I’ve suffered from acne for years now, and I know my list of triggers like the back of my hand. Not enough sleep? That’ll do it. Long plane journey? Inexplicably (because I do ALL the things you’re meant to), yes, more spots. My period? Of course this comes with a side of spots – and usually cystic monsters – thanks to hormonal shifts.
And here’s one I discovered in my early twenties: sex. It took a boyfriend who travelled a lot for work to prove to me that that this was a clear trend in my break outs. It went like this: a few days of kissing and sex while he was in the country, and spots would inevitably descend. Usually big, headline ones, on my chin.
As I was self-conscious about them, I’d then find myself quite glad that he had to leave the country so I could apply spot treatments after work and get things under control by his return (I know how that sounds, but honestly nothing floors my confidence like a huge spot).
My next partner was London-based, so when I noticed the same relationship between spots and sex, I had to do some serious research because attempting to cover them in concealer, combined with sex + sheets + sleep, is the absolute worst for acne. Besides, I was really tired of trying to make my skin look clear when in reality it was in trouble under my makeup. I wanted to enjoy sex without worrying I was uncovering a spot, or that I would have ten more a few days later.
I found these golden rules really reduced the kissing/sex spots:
1. Cleanse beforehand
The first big step was taking my make-up off before sex. You might not want to do this, and I get it if you don’t: sometimes it can feel more revealing to take make-up off than clothing, especially when you have acne. But if you can’t bring yourself to do it before you start kissing, definitely, definitely go and do it afterwards. Your skin will thank you.
When my spots were at their absolute worst and I dreaded the idea of anyone seeing me without make-up on, I would then put a bit of concealer on in the loo after brushing my teeth and cleansing in the morning. Arduous and annoying, yes: but it was the only way I could make myself cleanse properly at night, so I did this until I felt more confident to be make-up free next to someone.
2. Keep sheets clean
The next thing to do regularly is wash your sheets. My favourite skin expert, Pam Marshall at Mortar and Milk, always reminds me that sheets (pillowcases in particular) collect skin grease and dirt and pollution – and smooshing your face into that at night does bad stuff to skin that’s prone to throwing a wobbly. I do my sheets weekly but give my pillowcases a mid-week wash too by chucking them in with any white wash.
3. Think about their skin, too
There’s a problem that’s less-easily solved here: cleaning your partner’s skin. Even if they have really good skin without any effort whatsoever (I’ve often found myself wondering how someone’s skin can look clear and healthy like a boiled egg without putting in any time – it seems very unfair), it still might be causing your acne.
Here’s why: during kissing and sex, you’re sweating, they’re sweating, your skin is rubbing up against theirs, and you’re exchanging that sweat and grime and bacteria. If they are someone who just doesn’t get spots, that won’t be an issue for them – but it might make yours worse. Add in friction from any facial hair if they have it, and you’ve got a recipe for some pretty bad spots.
The answer to this one isn’t simple. If you’re new to the relationship, you might feel awkward bringing it up. I find this line works quite well: ‘I know you might find this odd, but do you mind if I just quickly wipe your skin with a cleanser?’ – in my experience, this is met with a little surprise but then quickly becomes part of the routine.
If your partner is into skincare – easy. Just ask them to cleanse after sex (or just spritz some Clinisoothe, which is so quick and easy).
Oh – and wipe their chest if you like to sleep on it: Pam reminded me of this recently and it’s reduced the spots on my cheeks quite a lot – I liked to lie on their chest and clearly the sweaty sex mix was flaring my acne up.
4. Cleanse again afterwards
For the same reasons you want to give their skin a wipe after, you’d ideally give yours one too. If you can bring yourself to do a full cleanse, great. I sometimes do this if I shower post. But if I’m tired and just want a five second fix while I nip to the loo, it’s Clinisoothe either sprayed or wiped across my face, chased by moisturiser. Job done.
My kit for sex minus spots
The Body Shop Sumptuous Makeup Cleansing Butter, £6
If I’m in a hurry to clean my skin, this is the one. It whips all make-up off so quickly, and they make a small 20ml travel tin so if you’re staying at theirs, it’s easy to fling into your handbag.
Clinisoothe+ Skin Purifier, £14.95
This soothing facial spray really is a perfect fix for loads of acne-related issues. I use it after cleansing, after sex, and on my partner. I really notice the increase in spots if I forget.
The Karry By Your Side Skincare Organiser, £34.99
If you are hauling your skincare around, this kit makes it easy and hygienic, so you can just decant your trusty products and make sure you have them in their bathroom for before and after sex.