The Cause of My Cystic Acne

Cystic Acne Cause - Dietary Fix

A little over a year ago, I shared my struggle with adult acne. Though I’ve struggled with acne for about the last ten years, it seemed to get really bad about 18 months ago. Whereas previously my breakouts with on my cheeks, all of the sudden, I started getting huge breakouts along my jawline – cystic acne. I knew it was time for a change.

You can read all about what I started to do in that post. Though my skin was generally improving with Dermalogica facials, peels (see what to expect after a chemical peel), and products, I was still struggling with the deep-rooted breakouts on my chin and couldn’t figure out why…

What Causes Cystic Acne on your Jawline?

I had many conversations with my facialist – Sarah is amazing – trying to figure out the cause. She told me that breakouts along your chin and jaw are hormonal for some people, but they’re also often diet-related.

I consider myself a fairly healthy eater. I don’t eat a lot of chocolate or cheese (I have my other vices), which are the two most common triggers I’ve heard. I know that some people opt for a vegan diet for their skin as well.

Before adopting my husband’s newer diet, I didn’t consider myself a huge meat eater. And I’ve had times of being fairly vegetarian (with little in the way of dairy); I was still struggling. No. Diet just didn’t seem like my trigger.

Detox Powders for your Skin

Last summer, before I got pregnant, I did two things that seemed to help me get closer to the solution. The first was to use a detox powder in smoothies. I used The Beauty Chef’s “Glow” powder in morning smoothies. It helps clear your gut and your skin. It has a tasty berry flavor and I really enjoyed using it.

At the same time, I stopped using any artificial sweeteners, including in my chewing gum (sweetened and flavored with aspartame – like most chewing gums)! I love chewing gum between meals and to wake up in the afternoons, so this was a hard transition for me.

Within 30 days, my skin seemed to be clearing. Of course, my first trimester lent itself to its own set of breakouts, but they weren’t like the big, big breakouts I’d been struggling with.

I was hesitant at the time to say I’d figured out the cause of my acne since I was newly pregnant and those hormones have drastic effects on skin condition (positive and negative).

Cystic Acne Cause - Dietary Fix

Finding the Cause of My Cystic Acne

Anyway. A few months later, I gave in on the gum thing. I missed that habit of mine immensely and didn’t think chewing gum would really hurt our little one.

Can gum cause acne?

Within a few days of chewing the gum, however, the big breakouts came back. I couldn’t believe it. I stopped chewing the gum and found some non-aspartame gum – not nearly as good, let me tell you.

So I struggled through that gum (maybe struggle is too harsh of a word, but it certainly wasn’t enjoyable)! Figuring my system had reset itself, I actually chewed some of that delicious minty (aspartame-sweetened) gum again about a month ago.

And another big breakout came back within a few days. There was no denying it, the aspartame-gum was causing my acne. Apparently aspartame acne is a thing!

So. Here’s the crazy thing. I’ve been chewing gum for over a decade. It wasn’t until 18 months ago, however, that my system finally had enough and freaked out.

Do energy drinks cause acne?

If aspartame, sucralose, or any other sugars or fake sugar cause you acne, then YES, energy drinks will give you acne. I found that even splenda in one coffee will cause a breakout within a week or two.

Does soda cause acne?

The same applies here. If you’re drinking diet, zero-calorie, or low-calorie sodas (sparkling and flavored waters included), then yes, the alternative sweeteners can cause acne.

So, with this in mind, it’s important to look at ingredient labels. Everything that sugar-free, low calorie, etc. is a no-go for me, but I’ve found these artificial sweeteners in all sort of food items (e.g. almond flour tortillas)! So be careful what you eat.

This also isn’t to say that if you struggle with adult or cystic acne, that an artificial sweetener may be your trigger. It’s more to point out that there’s something in your diet your body doesn’t like. It will likely take time to figure out your cause and it may not be the usual thing or something you even consider to be “bad.”

Recovering from Acne

I still have some breakouts – who knows how long it will take to get it all out of my system.

My biggest problem at the moment is getting rid of the scarring while using pregnancy-safe products. There are actually quite a few products out there that are clean and safe for pregnant women. Check out this list of pregnancy-safe eye creams just to get an idea!

When I’m not pregnant, I love these skin brightening products and a few of these natural retinol products. All are natural beauty and wonderfully effective.

Before taking care of the scarring, however, I had to find the cause of my cystic acne, or I’d be caught in a vicious cycle of getting new breakouts while trying to rid my face of previous ones!

If you’re still having breakouts, this blemish oil is a great item for your beauty arsenal – and it’s clean beauty. You just apply as needed throughout the day and it’ll quickly diminish your blemishes!

Better Beauty Products

I am also now a fan of clean beauty products as they’re crucial to keeping you skin and body healthy!

Since clean beauty is an important part of sustainable living (what we wash down the drain matters as much as what we put on our skin), be sure to check out these other clean beauty roundups:

Non Toxic Makeup Brands
Clean Beauty at Nordstrom
Clean Beauty at Sephora
Clean Beauty at Target
Clean Beauty at Walmart
Clean Beauty at ULTA
Best Beautycounter Products

Common questions include do shampoo bars really work and how do you use them? What natural deodorant actually works? Are there refillable deodorant options? What’s the best double edge razor blades (the best safety razors and how to use them properly). And the best makeup brush cleaner (on the cheap and easy)!

There are also great clean skin & hair care products for men!

And you’ll want to check out these wonderful natural bar soaps as well as body tools for smooth skin all over yourself!

And be sure to check out BeautyCounter products. Feel free to email me with any product questions or overall help with their products!

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  1. 5 stars
    Thank you so much for the post. I too have been an obsessive gum chewer for the past 4 years or so, and have been struggling with cystic acné on my chin and jawline (and even started getting some on my cheeks.)

    I’ve tried everything you can think of in terms of skincare, cut out dairy etc., but to no avail. I was then blaming it on the masks we have to wear for long periods…even asked my gynecologist if my pill could be changed.

    Then, last month, I was traveling and forgot to chew so much as I was very busy and suddenly, no new breakouts! I realized the only thing that changed that week I was away was the absence of gum and so I decided to experiment and continue to abstain. I haven’t had one single break out since then.

    I decided to see if anyone else had had the same experience and your post and comments have definitively confirmed my theory.

    Thanks so much. I will certainly never touch a chewing gum again ! 🙂

    1. YES!!!! I’m so happy you found the cause as well. I guess it isn’t super common, but clearly real enough for so many of us!! I have found 2 brands of gum without aspartame, xylichew and pur. Their flavors don’t last as long and they’re more expensive, but I do still occasionally enjoy a piece of gum and it’s nice to have options! Happy clear skin!!

  2. 5 stars
    Ohhhhh I figured it out very easy that gum was the course and stopped chewing and buying them. I wasn`t a big gum chewer and so everytime I did I would breakout on my chin and knew immediately it was the gum. It`s been years and I had just missed chewing gum, so wanted to buy but decided to look up if the sugar in the gum might have been the course then found your article. I was thinking maybe I could try non-sugar gum but it`s really not worth it!!!

    1. Not for the acne. I haven’t had any problems chewing sugar free gum sweetened with xylitol. I’ve found two brands – spry and xylichew. They both taste fine, but the flavor certainly doesn’t last as long and they come packaged in those plastic/foil, individual grid things – not light on the single-use packaging. I still chew it on occasion, but I maybe chew 1-2 pieces per month now instead of multiple per day like I used to!

  3. Ohmygosh!!! I recently had massive neck surgery & found chewing gum soothing for my throat. Have always loved Orbit bubblemint…so bought bags for my car, purse, office, etc. Started to get massive cystic zits on my chin, then cheeks, then spread to nose. Massive, gross, bubbly redness & absolutely couldn’t figure out the problem. Wearing a paper mask out in public is a blessing! Thinking that gum is really the only new thing in my “diet” I stopped chewing last week & everything is beginning to clear up. ?!? It’s not gone, gone, but I (thankfully) don’t have any new bubbles on the rise… SO strange. Everyone thinks I’m nuts, but read you’re article & wanted to leave you a note. My next steps are to look into the products that helped you. You think cleanser & toner first? Any recommendations? Please keep your fingers crossed. Many thanks!

    1. If I hadn’t experienced the same thing, I would probably question it too. And I remember googling any relationship between fake sugars and acne. I found one old blog post by someone – nothing else. I’m thinking it’s a problem for those of us who chew it so, so much (it used to be a great therapy and distraction while I was working). But I’m so happy this helped you too. That cystic acne is something fierce!

      As for products…. I would normally suggest getting a facial or seeing a specialist to have them help you figure out your skin type. Since that isn’t so easy these days…I’d actually just stick with a basic face wash, moisturizer, and SPF. And give your skin a little time to clear up – to make sure nothing else is aggravating it. Once it’s clear, then you can start working on any scarring, etc. (I have a post on that too).

      As for face wash – super gentle and inexpensive is the Cetaphil. I’ve also loved the boscia face wash. The Dermalogica active moist is a great moisturizer and here are a list of some favorite sunscreens (}. Let me know if you have any questions!!

      1. Gum’s an amazing therapy and distraction. My mother didn’t allow us to chew when we were small due to “smacking” so, to date I can hear her in my head and have just never had it around much. But, again, after surgery having popsicles everywhere didn’t seem super practical…so, thought gum!

        I’ve been chewing often since May and the breakouts have become progressively worse and just brutal and now, I can draw a circle around from the end of my nose around my cheek, to chin, to cheek back to nose of the grossness.

        So, this past weekend – after trying all types of crap and topical options that made the situation way worse – I had an insanely, massive meltdown. I look hideous. Its not stopping and total WTF…and then, remembered gum. Gum is the only thing that has really “change changed” in my daily. Sure…Yes, I’m stressed. Yes, I have my period. Yes, I …??? And, I’d started chewing a lot. When hungry, gum. When going to workout, gum. When bored, gum.

        I’ve started seeing a baby glimmer of hope in the mirror…and, then read your article. I was so thrilled thinking maybe I’m onto something!!! So, again, I’m not even a week out, but perhaps no more gum for me. Totally good. Even better, if I don’t look in the mirror to endless redness, ooze, flakes, and/or have a warm compress on my face. Super duper ok.

        I have used the Cetaphil my face and as body “soap” for years and totally agree. Love. Never heard or used the boscia, but will look into. I’ve heard about the Dermalogica, although never used. But, baby steps for now. Continuing with my Cetaphil and praying for the best!

        So many thanks for your time and hoping I’ve figured it out and turning the corner on this beast. Keep your fingers crossed. Many thanks!!!

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