Sunday, May 6, 2007


Affecting nearly everyone at some time in their lives, acne is the most widespread skin condition in the world. Yet despite a gradual raising of awareness about acne, there are still an astonishing number of acne “myths” clouding public perception. These untruths are passed down from one family member to another, mentioned by a friend in passing and occasionally published in beauty magazines.

What’s the harm in a little folk wisdom, you ask? For most people, not much. But for those who suffer from persistent acne, these seeds of misinformation can blossom into a bigger skin problem, leading them to practices that can actually make their acne worse.

Acne Myths & Claims - Acne is caused by dirt.

Wrong! Acne is caused a number of things, but dirt isn’t one of them. Blemishes form when dead skin cells mix with your body’s natural oil, forming a plug in the tiny hair follicles commonly called pores. This has nothing to do with dirt, so overwashing your face or body (more than 2–3 times per day) will not make your acne better. In fact, too much washing or the over-use of harsh scrubs and “pore strips” can actually strip the skin of the oil it needs to stay soft and pliable. The result? Dry, flaky skin that may actually produce more oil.

Acne Myths & Claims - Acne is for teenagers — you’ll grow out of it.

This myth is harmful in several ways. First, it can lead teenagers to “wait it out” instead of seeking treatment for their acne; this can result in plummeting self-esteem and in severe cases of acne, scarring. Second, this myth can cause further alienation in adults who suffer from acne. They may feel too embarrassed to seek treatment, wondering “Why do I still have acne? What am I doing wrong?” The truth is, acne can strike at any age; it’s not your fault. And while it is treatable, the course and duration of treatment differ dramatically for each person.

Acne Myths & Claims - Acne is just a cosmetic condition.

Yes, acne does affect the way people look — it’s not a serious threat to a person’s physical health. But it can also affect the way you feel about yourself and the world around you, causing low self-esteem and even depression. And after it’s gone, acne can leave permanent physical and emotional scars. Don’t let anyone discourage you from seeking treatment because your acne’s just “a little problem.” The sooner you consult with a professional, the sooner you’ll get on the path to clear skin.

Acne Myths & Claims - Spot treatment works.

Unfortunately, this just isn’t true. For more than 30 years, over-the-counter products have been making the claim that a dab of medicine directly on the pimple will clear up acne. Since blemishes take 2–3 weeks to develop, you’re treating an old symptom of the problem rather than the problem itself. The best way to treat acne is to stop the blemishes from developing in the first place — which means treating the whole face or area every day, even when you don’t have blemishes.

Acne Myths & Claims - Certain foods cause acne.

No, those french fries you had yesterday didn’t give you new zits today. In fact, scientists have been unable to find ANY substantial connection between diet and acne. So all the foods you’ve been afraid of — pizza, french fries, chocolate — are fine. Of course, that doesn’t mean you should binge on your favorites whenever you want — a healthy diet will help your body have the strength to help you in your fight against acne. So use your common sense, but don’t be afraid to indulge now and then.

Acne Myths & Claims - Make-up causes acne.

Most make-ups today are non-comedogenic, which means they won’t clog your pores. When shopping for cosmetics, look for products that are non-comedogenic, oil-free (water-based) and hypoallergenic (no added fragrance). Please note that strenuous exercise can cause any make-up, even the right kinds, to migrate across the skin and into the pores — so forego heavy cosmetics when you work out.

Acne Myths & Claims - Acne is caused by too much sex.

It’s true that androgens, the hormones all of us begin producing during puberty, are one of acne’s main contributing factors. While these and other hormones may initiate sex drive, your sexual habits have no effect on acne.

Acne Myths & Claims - Antibiotics reduce the effects of oral contraceptives.

For many years, doctors believed that combining oral contraceptives with certain antibiotics reduced the effectiveness of birth control pills, increasing the risk of pregnancy. A review of a large number of dermatology patients failed to find a increased rate of pregnancy in women who were being treated with a combination of oral contraceptives and oral antibiotics. So while you should always consult with your doctor(s) before combining drugs, don't let this medical "old wives' tale" prevent you from finding the right balance of acne medications. For more detailed information on oral contraceptives, see A Clinical Guide for Contraception; Third Edition, Leon Speroff, MD, and Philip, Darney, MD. Published by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.1

Acne Myths & Claims - Sweating cleans out your pores.

While working out is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, it can cause flare-ups for some people. Vigorous exercise stimulates oil production, which combines with heat, perspiration and friction to aggravate acne on the forehead, chest and back. You can minimize irritation by wearing loose cotton clothing and by showering immediately after exercising. Swimming is probably the best form of exercise for acne sufferers; in water, perspiration, heat and friction are largely out of the picture. Just make sure you don’t sit around in a wet swimsuit, as this can cause breakouts on your behind.

Acne Myths & Claims - Sun exposure helps acne.

Wrong! The “Bronze Age” is over! Minimal amounts of sun exposure may initially improve the appearance of acne — as the skin darkens, blemishes may be less noticeable. But prolonged exposure promotes more rapid exfoliation of dead skin cells, so you’re more likely to get clogged pores. In addition, acne’s unsightly souvenirs, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and macules, will actually get darker if you spend time in the sun. Over time, sun damages the skin and increases the likelihood that your acne will leave scars. And of course, sun exposure dramatically increases your chances of getting some form of skin cancer. So play it safe and use sun protection products that are oil-free and have a “sun protection factor” (or SPF) of at least 15 for both UVA and UVB rays.

Acne Myths & Claims - Scrubbing and toning the skin stops acne.

Since acne is not caused by dirt, excessive washing won’t make it go away. Harsh over-the-counter exfoliants using apricot pits or walnut shells can actually irritate or tear the skin, increasing the chances of infection and more breakouts. Likewise, alcohol-based toners can strip the skin of necessary oils, leaving it dry and irritated — and more likely to start producing more oil. For best results, use a gentle medicated scrub and a mild alcohol-free toner; witch hazel is a gentle alternative.

Acne Myths & Claims
- Stress causes acne.

This claim is exaggerated, but based in reality. While stress does not cause acne, it can trigger flare-ups. When the body encounters stress, it steps up production of cortisol, which causes the sebaceous glands to produce more oil. Individual stress response varies dramatically, so it’s difficult to gauge “typical” effects on the skin. Remember, even "good" stress — the excitement of planning a wedding or anticipation of moving away from home for the first time — can trigger a stress response. The best course of action is to keep tabs on your own personal response, and to try to make time every day for the things that make you feel relaxed and happy.

Acne Myths & Claims
- Acne is curable.

Not yet. But don’t lose hope — it is highly treatable. The best way to treat acne is to prevent blemishes from happening, so if your breakouts seem to be sticking around, see a dermatologist right away. There are a wide range of treatments available, so there’s a good chance that you’ll be able to find one that works for you. Just remember this: Even if your blemishes go away, your acne is not cured. It’s important to be diligent about your treatment plan, even after your skin is clear.