If you’re ever had a pimple, you know how frustrating it can be. Sometimes, you try everything to make it go away, but it just gets worse. If you want to get rid of pimples and treat acne effectively, you need to be able to understand how pimples form, what causes them and what the myths and facts are surrounding them.
Here are 20 popular myths about adult acne and what you can do to get clear skin again:
1. Only teenagers get acne
Judging by the title of this article, it’s clearly a myth that only teenagers can get acne. In fact, adult acne occurs in half of women aged 20 to 29 and about a quarter of women aged 40 to 49.
Women are more likely than men to suffer from adult acne. That’s because of the hormone fluctuations that occur later in a woman’s life (a rise in estrogen during peri-menopause causes an increase in oil production, leading to acne).
2. Teen treatments will work on adults
Some of the same ingredients that work on teenage acne can also work on adult acne (such as benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid). However, adult skin is thinner and more prone to irritation. So, use should try a gentler approach, such as a salicylic acid cleanser or a low-concentration salicylic acid lotion. Otherwise, retinoid creams may be a good option as they prevent both acne and wrinkles by stimulating collagen.
3. The stronger the treatment, the better
It may seem obvious that a stronger treatment is better for getting rid of acne, but it could actually be more harmful. A review in Expert Opinion Pharmacotherapy found that products with 2.5% benzoyl peroxide were equally as effective as those with 10% benzoyl peroxide. However, the ones with the higher concentration may actually be more irritating.
4. Toothpaste makes acne go away
Some people use toothpaste in emergency situations (ex. before a date) to dry up pimples. While this may work temporarily because toothpaste has baking soda, hydrogen peroxide and alcohol which can dry out pimples, it’s not a proper acne treatment. Toothpaste isn’t made for your skin, so it can cause irritation and rashes, making your skin worse in the long run.
5. Washing your face will get rid of acne
Acne isn’t caused by uncleanliness—it’s caused by bacteria already on your skin mixing with excess oil and dead skin cells. Washing your face helps to get rid of the surface oil and some dead skin cells, but acne can still occur. Washing your face too much can make acne worse by stripping your skin of oil (causing it to overcompensate by producing more) and scrubbing can cause tears in the skin that can become inflamed.
6. Diet has nothing to do with acne
Studies in the 1960s concluded that diet was not associated with acne. Since then, people have held this belief. However, these studies were flawed and new research shows that diet is connected with acne.
Pay attention to what you eat and when you get breakouts. You may notice that sugary foods, dairy products and unhealthy fats aggravate or trigger your acne, so try to cut down on these and increase your intake of fruits and vegetables instead.
7. You should stop eating chocolate to get rid of acne
Foods with a high glycemic-index break down quickly, spiking insulin levels, which increases sebum production, worsening acne. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t have any chocolate at all. After all, it’s probably not the sole culprit of your acne. There’s no problem with the cocoa in chocolate, just the dairy and sugar. So, choose chocolate with a higher cocoa content—these have a lower glycemic index.
8. The sun will help your acne
You may think that the sun helps acne by drying your skin. But, while the sun may make your pimples less noticeable temporarily by tanning your skin, it’s ultimately not good for your acne. The sun’s UV rays can inflame your skin, making acne, acne marks, and your risk of skin cancer worse. It also increases skin cell turnover, which may cause dead skin cells to clog pores, worsening your acne situation.
9. Makeup makes acne worse
Some types of makeup can make acne worse, but you don’t need to avoid them all. Look for makeup that’s oil-free or non-comedogenic (meaning it won’t clog your pores or promote acne). Also, powder (mineral-based) cosmetics are better than liquid ones in terms of preventing acne, as they absorb oils that would have otherwise clogged your pores. There are even makeup products on the market with salicylic acid in them, which fights acne-causing bacteria.
10. You should avoid moisturizer and sunscreen if you have acne
People believe that moisturizer can make oily skin and acne worse. However, moisturizing is important as it actually helps to get rid of excess sebum (oily secretions) that clogs pores, causing acne. You should look for a light, oil-free and non-comedogenic moisturizer.
Since the sun can make acne worse and some acne medications may increase your skin’s sensitivity to sunlight, you should also protect your skin by using lightweight sunscreen (especially those with zinc oxide which may kill acne-causing bacteria) or makeup with SPF.
11. There’s a cure for acne
Unfortunately, there is no cure for acne; it’s a chronic condition. But, it can be controlled effectively with the right treatment. Everyone’s skin is different, so what may work for one person may not work for another. That’s why it’s important to see a dermatologist as soon as possible if you have acne. Not doing so can worsen the problem.
Some effective treatments for acne include: isotretinoin (which modulates inflammation), benzoyl peroxide (which kills bacteria) and topical antimicrobials.
12. Popping a pimple will make it go away faster
It’s oh-so-tempting to pop pimples, but it makes the problem worse by pushing bacteria deeper into the skin, triggering an inflammatory response. Cytokines are released to help fight off the bacteria but some have a scarring type of healing response, so the pimple will become swollen and leave a scar. Ask your dermatologist for a treatment or to drain the cyst instead.
13. Pimples happen overnight
While a pimple may have popped up while you were sleeping, it was likely days—if not weeks—in the making. A pimple is formed when the sebaceous glands under the skin produce too much sebum and excess dead skin cells build up, clogging your pores. The bacteria, P. acnes, may then multiply in your pores and cause inflammation (swelling).
14. If men grow their beards, their acne will go away
Growing a beard certainly makes acne less visible, but it’s not the cure for men’s acne. That’s because acne can be caused by many different factors including diet, hormones and the environment.
However, shaving improperly can aggravate or trigger acne breakouts. This can be prevented by using an electric razor and softening hair with warm water before shaving it.
15. Spot treatment is enough
While spot treatment may clear up your existing pimples quickly, it’s not enough. That’s because pimples take days to form so there may be other pimples that are forming under your skin—you just can’t see or feel them yet.
So, spot treatment doesn’t prevent new pimples from forming. You need to treat all your skin with an effective treatment.
16. Blackheads are dirt in your pores
Blackheads may look like dirt, but they’re just oil and dead skin cells clogged up in a pore that’s exposed to air—oxidation is what makes it black. Retinoid treatments help to prevent and get rid of blackheads by increasing the turnover of skin cells, leaving pores unclogged.
17. Body acne can be treated like facial acne
Topical products aren’t absorbed well by your body because the follicles on your body—which allow the bacteria-fighting ingredients to go into your skin—are further apart from each other than they are on your face. You may need to use antibiotics and change your diet to treat body acne.
18. Stress has nothing to do with acne
When you’re stressed, your adrenal gland produces cortisol to help the body respond the stress. However, a bit of testosterone also leaks out, causing the oil glands to produce extra oil. And you know what that means—pimples.
19. Smoking doesn’t impact acne
Some studies have shown that smoking may cause non-inflammatory acne breakouts. This may be because smoking reduced vitamin E, an antioxidant, in the skin. This can lead to damaged sebum, which triggers acne. It could also be that smoking increases acne-causing hormones.
20. You just have to wait for the acne phase to pass
Acne can be a chronic condition, lasting years. You do not want to be sitting there waiting for the phase to just pass by. This can make your acne worse and may take a toll on your self-esteem, too. See a dermatologist or pick up an over-the-counter treatment as soon as possible.