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Common Acne Myths Reviewed – Know Fact From Fiction

By Megan Griffith

Reviewed for medical accuracy by Dr. Jaggi Rao,
MD, FRCPC Double board-certified dermatologist

Do you have acne but are only now starting to delve into the do’s and don’t’s of it? We are here to confront some of the most widespread myths regarding recurring breakouts. Read on and become more knowledgeable about your condition.

Acne myhts
Distinguishing fact from fiction is one of the first hurdles on the path to clear skin. Everyone has an opinion about acne, but few people really understand how the skin works and how to treat acne effectively.

General Myths About Acne


Bad hygiene is often blamed for the appearance of acne1. While that is true to a certain extent, washing your face too often would actually rid you of your own natural oils. This only leads to the further overproduction of sebum by your body – resulting in even more available material for clogging your pores. Rather than washing your face every hour, cleanse it with benzoyl peroxide as soon as you wake up, and tone it with a product containing salicylic acid. Conversely, use a mild non-exfoliating cleanser at night, avoiding ingredients like sodium lauryl sulfate. In the end, lather a thin layer of retinol-based cream on and go to bed knowing you did everything you could for your complexion.

Another hygiene-related myth is that blackheads form specifically because germs from dirt become trapped in them. Actually, blackheads represent a slowed down process of your natural oils being shoved out of your pores. This is meant to happen pretty quickly, so as to avoid sebum, old skin and protein to get stuck in your pores. When the process drags on, you get blackheads. If this is the kind of acne you suffer from, you might find your remedy2 in the face of vitamin A-based retinoid. Buy retinol-based lotion or inquire with your doctor about a topical tretinoin lotion like Retin-A. It acts as a catalyst for the described process, allowing oil to exit your skin quickly and efficiently.

Dealing With Acne

One of the first urges you might find yourself getting at the sight of a pimple is the desire to pop it. Resist that urge. Popping your pimples might be one of the worst things you can do to your skin. Handling a pimple with your fingers might actually make it last a lot longer than it would have lasted initially. More often than not, using your fingers to handle a pimple and rush it into healing leads to further irritation and could even infect the area. Paws off!

You probably already know most of what there is to know about facial acne. But what about those occasional pimples that you get on your body? Yes, body acne is a thing, too. While they are both forms of acne, some of their characteristics are different. For instance, your body has thicker skin and it hence has a harder time taking in products. Your bodily hair follicles are spread around at larger distances from one another, and so there are simply fewer of them to absorb products into your system. For that reason, you must treat body acne differently and perhaps even consult with a doctor on the best route to take for your specific kind of body breakout. Also, it is very important to make sure that you are eating the right things when it comes to your body’s skin condition.

Acne Myth: Acne Has An Age

Ever wondered why you are getting pimples even when you hit your 20s, 30s and even your 40s? Perhaps you always thought it is a problem you would only have to face as a teen. A study was conducted by American scientists to determine whether people outgrew their acne3 as commonly as it is made to seem. A thousand test subjects were studied and it turned out that half of the women in their 20s, more than a third of the women in their 30s and a quarter of the women in their 40s still had frequent breakouts. Unfortunately, it is women who suffer more from zits than men past the teenage years, but the reasons for the breakouts remain the same. Your hormones are the culprit, as estrogen can still soar at random times such as before menopause. Estrogen stimulates the production of the sebum that tends to clog your pores.

Acne Myth: Acne Is Not Related To Your Lifestyle

It used to be believed that pimples are solely based on your skin type and have nothing to do with your lifestyle. This is a harmful misconception, as it is often the case that changing your lifestyle may actually end up benefiting your skin. Specifically, stress is a major factor that influences your skin’s health. You might notice yourself breaking out when you have a job performance review or an important meeting coming up. When you are young, there is about a 23 percent chance that you will begin breaking out4 due to stress, and this tendency continues into adulthood. Just invest time in some stress-relieving activities such as sports, arts and crafts, yoga or hiking.

Another lifestyle factor which can influence your skin is your diet. Pay attention, as this one is major! Sugars, carbohydrates, unhealthy fats like omega-6 fatty acid and dairy can be detrimental to the state of your complexion. On the other hand, seafood and vegetables for instance, can have a positive effect on your skin. Don’t feel bad if this is new information for you, as it is also a new-ish general development in science, too. In fact, researchers in the 60’s and 70’s disseminated a myth citing chocolate as totally harmless when it comes to your skin. Talk about misinformation.

But let’s talk about that one some more. While chocolate is indeed not totally harmless, it is also not the worst thing you can do to your skin. As long as you make sure to munch on pure, dark chocolate that is at least 70 percent cocoa-based then you might be in the safe zone. This is because sweeter chocolate with less cocoa tends to be full of diary and sugar, whose high glycemic index promotes zits5. It does so by making your cortisol soar, so avoid all kinds of sweet, refined carbs, including pasta, bread and pastry.

Acne Myth: Any And All Acne-Fighting Products Are Equally Helpful

Choosing A Product

Thinking that any acne-fighting product can help your particular kind of acne on your particular skin type is a dire mistake. In fact, you have probably already tried out several products and some of them probably provided more relief than others, right? That is because choosing the right product for your unique case is crucial to defeating recurring pimples.

Possibly the biggest myth out there is that the stronger a product is and the more ingredients it contains, the more potent it will be in fighting off your pimples. Indeed, it doesn’t matter so much how much of an ingredient there is in a product, as long as it is present to begin with. For instance, salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide are known remedies for acne6, as they kill acne-causing germs and they thus unclog your pores. However, it does not matter much whether or not there are 2.5 percent of these ingredients in a product or five times more. Either way, the product will work on your complexion. The only difference is that a higher percentage of a product may actually end up pestering your skin and making it even more inflamed.


There is also a myth that moisturizers may actually incite acne. This one stems from the idea that adding hydration to oily skin makes little sense. Still, if your skin becomes dehydrated, that is actually a lot worse for it than if it is a bit too moisturized, as the sebaceous glands will become overactive and produce additional, excess oil. Do continue to moisturize your skin, using a light lotion.

Another piece of very popular misinformation is that using any cosmetics beside acne-fighting products is detrimental to your skin. It is possible that some makeup products can end up becoming stuck in pores and exacerbating your condition, especially if you went for cheaper makeup. However, make up that comes in powder form may actually prove helpful for your acne. This is because powders, especially those that come with minerals, may succeed in absorbing some of the excess sebum that is produced by your glands. Look for makeup components like zinc oxide, silica and titanium dioxide. Conversely, if you are into liquid-based makeup, look for a label that says non-comedogenic7, which means that it does not clog pores.

There is even an acne myth related to products that you use on your hair. How can this be? Your hair is covered in natural oils and it receives further oiliness from the products with which you wash and condition it – this is how you get your moisture. However, as your hair constantly touches your face, its oils directly transfer onto it. What you get is pomade acne, resulting from the oil in your hair care products. We are by no means suggesting that you should stop washing your hair! Instead, opt for water-based shampoos and conditioners, in place of oily, petroleum jelly-based products.

Speaking of oiliness, it is believed by some that the cure to acne is drying your skin out with products like toothpaste. The problem is not only that drying out your skin is not necessarily the way to go when it comes to acne, but also that toothpaste simply contains way too many drying ingredients (alcohol, soda, essential oils, hydrogen peroxide, triclosan, menthol). Not only are all of these quite harsh, but they are also in no way designated for skin-use.

Acne Myth: The Sun Can Help You, While Sunscreen Harms You

Sun & Sunscreen

The myth that the sun can help alleviate your acne is quite persistent. To be sure, you have probably heard that the sun’s rays are great at fighting various kinds of inflammation. This myth persists precisely because this part is true, in the short run. However, the battle with acne is a long-term one. The accumulation of sunlight over time can lead to the deterioration of your collagen. Collagen is a protein which maintains the tautness and youthfulness of your skin, so that can’t be good, right? Indeed, if your skin becomes less firm, it also ends up providing less reinforcement for your pores. The visible result comes in the form of blackhead pimples, duller skin and deeper scarification from old acne. Of course, another long term potential problem is the development of skin cancer, which can be caused by extensive sunlight exposure.

There is also a myth that sunscreen lotions are damaging to your acne in the way that they further plug up your pores with their oily-textured substance. Believing this myth is not a good excuse to skip sunscreen, which is essential to promoting skincare! Let’s delve into this. While chemical-based sunscreens take in the sun’s UV rays and can inflame your skin further, physical sunscreens reflect UV light, instead. The chemical kinds of SPF contain avobenzone and oxybenzone. The physical kinds, however, are made with zinc oxide and titanium oxide, which tend to be useful acne-fighting ingredients8. The former, in particular, even specializes in destroying the germs that cause pimples. Never skip sunscreen, especially if you have sensitive skin.

Fun In The Sun: Chlorinated Pool Water

Our last myth is not sun-related per se, but it has to do with an activity you might enjoy in the sun and that is swimming in a pool. Some people believe that the chlorine which is used to disinfect pools may actually help heal pimples. The belief is based on the drying properties of chlorine. While the chemical might incidentally succeed in drying out a zit, it will most likely continue to inflame your skin even more, leading to even more acne9. This doesn’t mean you should avoid pools but make sure to wash off the chlorinated water as soon as you are finished. Always use sunscreen and opt for after-sun cream with an oil-less formula.


  1. Kraft J., Freiman A. Management of acne. Canadian Medical Association Journal. 2011;183(7):E430–E435.
  2. Leyden J., Stein-Gold L., Weiss J. Why Topical Retinoids Are Mainstay of Therapy for Acne. Dermatology and Therapy. 2017;7(3):293–304.
  3. Nguyen T.A., Eichenfield L.F. Profile of clindamycin phosphate 1.2%/benzoyl peroxide 3.75% aqueous gel for the treatment of acne vulgaris. Clinical, Cosmetic, and Investigational Dermatology. 2015;8:549–554.
  4. Yosipovitch G., Tang M., Dawn A.G., Chen M., Goh C.L., Huak Y., Seng L.F. Study of psychological stress, sebum production and acne vulgaris in adolescents. Acta Dermato-Venereologica. 2007;87(2):135-9.
  5. Burris J., Shikany J.M., Rietkerk W., Woolf K. A Low Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load Diet Decreases Insulin-like Growth Factor-1 among Adults with Moderate and Severe Acne: A Short-Duration, 2-Week Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2018;118(10):1874-1885.
  6. Zheng Y., Yin S., Xia Y., Chen J., Ye C., Zeng Q., Lai W. Efficacy and safety of 2% supramolecular salicylic acid compared with 5% benzoyl peroxide/0.1% adapalene in the acne treatment: a randomized, split-face, open-label, single-center study. Cutaneous and Ocular Toxicology. 2019;38(1):48-54.
  7. 10 skin care habits that can worsen acne. American Academy of Dermatology (Website). Accessed 2019.
  8. Goh C.L., Noppakun N., Micali G., Azizan N.Z., Boonchai W., Chan Y., Cheong W.K., Chiu P.C., Etnawati K., Gulmatico-Flores Z., Foong H., Kubba R., Paz-Lao P., Lee Y.Y., Loo S., Modi F., Nguyen T.H., Pham T.L., Shih Y.H., Sitohang I.B., Wong S.N. Meeting the Challenges of Acne Treatment in Asian Patients: A Review of the Role of Dermocosmetics as Adjunctive Therapy. Journal of cutaneous and aesthetic surgery. 2016;9(2):85–92.
  9. Ju Q., Zouboulis C.C., Xia L. Environmental pollution and acne: Chloracne. DermatoEndocrinology. 2009;1(3):125–128.
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