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Acne on Cheeks: Why It Happens and How to Treat It

Kristin Hall

Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 08/15/2020

Acne anywhere is unwanted acne. Whether you have a pimple at the center of your nose, or a patch of them on your cheek, acne can be embarrassing, painful and life-disrupting.

Sometimes, where your acne appears can be a clue to what’s causing it. 

In the case of cheek acne, it could be something as simple as a filthy phone. But like other acne, it could also be your hormones, stress levels or a genetic predisposition. 

Reading useful content online can get you started in the right direction, but talking to a medical professional about your acne will ensure you’re not wasting your time with useless remedies, and instead pursuing treatments most likely to help you get your face — and life — back.

What Causes Acne? 

Acne is caused when sebum gets trapped beneath the skin’s surface. 

More specifically, sebaceous glands (or oil glands) near your hair follicles produce oil. That oil generally travels up the hair follicle and exits at your skin’s surface through a pore to moisturize your skin. 

But dead skin cells can block or “clog” the oil’s exit. When this happens, the oil is trapped and can become inflamed as a breeding place for bacteria. In turn, a pimple happens. 

Acne is common in teenagers because puberty triggers an abundance of androgens (male hormones) which ramp up oil production, which can in turn lead to oily skin. 

In adult women, it is largely believed that hormonal fluctuations — like those that happen around your period or when you have an endocrine disorder — can similarly lead to acne. As well as a slew of other things, of course.

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Why Cheek Acne?

Acne anywhere can be caused by any number of things. 

When it comes to acne on your cheek, however, you’ll first want to look at whether you’re making that area particularly vulnerable to breakouts. 

Anything that traps heat, sweat and/or bacteria on the skin of your cheek can trigger acne lesions.

Sports equipment, such as helmets and chin or face straps, could be to blame. 

Acne caused by equipment like this is known as acne mechanica, and generally results in small, rough bumps that may turn into pimples and acne cysts.

Your cell phone could also be to blame. 

If you spend a lot of time with a phone pressed against your cheek, you could be introducing bacteria. 

One smaller study looked at the phones of 100 college students and found their surfaces to be a literal breeding ground for multiple types of bacteria.

A pillowcase could also be the culprit. This is especially true if you don’t wash your face before bed or if you don’t wash your pillowcase frequently.

Non-cheek specific triggers could be to blame as well. The following can all cause acne: 

  • Hormonal fluctuations around the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and menopause

  • Oral contraceptives (hormonal birth control) 

  • Stress

  • Smoking 

  • Genetics

  • Endocrine disorders such as PCOS 

  • Certain medications 

  • Hair products and skin care products that aren’t non comedogenic 

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Treatment and Prevention for Acne on Your Cheeks 

If you know what’s causing your cheek acne, you may be able to take immediate steps to remedy it. For example, if a chin strap from horseback riding is the culprit, you can place a clean, soft pad between your cheek and the strap on every ride, and wash your face when you remove your helmet.

But if you’re unsure what’s causing your acne, talking with a healthcare professional or dermatologist will help you determine the best course of action. 

Acne treatments for adult females may include over-the-counter or prescription topical solutions such as retinoids, or oral medications such as antibiotics and birth control pills. 

By analyzing the severity of your acne, previous treatments and whether or not you have particularly sensitive skin, a medical professional can best determine a treatment most likely to help alleviate your blemishes and prevent long-term outcomes such as scarring and discoloration. 

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.