Nothing ruins the blissful afterglow of sex like discovering a big ol’ pimple. How did it get there? And, more importantly, how can you get rid of it before round two?
While sex can do a lot of good for your mind and body (Lower blood pressure! More brain power! Increased immunity!) it might also be the root of the pimples that seem to keep popping up every time you look in the mirror.
“There’s no concrete evidence that sexual activity can aggravate acne,” says Kseniya Golubets, MD, a dermatology specialist in Pittsburgh. “But we know that acne is multifactorial.” Basically, straight-up penis in vagina, or vagina on vagina, or any combination of body parts that gets you going, isn’t magically going to produce blackheads. However, certain aspects of sex definitelycould. Cosmopolitan.com broke down the six biggest culprits below:
What’s the problem: Any kind of physical activity causes sweat, but sex can be especially vigorous (heyo). “Sweat alone does not cause acne,” says Sejal Shah, MD, a dermatologist and RealSelf contributor. “But sweat can mix with makeup, bacteria, oils, and other impurities on your skin.”
If left uncleansed, this mixture of sweat, makeup, and who knows what else can burrow into your pores and cause some serious blockage.
What to do about it: “Think of a roll in the hay like a session at the gym,” says Dr. Shah. “It’s best to try to cleanse your skin before and after to help prevent acne.” Of course, exfoliating doesn’t make for the greatest foreplay, so if a pre-sex pamper sesh isn’t in the cards, at the very least make sure you get it all off after (or during!) with a shower.
Dr. Golubets recommends using anything with salicylic acid, or a gentle foaming wash, to make sure your pores are clean.
2. Facial Hair
What’s the problem: A good beard can do wonders for a man’s face, but before slipping that Brooklyn barista your number, take a moment to consider what his scruff could do to yours.
“As your smooth face rubs against a hairy face, it creates friction and irritation which stimulates oil production,” says Dr. Shah. “This excess oil can combine with dead skin cells in the pore, creating a plug in the pore and leading to the development of acne.”
What to do about it: Trying to fix the problem could actually increase your risk of breaking out. “I’ve heard people say, you know, put coconut oil on your partner’s beard to soften it up, but I don’t know about that,” warns Dr. Golubets, who fears exposure to the oil can stimulate acne.
Paul Friedman, a Houston and New York City-based dermatologist, says grooming is an essential part of avoiding irritation, so encourage your partner to trim their split ends and regularly wash their beard with antibacterial washes.
If your partner isn’t willing to shave or carry out any of these steps, then it’s time to get creative. Kissing is great, but maybe opt for some sex positions to get you out of the line of fire, like doggy style or reverse cowgirl.
3. Dirty Sheets
What’s the problem: If your partner’s room is littered with open chip bags, or you have to wade through old towels and dirty clothes to get to your bed in your studio apartment, then it’s safe to assume that both of your bedsheets are just as poor shape. “Leaving dirty bedsheets can trigger flare-ups of acne because of dead skin cells, oils, and bacteria that can accumulate on unwashed fabrics!” says Kaleroy Papantoniou, MD, a cosmetic dermatologist.
Pillowcases are especially prone to this bacteria, says Dr. Golubets. They collect facial oil, hair product, and myriad other bacteria.
What do to about it: If you spend an equal amount of time in both your beds, then this is a shared responsibility between you and your partner. “Use cotton fabrics and wash them at least twice a week if you are prone to acne,” Dr. Shah advises. If your partner isn’t willing to make that commitment, then at least try to do it with your own sheets.
4. Hair Products
What’s the problem: There’s a reason Jersey Shore called it the Smush Room: All kinds of body parts get smushed up against each other during sex, and that includes your hair.
“Certain hair products can be the culprit,” Dr. Golubets says. “People get sweaty during sex and some of their hair products get on their face.”
While certain chemicals and ingredients can be good for your locks, they’re not so great on the skin. Specifically, the silicone, acrylates, and oils found in hair products are particularly aggravating.
What to do about it: Dr. Golubets urges consumers to be informed about all the products they’re using and what’s inside them. Take an extra moment to read the label. If it has a ton of chemicals, try to steer clear. “They’re not as stable,” Dr. Golubets explains. “They could be hormonally disruptive, and they can cause oxidated damage in the skin.”
Dr. Friedman says that you’ll want to avoid certain ingredients depending on your skin type. For instance, alcohol-based products can be drying, whereas oil-based products can clog pores. It’s up to you to decided which is least problematic for your skin, but to avoid all that, simply keep your hair up and out of your face when things get sultry.
5. Massage Oils
What’s the problem: While it’s hard to think of a downside to massage oil ~in the moment~, it can have some not-so-sexy side effects later on.
“If you are acne-prone, and use certain massage or ‘intimate’ oils on your skin, especially on those acne-loving areas such as our back ,chest, and face, you may indeed trigger a breakout,” says Dr. Papantoniou.
“The skin naturally produces and releases its own oil through pores known as sebum to help protect and moisturize our skin,” Dr. Friedman adds. “When the body has difficulty releasing this oil and other triggers are present, an inflammatory response may occur and acne may then develop.” When you apply massage oils, you increase your risk.
What to do about it: Dr. Papantoniou recommends switching to something more natural, such as coconut oil, which some people find less pore-clogging.
“Noncomedogenic (non pore clogging) lotions may be an alternative,” Dr. Friedman suggests, saying that it would be difficult to find an oil that would not clog pores. “Washing oils off [the] body is key in prevention if the oil is used.”
6. Hormonal Birth Control
What’s the problem: When it comes to acne, hormonal birth control is hit or miss. Some options, like the pill, have worked wonders on the skin. Others, however, have not.
“Specifically, many people experience acne when going on the IUD,” says Dr. Shah. “It has to do with the hormones released by the IUD (I usually don’t see increased acne with the non-hormonal IUD). For example, Mirena releases only the progestin levonorgestrel, which is more androgenic than some other progestins that may find in other hormonal birth control methods.”
What to do about it: First, rule out possibilities like an irritant in your skin-care routine or sweaty makeup getting into your pores. If you just recently switched to a new birth control method and it seems like there’s no other explanation (your routine is consistent and you and your partner follow the above tips), then it’s time to turn to your gyno.
“If you feel that your hormonal birth control is causing your acne, [it’s] best to try a low androgen or non-hormonal method,” says Dr. Shah. While you can attempt to treat the acne with over-the-counter products, not much can be done (other than going off of it) if hormonal birth control is the true source.