but I prefer just drinking my chlorophyll/spirulina juice. Chlorophyll is also very good in detoxifying the mouth area and everything else :)