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Can touching one's face cause them to break out?

Is it true that touching your face can give you acne in the places you touch? I've heard this, and while I do have a habit of nervously touching my face, I can't tell if there's any connection or not. I just don't understand how your skin could irritate itself like that.
In order to answer this question, it is helpful to think about what causes acne in the first place. Basically, acne occurs when pores of the skin become clogged with dead skin and other debris. This allows bacteria to collect and build up and can lead to inflammation and pus ("whiteheads"). All of the various treatments for acne that work involve trying to remove this layer of dead skin and debris, or reducing the bacterial activity on the skin. Therefore, there is no reason why touching your face with your hand per se would cause your face to break out. However, if your hands are dirty or oily, you may be transferring this debris to your face, which could potentially cause a problem. Similarly many people when they touch their face, what they are actually doing is picking and squeezing at areas of acne. This definitely will worsen the situation, as it causes inflammation and can lead to infection or scarring. The best way to treat your acne is, therefore, to avoid squeezing the affected areas of skin. Follow this up with daily face washing, exfoliation, and, if necessary one of several acne products containing benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. If this does not work, then you should consult with your primary care doctor or your dermatologist.
This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.
If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or (in the United States) 911 immediately. Always seek the advice of your doctor before starting or changing treatment. Medical professionals who provide responses to health-related questions are intended third party beneficiaries with certain rights under Zocdoc’s Terms of Service.

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