Don’t base your skincare regimen on false information. Drs. Katie Rodan and Kathy Fields take on 20 common myths about the causes and cures for acne and set the record straight. Here’s the truth about food, sun, age, Accutane, and more from their book, Unblemished: Stop Breakouts! Fight Acne! Transform Your Life! Reclaim Your Self-Esteem with the Proven 3-Step Program Using Over-the-Counter Medications.
- Acne Is Your Fault
False. Acne is not and never will be your fault. Acne is caused by a combination of factors. These include genetics, hormones, bacteria, overabundance of oil, the plugging of skin pores, your unique immune response to the p. acnes bacteria, stress, environmental factors, medications, excessive rubbing or irritation, cosmetics, and even traveling. It is not caused by how you wash your face (or with what) or by any of the foods you eat. Some people never break out; some never stop.
- Acne Can Be Cured
False. There is not yet a cure for acne. It’s a complicated condition. Even the prescription drug Accutane, the strongest oral medication for acne, does not provide a permanent cure. But you can help prevent and control mild to moderate acne blemishes once you start following our program.
- If You Leave Your Acne Alone, You’ll Outgrow It
False. Don’t wait. It’s so important to start treating breakouts early. Untreated, acne can get worse. For example, comedones (blackheads and whiteheads) can evolve into pustules and pimples. If it does get worse, it can leave scars — physically on your face and emotionally in your heart for a lifetime.
- Acne Is Just a Little Problem. Don’t Overreact. Stop Worrying About It
False. Almost everyone who has acne is embarrassed by it — if not mortified and depressed. Acne not only lowers self-esteem, it often affects social behavior. It’s hard to have a social life if you don’t want to leave the house. Acne can even affect job performance, especially if you feel inhibited about being seen and judged by your peers.
- Spot Treatments Will Cure Acne
False. Spot treatments may help dry up a newly visible pimple, but that pimple started forming weeks before you were aware of its existence. Instead of spot treatments, it’s wise to preventively treat all acne-prone skin on a daily basis so breakouts can’t get started in the first place. Think of treating acne as you think of brushing your teeth: Do it every day and prevent a problem.
- Acne Is Caused by Eating Greasy Foods, Chocolate, or Caffeine
False. Medical studies have found that diet — including chocolate, pizza, potato chips, and french fries — rarely affects acne.However, if certain foods consistently make you break out with acne, it’s common sense to try to avoid them. For example, for some who are supersensitive, eating foods with a high iodine content, such as shellfish, dried fish, and seaweed, may cause flare-ups, which may explain why the Japanese, who usually have a terrific, balanced, low-fat diet, still get acne. Some other studies theorize that the hormones in chicken, beef, and dairy products may precipitate early adolescent acne, but the jury’s still out on that subject. If you’re concerned, substitute other sources of protein and calcium for these products or try hormone-free, organic versions of them.
- Sugar Causes Acne
False. An article entitled “Acne Vulgaris: A Disease of Western Civilization” was published in the Archives of Dermatology in December 2002. The writers concluded that there’s an astonishing difference between Western and non-Western societies in terms of how much acne people get — a difference that can’t be due just to what’s in the gene pool. They blamed acne on excess consumption of sugar in Western countries. However, critics of this study noted that the authors looked only at a small, genetically distinct tribe of natives in Papua, New Guinea, to represent non-Western societies. This tribe has a much later onset of puberty than other societies around the world, which means their hormones associated with acne kick in later in life. It is therefore not a representative group.Finding out what causes acne onset will be a tremendous help in acne treatment all over the globe. But to blame acne on sugar alone disregards scientific research and clinical observation. It’s been our experience that eliminating all sugar or fat in a diet doesn’t eliminate acne. We do advocate a healthy diet filled with complex carbohydrates, such as vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and low-fat protein. We believe refined sugars and excessive fat should be kept to a minimum to maintain a healthy body weight. Unfortunately, however, making changes in your diet alone will not stop acne. So don’t beat yourself up because you just had a chocolate brownie; it is not going to create pimples weeks down the road.
- Drinking Tons of Water Will Flush the Acne Away
False. Drinking six to eight glasses of water each day is healthy for your body. But not even the priciest designer-bottle spring water can flush away acne. There’s simply no proof that water can clean the skin from the inside out. Furthermore, while dehydration may temporarily make your skin look lifeless, it won’t lead to breakouts.
- Sun Exposure Will Heal Your Acne
False. Small amounts of sun exposure may appear to be helping your acne at first; the blue band of visible light helps to sterilize the p. acnes bacteria. Breakouts temporarily dry up and your new tan helps camouflage angry, red blemishes. But prolonged sun exposure eventually increases the plugging of your pores, producing blackheads, whiteheads, and small pimples. Plus the very real danger of skin cancer, to say nothing of premature wrinkling, cannot be overstated. Exposing your skin to the sun without sunscreen will never be a good idea. Its risks outweigh its very minimal benefits.
- Acne Is Seasonal
False. Some people claim their acne is seasonal, worse, perhaps, in summer. While temperature and humidity may increase the oil production of your skin, for most there aren’t seasons for acne. It’s a year-round problem.
- Sunscreen Causes Acne
False. A good noncomedogenic sunscreen will not cause acne. However, a heavy, occlusive sunscreen will attract and hold on to heat in your follicles, flaring inflammation and causing numerous small red bumps to form. This reaction is not true acne but a condition called miliaria.Find an oil-free, noncomodegenic sunscreen formulated for acne-prone skin. The risk of skin cancer is simply too great to do without it. This is true for people of all ages and all races. Reapply it frequently if you are sweating in the heat or after you go swimming.
Also remember that acne medicines, such as benzoyl peroxide, Retin-A, and salicylic acid, may increase your skin’s sensitivity to sun exposure. This is even more reason never to leave the house without first applying sunscreen.
- Acne Comes from Not Washing Your Face Enough
False. Acne is not caused by dirt or uncleanliness. In fact, if you overwash your face or strip it with rubbing alcohol in an effort to feel clean, you can produce irritation. While face washing does remove surface oil, there is evidence that too frequent washing may stimulate oil production. Washing twice a day is more than enough to remove bacteria and aid in exfoliation.
- Acne Is Caused by Oily Skin
False. It is possible — and often common — to have both dry skin and acne. You can also have both oily skin and no acne. Pores will become plugged and acne will form whether your skin is dry or oily.
- Using the Right Cosmetics Will Cure My Acne
False. Some eager salespeople at the cosmetics counters may say anything to entice you into trying their line of new potions and creams. Buyer, beware!
- If I Have Acne, I Can’t Use a Moisturizer
False. Many people think that if they have acne, they can’t use moisturizers. Actually, noncomedogenic moisturizers, the kind that don’t cause clogged pores, are a must to hydrate parched, dry skin.
- Acne Is Contagious
False. Acne is a non-communicable disease. Even if you run your hands over the face of someone with the worst case of acne you’ve ever seen, you won’t get any pimples as a result. You can no more catch acne than you can catch cancer.
- Accutane Is the Miracle Cure for Acne
False. Accutane is the most successful drug used to treat acne, but it should be used only for severe cases, not mild ones. It works by shrinking oil glands for one to two (sometimes three) years, and it normalizes the cells lining the pore so plugging does not occur. A significant percentage of people who use Accutane need a second or third course of the drug, and most require topical skin treatments long term to keep their acne at bay. Accutane also has significant side effects, which require careful monitoring by your dermatologist.
- Hair in Your Face or Hats on Your Head Cause Acne
False. Hair and hats by themselves can’t cause acne. But using the wrong kinds of products on your hair or too much of them can exacerbate acne. We call this condition mousse abuse. Comedogenic, acne-triggering hair products, whether mousse, gel, pomade, or oil, can occlude (plug) pores near the hairline, creating fine blackheads and whiteheads. People who wear hats to hide their acne may inadvertently cause excess perspiration and irritation, triggering acne breakouts.
- Blue Light Therapy Can Cure Acne
False. Blue light therapy is an interesting approach to the treatment of acne, but it’s not a cure. Blue light is part of the rainbow of visible light (410 nanometers wavelength) emitted from a light source from a machine in a doctor’s office. It works by sterilizing the skin for a short period of time, removing acne bacteria and temporarily improving acne when used in conjunction with traditional topical acne medications. As more dermatologists use blue light therapy, we’ll get a better idea of how well it works or whether its expense and frequent visits will disappoint patients in the long run. Studies are ongoing, but it’s simply too soon to tell.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Katie Rodan, M.D., is an associate clinical professor of dermatology at Stanford University School of Medicine. Kathy Fields, M.D., is an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the University of California-San Francisco. Both have been profiled in Best Doctors in America, and their work has been featured in numerous national magazines and television shows. They are the authors of Unblemished: Stop Breakouts! Fight Acne! Transform Your Life! Reclaim Your Self-Esteem with the Proven 3-Step Program Using Over-the-Counter Medications (Copyright © 2004 by Rodan & Fields Inc.).
- Read Chapter 1 of Unblemished: Stop Breakouts! Fight Acne! Transform Your Life! Reclaim Your Self-Esteem with the Proven 3-Step Program Using Over-the-Counter Medications
- Learn more about Unblemished
- See the book’s Table of Contents