6 Household Items That Can Cause Acne You Never Thought Of

Household items may be the clues you've been missing while looking for what is causing your acne.
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Considered a source of agony by many, acne often has a debilitating impact on self-esteem. So finding the culprits that cause it is top of mind for most people. It’s indeed difficult to make blanket statements about acne, as the reality is that everyone’s skin is different, and the reasons for breakouts occurring vary from genetics, hormones, diet, stress, or inadequate skincare. Still, simple things like some household items in your house that can exacerbate breakouts can be easily avoided, so acknowledging them might put you in the fast lane for clearer skin.

Household items that can worsen acne


If your skin is prone to breakouts, there’s a high chance your pillowcase can worsen your condition. Pillowcases are some of the most common items in the house that harbor bacteria, and if not washed regularly, the dirt and germs buildup can get transferred onto your skin, clog your pores, and trigger breakouts.[1] For the best, avoid cotton pillowcases because they are known to cause friction which can lead to inflammation and pimples. Instead, opt for a silk or satin one since these fabrics are gentler to the skin.


Like pillowcases, dirty bed sheets could also worsen your breakouts as they can harbor bacteria if not changed regularly. The fibers can trap bacteria, oil, and sweat and then transfer them to your skin, leading to acne. Ideally, people with acne-prone skin should change beddings every two days to avoid worsening blackheads and pimples.


If your towel is bacteria-ridden, chances are it worsens your acne. Because towels are often damp and stay in dark bathrooms, they become the perfect environment for bacteria to lodge, and when you use them, the germs and microbes that can carry onto your skin can cause acne. So, be cool and change your towel every 2-3 days and use a separate towel for your face. Also, always gently pat dry your face, and don’t rub — rubbing can cause physical irritation and lead to acne.[2]

Cell phones

People check their phones every 12 minutes or so, hence it’s no surprise that these devices can accumulate huge amounts of bacteria. With every touch, bacteria from the environment gets transferred to the phone’s screen, and when it touches your face, that bacteria gets onto the skin. The rule of thumb is to clean your mobile phone by the end of each day with an antibacterial microfiber cloth or a cleaning product designed for phones. Also, consider using headphones or a speaker instead of holding your cell phone to your face when you speak. 


Although food alone doesn’t cause acne, it can aggravate it. A sugar- and carbohydrate-rich diet has been associated with acne due to increasing the androgens hormones in the body.[3] High levels of androgens cause an increase in sebum production, which may potentially clog the pores and worsen the pimples.[4] Preferably, avoid processed and high sugar content foods, and choose green leafy vegetables, salmon, nuts, and green tea.


Tight clothing like sports bras, helmets, and shoulder pads may apply pressure on the skin and can cause friction, leading to what it’s known as mechanical acne. This usually happens on the body, especially the back or forehead, if you often wear helmets or bandanas. For this reason, you should always take off your sports bra after working out. Also, avoid wearing helmets for long hours, or take breaks between sessions to allow your skin to breathe, reduce pressure, and control sweating.

Can the air in my house trigger acne?

Yes. Air contains chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are present in our everyday household items, evaporating at room temperature into the air. These compounds are basically pollutants that can block pores and lead to inflammation and acne.

New furniture, air fresheners, and repainting walls are notorious culprits unless you use VOCs-free paint or add nontoxic topcoats to paints. New furniture should be aired out when purchased before being brought into the house for VOCs to evaporate outside.

Also, if you live in a highly polluted city, you may experience inflammatory acne. This is because air pollutants trigger inflammatory pathways and stimulate oxidative stress, a well-known cause of inducing breakouts.[5] This is why it’s crucial to apply antioxidants like vitamin C, vitamin E or ferulic acid daily on your face.

Read next: Face Mapping: Here’s What Your Acne Is Telling You


Women’s Concepts uses reliable sources, including dermatologists’ insights, clinical trials, and scientific journals, to find accurate information and support all the facts shared in our articles. All statements and claims have clear and legit references. Read our editorial policy to learn more about our sources of information, our process of researching and fact-checking the content, and how our team strives to keep all articles updated, completed, and trustworthy.

  1. Robert R. Dunn, Noah Fierer, Jessica B. Henley, Jonathan W. Leff, Holly L. Menninger, Home Life: Factors Structuring the Bacterial Diversity Found within and between Homes, Published: May 22, 2013
  2. Acne.org, How Often Should an Acne-prone Person Wash Their Towel?, April 15, 2022
  3. Danby FW. Nutrition and acne. Clin Dermatol. 2010 Nov-Dec;28(6):598-604. doi: 10.1016/j.clindermatol.2010.03.017. PMID: 21034984.
  4. Ghosh S, Chaudhuri S, Jain VK, Aggarwal K. Profiling and hormonal therapy for acne in women. Indian J Dermatol. 2014 Mar;59(2):107-15. doi: 10.4103/0019-5154.127667. PMID: 24700926; PMCID: PMC3969667.
  5. El Haddad, C., Gerbaka, NE., Hallit, S. et al. Association between exposure to ambient air pollution and occurrence of inflammatory acne in the adult population. BMC Public Health 21, 1664 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-021-11738-0
Who wrote this?
Ana Vasilescu
Ana Vasilescu
Ana Vasilescu is the founder and editor-in-chief of Women's Concepts. She has over 5 years of experience working in the beauty editorial industry and dermatological research and was an acne sufferer for over a decade. Ana is now an IAO and CPD-accredited skincare consultant keen to teach others about the importance of a consistent routine. She covers a wide range of topics in skincare—from buzzy ingredients to anti-aging and acne advice. She holds a BA in Sociology and Political Sciences from the National School of Political and Administrative Studies. Find her on LinkedIn or Instagram.
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