Acne Myths


Scientific knowledge about acne is gradually clearing up some of the misconceptions surrounding this condition, but there are many myths that persist. Here are some common acne myths.

Acne Myth #1 – Acne is caused by poor hygiene.
This belief may have arisen because of the skin infections associated with acne. However, lack of cleanliness is not the reason for outbreaks of acne. The mixture of sebum and dead cells which cause acne is situated beneath the surface of the skin where it is impossible to clean it away. However, gentle cleansing with soap and water once or twice a day will keep the skin as healthy as possible. Be careful not to scrub too hard, however, as this may make acne worse.

Acne Myth #2 – Acne is caused by certain foods.
There is a long-standing belief that eating chocolate will cause the face to break out in pimples. There is no scientific evidence for this — studies have shown no statistically significant relationship between eating chocolate and acne. The same holds true of other foods associated like potato chips and sugar. It is true, however, that eating too much of these foods is unhealthy, and you wish to keep as healthy as possible at all times and especially if afflicted with acne. Limiting chocolate and sugar consumption is always a good idea.

Even though chocolate and french fries do not cause acne, there are some foods which do seem to aggravate it. There seems to be a relationship between milk and acne, and foods high in iodine also seem to cause pimples. Iodine is found in seafood, so those with acne may be advised not to eat too much seafood.
Acne Myth #3 – Acne is related to sex.
At various times we heard that masturbation or celibacy causes pimples. There is no evidence for this. There is a link between sexual activity and hormone production, however, but the relationship between sex and the production of sebum (the oily substance which combines with dead skin cells to cause acne) is unclear. Anger and stress also affect hormone levels.



Acne Scars

Most people with mild or moderate acne will recover from the condition without serious scarring. In cases of severe acne, however, scarring is almost inevitable. But don’t give up hope — new acne treatments can minimize scarring and existing scars can be removed with a variety of techniques.


Most pimples leave behind a discolored patch of skin. This is not really a scar and will usually clear up by itself within one year. Marks or skin defects that remain longer than one year are considered to be scars and can be treated.

Preventing Scars

Acne scars can be prevented through a program of active treatment and self-control. One of the worst things you can do to pimples is to pick them. Some people try to squeeze or remove blackheads or whiteheads but this is the worst thing that you can do. Not only will the bacteria which causes acne spread, the skin can be damaged which leads to permanent scarring.

Mild cases of acne can usually be self treated with over-the-counter medications but more severe cases should be treated by a dermatologist. The doctor can prescribe oral medications as well as topical ointments for use on the skin. In some cases, the doctor will also physically remove blackheads or whiteheads and lance and drain pus filled nodules. The dermatologist uses surgical instruments which have been sterilized, so these procedures should never be attempted at home.

Pimples form on the skin because of the presence of bacteria. The bacteria damages and inflames the skin. Once the acne has cleared up, the skin may appear discolored — this is part of the natural healing process, and the discolorment will disappear after a period of time.

This healing process can be sped up with the use of medications like Retin-A, Renova, and Alpha-Hydroxy Acids. Sunshine can damage the skin and thereby delay the healing process, so sunscreens should always be worn outside.

Above all, avoid picking scabs that may form over old acne lesions. Scabs are a necessary part of the healing process and picking them off unnecessarily exposes the skin which extends the time necessary for scars to heal.

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Treating Scars

Existing scars left over from acne can be treated in a number of ways. If scars are not too severe, a chemical peel can be applied to the skin. This effectively removes the microscopic top layer of the skin allowing the cells underneath to rejuvenate.

More severe scarring can be treated with lasers or dermabrasion. Lasers remove the damaged layer of skin and tighten the skin underneath to raise the depression caused by the scar. The process can be mildly painful so the dermatologist may use an anesthetic to numb the pain. The healing process after laser treatment takes about 3 to 10 days.

Dermabrasion removes scars by actually scraping away the surface of the skin where the scarring occurs. During the healing process a new layer of skin is formed to replace the scarring. Both dermabrasion and laser treatments can cause the skin to turn red, but this discolorment will disappear after several months.

What Causes Acne

Acne is not fully understood, but we do know some of the biology behind it. The main culprit is the excess production of an oily substance called sebum whose function is to keep skin and hair lubricated and supple. During adolescence, the body often produces excess amounts of sebum. The sebum combines with naturally occurring dead skin cells to block hair follicles which prevents the sebum from escaping.

The resulting block up of oil beneath the surface of the skin provides an ideal environment for bacteria. The bacteria multiply and the skin area becomes red and inflamed resulting in what is commonly called a pimple.

The excess production of sebum is caused by the male hormone testosterone. Testosterone is present in both males and females, but during puberty, the body changes the way it reacts to the presence of testosterone. It is this abnormal reaction, characteristically appearing during adolescence, that causes the skin (especially on the face and upper torso) to become excessively oily. By the early 20s, the body usually normalizes its reaction to testosterone and acne clears up.

Acne seems to be partly hereditary, but we don’t know exactly why some people are affected by it and others are not. Some of the factors which seem to aggravate acne conditions include stress, diet, skin irritation, certain medications, and hormonal activities such as menstrual cycles.

Medications that are associated with acne include anabolic steroids used for bodybuilding, lithium, barbiturates, halogens, and androgens. Dietary links seem to be mostly related to skim milk products. Many people associate food like chocolate and fast food with pimples, but there is no statistical evidence that this type of food causes or aggravates acne.

Recently, scientific attention has been focusing on the possibility that narrowing hair follicles could be at least partially to blame for acne. The hair follicles may become restricted due to several possible causes including excessive shedding of cells within the follicle, abnormal cell binding, or water retention which causes the skin to swell. The narrower hair follicles prevent dead cells from being expelled from the body, causing an excessive buildup underneath the skin, which combined with sebum creates the conditions for acne.

Many people are tempted to pop or squeeze their acne pimples, but this may only serve to spread the bacteria to the surrounding skin area making the condition even worse than before. Popping acne pimples may also lead to scarring which in severe cases can be permanent.

Simply touching the face can also make acne become worse. It is a difficult habit to overcome – most of us touch our faces repeatedly throughout the day. The problem for acne sufferers is that the hands also contain oils and bacteria which will exacerbate acne symptoms. In fact, all objects that come into contact with the face must be clean. This includes eyeglasses and telephone handsets.

Hair (especially long hair) also comes into contact with our faces so it is important to keep hair clean and oil free. Clothing accessories like headbands or hats should be avoided or used as little as possible.

What is Acne

Acne is a common skin condition which most often appears during the teenage years. Commonly known as pimples, acne usually appears on the face but can also happen on other parts of the body such as the back, the shoulders, neck and chest. Even though most teenagers experience acne at some point, it is a condition which can also affect adults. Acne is universal — it affects males and females almost equally and occurs in every race.

The proper name for acne is Acne Vulgaris. It is characterized by lesions which break out on the skin. The lesions can be whiteheads, blackheads, or cysts which form because of clogged pores. It is most commonly seen during puberty because it is at this time that the body produces an abundant supply of an oily substance called sebum. Sebum is needed to keep the hair and a skin soft and lubricated, but during puberty, the body produces more sebum than is needed. The excess can clog pores and leave the skin feeling oily. Here‘s the useful article covering acne causes.

Another change that occurs during puberty is the excess production of follicle cells. The dying cells can quickly build up and combine together with sebum to form whiteheads. This mixture of oil and dead cells creates a breeding ground for bacteria which results in redness and swelling in the afflicted area that are known as pimples.

Acne is an extremely common condition which affects about 85% of people between the ages of 12 and 24. One quarter of these people have acne on other parts of the body besides the face; most commonly the back and neck areas. 40% of acne sufferers seek medical attention because of the severity of their breakouts.

The most common area for pimples to appear is the so-called ‘T zone’ of the face. This includes the forehead, the nose, and the chin, although acne may also appear on the cheeks and other parts of the face. The second most common area for acne is the back, followed by the neck, the chest, and the shoulders.

By the time they are in their 20s, most people’s acne has cleared up. However, it may still persist throughout the adult years in some people. Some people even experience acne for the first time when they are adults. Slightly more boys than girls suffer from the condition.

Acne can be a problem for many people because it affects appearance and self image. Since teenagers are particularly vulnerable concerning their self-image, acne can cause feelings of depression and reduced self-confidence. It may cause some to withdraw from social interactions and cause feelings of anger and frustration.

Thankfully, there are many modern treatments for acne. The first line of defense is keeping the skin clean and oil free. This can be done by gentle washing with soap and water twice a day, particularly after activities which cause perspiration. There are also a wide variety of medical treatments available for acne, both prescribed and over-the-counter. See side bars for more information.

Severe acne conditions can be treated by a dermatologist. The doctor can prescribe ointments which are used directly on the skin as well as drugs like antibiotics which combat the bacteria which causes pimples. A dermatologist can also give valuable advice about diet and lifestyle changes which may help in combating acne.

Types of Acne

There are many forms of acne. It ranges from mild to severe and can be found on various parts of the body. Mild acne can usually be self treated, but severe cases are best left to health professionals like dermatologists.


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The most common type of acne is Acne Vulgaris which literally means ‘common acne.’ This type of acne can cause blackheads, whiteheads, papules, pustules, nodules and cysts.

Blackheads – Blackheads occur in partially blocked pores. Sebum (the substance which causes oily skin), dead cells, and bacteria are slowly draining to the surface of the skin and the black color is caused by the pigments in the skin being exposed to air. Blackheads can take a long time to clear up.

Whiteheads – Unlike blackheads, whiteheads are contained beneath the surface of the skin. They are caused by completely blocked pores which trap the sebum, dead cells, and bacteria.

Papules – These are small red bumps on the skin. They are tender and cause irritation, but it is important not to touch them or squeeze them. Doing so may cause scarring.

Pustules – Pustules are what most people call pimples or zits. They appear as a red circle with a white or yellow center.

Nodules – These are much larger than other forms of acne. They are hard lumps underneath the surface of the skin which can be painful and last for several months. This type of acne is particularly vulnerable to scarring, so it is advisable to have it treated by a dermatologist.

Cysts – Cysts are similar to nodules except that they are filled with pus. They are painful and likely to scar if untreated. Like nodules, they should be treated by a dermatologist.

Acne Conglobata – This is a relatively rare form of acne vulgaris but it is extremely disfiguring and can cause severe psychological as well as physical suffering. Large lesions form on the face, chest, back, buttocks, upper arms, and thighs and can be accompanied by numerous blackheads. It causes damage to the skin and permanent scarring. It is more common in males than females, and the condition can persist for several years.

Acne Fulminans – This is a sudden appearance of Acne Conglobata accompanied with a fever and aching of the joints. It is usually treated with oral steroids.

Gram-Negative Folliculitis – This condition may be caused by long-term treatment of acne with antibiotics. It is a bacterial infection which causes pustules and cysts.

Pyoderma Faciale – This type of acne only affects females usually between the ages of 20 and 40. It causes large painful pustules, nodules and cysts on the face and may leave permanent scarring. It most often occurs in women who have never experienced acne before and usually clears up within a year.
Acne Rosacea – This form of acne usually affects people over the age of 30. It causes a red rash on the cheeks, forehead, nose, and chin. There may also be pimples and other skin blemishes. It occurs more often in females than males, although men often have more severe symptoms. It is a different form of acne than Acne Vulgaris and treatment is different for the two types.