When your face becomes a volcanic landscape of zits and acne scar valleys, all you want is a map to guide you to the holy land of clear skin. This map shouldn’t just tell you where to go, but also how you got lost in the first place. It needs to tell you whether you took a wrong turn at Sugary Diet Fields, or went too far down the bank of the Hormone River. Luckily, this "face mapping" technically exists, but the accuracy of this map, as it turns out, is quite controversial.
Beauty guru Rowi Singh (you may remember her from our Rowi Singh challenge) was recently scrutinized for sharing the below image on her Instagram story after a follower told her the pimple between her brows, which she talked about in her previous story, was linked to her liver and could be a sign of too much alcohol consumption. The follower then suggested she Google “face mapping.”
After several people messaged Singh about their concerns with her post, she posted another story of the face map a few hours later with a disclaimer over it that read: "As with everything, do you own research. 🙂 This face map isn't always going to be an accurate reading of your pimples. There are so many other factors at play. Someone really tried to come for me reguarding this, but I know you're all smart enough to take it with a pinch of salt! Xx"
The following day Singh addressed the face mapping post on her story again after discovering the Reddit thread. She apologized for spreading misinformation and added that she simply shared it because it aligned with her previous experience, but she does not claim to be a doctor and everything she posts is opinion based. "The reason that I posted it is because it is quite interesting in regards to the fact that I had similar issues," said Singh. "I was breaking out on my cheeks and it was all gut and stomach related." She then compared face mapping to horoscopes in that it's fun to consider, but don't take it too seriously.
We know there is a lot of misinformation about acne face mapping out there, and it's hard to know who to believe—so we decided to look into it and do the research for you (though more is always encouraged). We asked two board-certified dermatologists to explain face mapping and whether or not it is an accurate tool for diagnosing acne.
What is face mapping?
It started thousands of years ago as an ancient Chinese medicine practice rooted in the idea that energy links the face to other parts of the body via invisible pathways. Thus pimples, redness, and dryness on the face are tied to internal organ imbalances and treating those imbalances should, in turn, treat the corresponding issues on the skin. Though face mapping has evolved over the years to include more scientific explanations for facial skin concerns, the idea is the same: where you breakout is an indication of other issues within your body.
Does face mapping work?
There are conflicting views on the accuracy of face mapping. Dr. Jessie Cheung of Cheung Aesthetics and Wellness in Chicago uses face mapping as an indicator of dietary issues. But according to Dr. Jennifer Chwalek of Union Square Lazer Dermatology in New York City, this practice should be taken with a grain of salt. “There is little empirical evidence that face mapping accurately provides a direct correlation between one organ and one specific area of the face,” says Dr. Chwalek. So if a pimple pops up on your chin, don’t immediately swear off dairy. There could be other factors at play. Instead, she recommends looking at the skin in general as a guide toward diagnosing health issues and identifying possible lifestyle changes that need to be made. “The skin is a window into internal health—and can often be a smoking gun,” she says.
What do breakouts in certain areas of the face mean?
While we can’t tell you whether or not face mapping is the be all end all of acne care, we can tell you how your diet may be affecting your skin based off of Dr. Cheung’s face map. Here is what she said:
"Forehead breakouts are associated with your small intestine, and the area between your brows is specific to your liver, so increase your fiber intake, and avoid alcohol.
Temples reflect your kidneys and bladder, so avoid medications that stress those organs and stay hydrated.
Cheeks are connected to your stomach and lungs, so stay away from cold drinks to avoid upsetting your stomach, and avoid smoking.
Your jaw corresponds to your reproductive organs, so keep your period regular by managing your stress."
She adds, “Foods that break down to simple sugars will lower sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG). This protein usually binds up excess estrogen and testosterone, and when SHBG levels are lowered with too much sugar, the effects of the extra estrogen and testosterone are seen in the skin as increased oil production. It's the simple sugars in certain dairy products, such as milk chocolate and skim milk, that are linked to acne.”
What else could be causing your skin to breakout?
External factors could also be causing persistent breakouts in the same spots. If you’ve been struggling with acne in a certain area for a while now, consider these possible causes and lifestyle changes you may need to make:
Chin and jawline acne could be caused by touching your face. Think about how often you rest your face in the palm of your hand or touch your chin while you’re thinking or working. 🤔 On average you unknowingly touch your face about 15 times every hour. That’s a lot of bacteria being transferred to your delicate skin.
Cheek acne could be an indication that it’s time to change your pillowcase. Your cheek spends hours each night rubbing against your pillow. If it’s dirty, it could be pushing bacteria deep into your pores. To prevent this, wash your sheets at least once a week. Your phone could also be causing your cheeks to break out. As our most used device, phones are crawling with bacteria. Disinfect your phone regularly to kill acne causing bacteria.
Forehead and hairline acne could be caused by oily haircare. Hair oils are great for hydrating strands and smoothing frizz, but they can also lead to clogged pores if they touch the skin. If you experience a lot of forehead acne, try washing your face after you do your hair and use a clarifying shampoo to make sure you get all the hair products out of your hairline at the end of the day.
Nose and upper lip acne could be due to sweat. The upper lip is one of the first places to begin sweating on the face. When you wipe away that sweat, you risk transferring bacteria from your hands onto your skin. Of course, sweat is inevitable on a hot day, so try using something else to blot your sweat instead. A towel or blotting papers are a great example.
What could other skin concerns point to the inside of your body?
Acne isn’t the only indicator that something is off in other parts of the body. Dr. Chwalek explains, “many patients who experience cystic acne and excess hair growth are actually going through hormonal imbalances, such as polycystic ovary syndrome where the body produces excess androgen (a group of hormones that play a role in the development of male traits and reproductive activity).” She also said rosacea could be a sign of intestinal issues or a bacterial imbalance in the gut and she recommends her patients with eczema or dermatitis herpetiformis (bumps and blisters caused by gluten ingestion) get tested for Celiac’s Disease or allergies." Of course, check with a dermatologist if you have any of these concerns.
Should you face map at home?
Neither dermatologist recommends taking face mapping into your own hands. If you are struggling with acne, they both suggest making some diet and lifestyle changes, which can improve most skin concerns. “We should all be eating less simple sugars, maintaining our hydration, and working on our stress levels,” says Dr. Cheung, “but it makes sense to see a dermatologist if your skin isn't responding to lifestyle optimization.”