Acne doesn’t kill anyone, or even make them feel sick, but it sure causes a lot of problems, particularly in young people. It’s unsightly, it can be uncomfortable, in extreme forms it can leave scars – and it’s the subject of a lot of enduring myths, that themselves cause problems. People sometimes believe things about their acne that make them feel worse than ever – and unfairly so.
Acne itself is a pretty straightforward concept.
You’ve got little ‘sebaceous’ glands that lubricate your hair follicles with a natural oil called ‘sebum’. Too much of this, combined with some dead skin cells, can plug up a follicle. This plugged follicle can bulge into a whitehead, or involute into a blackhead. Normal skin bacteria can then proliferate, and you have a papule, or a pustule, or a nodule – an inflamed little infection, basically. That’s acne.
Hormones play a role in your likelihood of developing acne symptoms. So does heredity. It’s pretty clear that some cosmetics and some medications can encourage acne outbreaks as well. Evidence is that smoking, too, can play a part.
But there are these other things, reputed in popular wisdom to be bad for your acne, that actually aren’t, or at least research hasn’t shown that they are.
What are they?
1. Diet. We wrote about this in detail a while ago. Research evidence does not say that you can control, or cause, acne by what you eat. It’s a little more nuanced than that, in that healthy eating does make for healthy skin. But it has yet to be shown that parental threats about things like pizza or chocolate really are borne out in data. Nor has it been suggested exactly why particular foods would contribute to the likelihood of an acne flare. There’s actually no reason to think, for example, that greasy foods will translate into increased sebum production, or ‘oily skin.’
2. Washing your face. Acne is an under-the-surface thing. Keeping your face clean is nice, but it has no direct bearing on what’s going on down in the follicles. If anything, scrubbing too much can irritate your skin. Those dark little blackheads? That's not dirt, and it won't wash out.
3. Squeezing your zits. It’s tempting to think this is good treatment. It isn’t. Do that, and you may damage the little folliculo-sebaceous structures. It’s a good way to get some scarring.
4. Having sex, or not having sex. This will not influence the course of your acne. Nor is there any reason to suppose it would.
5. Baking in sunlight. Evidence on this is inconclusive. If you’re on acne medication, depending on what it is, your skin may actually be extra sensitive to sunlight, more prone than usual to solar damage, or even skin cancer.
6. Catching acne from other people. People think this is possible because they’ve heard there’s bacterial activity in acne. Yes, there are sometimes bacteria involved, but no, these aren’t pathogens that you pass to other people. There aren’t acne epidemics.
So how should you think about your acne?
Remember that no one thing necessarily causes it. There are lots of risk factors, like hormones, genetics, makeup, and medical condition. Staying healthy overall, and trying some of the over-the-counter remedies if you need to, notably the ones that contain benzoyl peroxide, is a reasonable way to go. If you do have trouble controlling your outbreaks, you may need help from your dermatologist. There are things the doctor can do.
In the meantime, at least with the current body of evidence, there’s no reason you need to stress over these 6 outdated but enduring little myths.
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