Derm DMs: Why Do I Always Break Out on My T-Zone?

November 17, 2022
Ariel Wodarcyk
By: Ariel Wodarcyk | by L'Oréal
Image of model in a bathrobe, applying a clay mask to her T-zone while looking in the mirror

Acne is annoying no matter where you get it — but for many of us, the T-zone is the most common area for breakouts to pop up. After battling T-zone breakouts ourselves, we decided to consult Dr. Melanie Palm, a board-certified dermatologist at Art of Skin, MD in San Diego, California and consultant. Keep reading to find out why the T-zone is more susceptible to breakouts than other parts of the face and what you can do to prevent new pimples from forming. 

Why Do I Always Break Out on My T-Zone?

First, let’s define the T-zone: It’s the T-shaped area between your nose, forehead and chin. According to Dr. Palm, this area also has the most pilosebaceous units of the entire face — aka more oil glands and hair follicles. This is what makes the T-zone extra oily. “Because acne breakouts typically result from a combination of excess oil and dead skin cells, we typically see more whiteheads and blackheads in the T-zone area and generally consider it to be more acne-prone than other areas of the face,” she explains. So it’s not just you that has a particularly oily T-zone — all of us, even those with dry skin, have extra oil glands and hair follicles in the area.


Image of a model applying a clay mask to her T-zone and chin, touching her chin

How to Combat Blemishes on Your T-Zone

Use a Retinoid

“A standard for treating breakouts is using a retinoid at night,” says Dr. Palm. “If you’ve never used a retinoid before, it should be slowly incorporated into your skincare routine and only a small amount should be used all over the face, not as a spot treatment.” Ask your dermatologist before incorporating a retinoid into your skincare routine. 

Don’t Dry Out Your Skin

If you have oily skin, you might think that skipping moisturizer, washing your face with drying cleansers or using lots of active ingredients at once will help mitigate your skin’s excess oil, but that actually isn’t the case. “When your skin is stripped dry, your sebaceous glands go into overdrive to produce more sebum in an effort to rehydrate your skin — which can lead to even more breakouts,” says Dr. Palm. She recommends incorporating hydrating products with hyaluronic acid and ceramides into your routine to replenish moisture. 

Use Non-Comedogenic Products 

Comedogenic products may include those formulated with silicone (found in primers, makeup and hair-care products), lanolin, petrolatum, paraffin wax, coconut oil and sodium chloride, says Dr. Palm. Depending on the formulation, these products can clog your pores and may worsen breakouts. 

Instead, follow a gentle skincare routine tailored to your skin type, and choose lightweight products that are promoted as being non-comedogenic.

Don’t Pop Your Pimples

No matter how tempted you are to pop a pimple, try to refrain. Popping pimples can lead to further inflammation, scarring and a spread of acne-causing bacteria. Instead, Dr. Palm recommends using products with salicylic acid, using a hydrocolloid pimple patch to protect the affected area, or visiting an esthetician for a professional extraction.

Use Gentle Exfoliating Ingredients

“I also recommend looking for ingredients that offer gentle exfoliation to unclog pores, like salicylic acid or glycolic acid,” says Dr. Palm. “If you have an acne-prone T-zone, you can also benefit from formulations containing benzoyl peroxide or niacinamide, which can help to decrease inflammation and improve the appearance of pores.” 

If you are using a retinol, avoid using other actives like salicylic acid, glycolic acid or benzoyl peroxide on the same nights you apply the retinoid, and always introduce new products gradually. Your dermatologist can help you find a combination of products that can be used together, while helping minimize the likelihood of over-drying. In addition, keep in mind that some products may increase your susceptibility to sunburn, so it’s important (as always!) to wear a sunscreen with SPF 30 or greater. 




Photo: Chaunte Vaughn

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