Why Would I Have Acne Only on One Side of My Face?

Pimples only on the right or left side is more common than you might expect.

Updated November 20, 2022
Teen girl examining her complexion in a bedroom mirror

No one likes it when pimples pop up. Sometimes, it seems like no matter how hard you try to care for your skin, acne still develops - and it always seems to happen before a big event. But some people have the added frustration of noticing acne only on one side of the face.

Acne is an issue that affects preteens, teenagers, and adults. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, an estimated 50 million people in the United States are affected by this common skin condition. There are many reasons acne may occur, and several explanations for why it shows up only on the right side of your face.

What Causes Acne?

Acne is a skin condition that occurs when hair follicles under the skin become clogged with oil and dead skin cells. Acne outbreaks occur most commonly on the face, but can also affect the back, chest, and shoulders.

Hormonal changes can cause the condition to occur, especially during puberty, pregnancy, or when taking oral contraceptives. There are a number of other causes of acne, including:

  • Certain medications
  • Genetics
  • Poor diet
  • Stress

If acne becomes severe, you can speak to your healthcare provider. Depending on the cause, there may be different treatments available to manage it.

Possible Causes of Left or Right-Sided Acne

When acne occurs only on the one side of the face, there are several possible explanations.

Your Bedding

Your face rests against your pillow or sheets for 6-8 hours every night as you sleep. If you sleep on one side of your face, your pillow cover may be to blame for your acne. Dead skin cells, dirt, and oils can accumulate on your pillowcase, which can enter your pores and lead to acne. If you sleep on the right or left side of your face and don't want to wake up with new pimples, consider:

  • Washing or replacing your pillowcase every 2 to 5 days
  • Washing your face every night before bed
  • Switch to a laundry detergent for sensitive skin. Some laundry detergents contain harsh ingredients that can irritate the skin and cause acne. If your laundry detergent contains strong fragrances, for example, you may want to opt for a detergent that is made for sensitive skin.

Your Cell Phone

If you use your cell phone to make phone calls and hold it to your right or left ear, your cell phone use may be to blame for your acne. Most people use their cell phones throughout the day, and studies show that mobile phones have a collection of bacteria, oils, and other microbes on them from daily use. So with each phone call you make, you reintroduce germs onto your skin, which can clog your pores and lead to acne breakouts.

If you always hold your cell phone to the right or left side of your face, consider making a few minor adjustments to reduce acne:

  • Clean your cell phone daily with a disinfectant wipe
  • Hold your phone slightly away from your face
  • Switch sides when you hold your phone
  • Use Bluetooth and hands-free calling options such as a headset or headphones
  • Use speakerphone when it is an option

Touching Your Face

According to a study on face touching, people touch their faces an average of 23 times per hour. You use your hands for everything from typing on your keyboard to shaking hands with the new guy at work to making lunch. Each time you touch your face, you introduce dirt, oil, and germs from your hands to your face which may lead to clogged pores and acne breakouts, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. If you notice acne is more prevalent on one side of your face, consider your face-touching habits.

To prevent acne breakouts, make a conscious decision to reduce the number of times you touch your face throughout the day. Suggestions to prevent frequent face touching include:

  • Keep your hands busy. Use a fidget spinner, doodle in your notebook, or play with a rubber band.
  • Put a bandage on your finger. By placing a bandage on your pointer finger, you'll feel a different sensation each time you touch your face. Raising your awareness of how often you touch your face may help you break the habit.
  • Tie back your hair. If you have long hair, you likely brush it out of your face throughout the day. Tying it back into a ponytail or headband can help reduce the number of times your fingers brush against your facial skin.
  • Use a tissue. When you do touch your face, consider placing a tissue over your fingers before you do.

Consuming Too Much Sugar

Long-term research studies have found a link between high-sugar foods and acne. One study found that people who eat a diet high in added sugars have a 30% higher risk of developing acne. High-glycemic foods, such as bread, potato chips, fries, pastries, and sugary drinks, can raise your blood sugar quickly and increase the amount of acne you have.

A traditional form of Chinese medicine, known as face mapping, suggests that the skin's outward appearance can point to internal health issues. The right cheek is linked to sugar in food mapping, and targeted outbreaks in that area suggest you may be consuming excessive amounts of sugar. Try replacing high-sugar foods with more healthy alternatives, such as fresh fruits, yogurt, nut butter, and whole-grain foods.

When to Seek Treatment for Left or Right-Side Acne

Acne is common and sometimes a few simple lifestyle changes can help clear up your skin. But sometimes, no matter how many changes you make to your diet or habits, acne doesn't go away without some medical attention and treatment. See a dermatologist if your acne:

  • Developed suddenly
  • Has affected your self-confidence and self-esteem
  • Is getting worse despite your best efforts
  • Is moderate to severe

Your dermatologist will examine your skin and evaluate the type of acne you have to find a treatment regimen that aims to reduce your acne and improve the health of your skin. This may include acne medications, skincare products, or targeted lifestyle changes.

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Why Would I Have Acne Only on One Side of My Face?