According to the American Academy of Dermatology, acne is the most common skin condition in the United States. Yet there are many misconceptions about how it should be treated. Is toothpaste really an overnight cure for that pesky pimple? Does your diet cause your breakouts?
In honor of Acne Awareness Month in June, three skincare experts are setting the record straight and debunking these mistaken beliefs about our skin.
‘Only teenagers get acne’
While teenagers are most vulnerable to hormonal acne, Dr. Joshua Zeichner, the Director of Cosmetic & Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital, says acne in general is becoming increasingly common for adults, more specifically women.
“In some cases, patients may have never had any breakouts at all during adolescence. We don’t quite understand why this is happening, but it likely has to do with a combination of hormonal fluctuations, diet and stress.”
‘The more you wash your face, the less acne you’ll have’
Even those who wash their face regularly and follow a strict beauty regimen are susceptible to breakouts. Cassandra Bankson, a medical esthetician with over 1 million YouTube subscribers, says constantly washing your face can actually exacerbate existing acne.
“Your skin has an acid mantle which protects your skin. If you overly wash your skin, you can tear that off and it can cause you to break out more and have a damaged skin barrier.”
Dr. Muneeb Shah, a dermatology resident physician with over 3 million TikTok followers, emphasizes that having acne is not in anyone’s control.
“It doesn’t have to do with hygiene. It doesn’t have to do with how much water you drink. So it’s important to de-stigmatize the fact that acne is not the person’s fault.”
‘Popping your pimples will make them go away faster’
Is it a good idea to pop a pimple on your own? Shah says no.
“It’s better to resist the urge, because if the pimple is deep, it’ll rupture deep underneath your skin which can leave a lot of inflammation and even scarring,” he says. However, if are going to pop a zit at home, Shah says it’s best to do so when you can clearly see the pus of the whitehead.
“Clear the skin with an alcohol swab, put on gloves, poke a tiny hole in the center and squeeze upward with two Q-tips to avoid infecting the area,” Shah recommends.
‘Eating greasy foods and dairy will make you break out’
Though greasy foods like french fries and pizza along with dairy are commonly associated with acne, it’s important to remember correlation does not equate to causation.
“It’s a myth that greasy foods cause acne breakouts, unless the grease gets on your fingers which then touches your face,” Zeichner says, noting that foods high in sugar and starch have been associated with breakouts.
However, Bankson cautions that not everyone’s skin will react this way to certain foods.
“There are some people who are sensitive or allergic to dairy or oily foods which may cause irritation to the skin. But it’s not an overarching thing for everyone.”
‘Putting toothpaste on your zit is an easy, overnight solution’
Though this hack of covering your pimple in toothpaste has gone viral on social media, it can actually irritate your skin. According to Shah, this acne myth originated when toothpaste used to contain an antibacterial agent called triclosan, which was removed from most toothpastes in 2019.
“Now that it doesn’t have that antibacterial agent, it’s more likely to irritate the skin since toothpaste is made for your mouth and to remove plaque off your teeth,” he says.
A safer alternative to getting rid of a pimple overnight would be hydrocolloid pimple patches— a transparent bandage-like dressing for wounds.
“They keep you from picking your pimple while also sucking out that goop from the zit.”
‘Face mapping can predict the cause of your breakouts’
Face mapping refers to the idea that the location of zits on your face can indicate the cause. For instance, breaking out on your nose indicates heart problems while breaking out on your cheek indicates stomach issues.
This too is a myth.
“When you think about our body, it works as an entire system. Our lungs get us oxygen which goes to the blood and brain. If our heart stops working, so does everything else. The same goes for our skin,” Bankson says. “So just because you’re having gastrointestinal issues or kidney issues does not mean it’s going to show up in a certain place on your face.”
‘Covering your breakouts with makeup makes it worse’
Heavy foundation or concealer is not the cause of acne. However, experts say it’s the clogged pores created by wearing makeup overnight that can contribute to those pesky zits.
“If your makeup is creating a film on your skin and you’re wearing it in your sleep, then yes it can lead to clogged pores, which often cause irritation and breakouts. But makeup itself is not the cause of acne,” Bankson says, reminding readers to properly take off their makeup before going to bed.
‘The sun will clear up your skin’
This is both true and false. Zeichner acknowledges that the sun’s UV light exposure does have anti-inflammatory effects on the skin, but the risks associated with it outweigh the potential benefits of temporarily clearing your skin.
“I do not recommend sitting in the sun to clear up your acne. We have very effective acne treatments that contain ingredients like benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and topical retinoids — all of which make your skin more sensitive to UV rays. So if you are using them, it is even more important to wear sunscreen and protect yourself from the sun.”
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‘Clean, natural beauty products are always better’
Many of us have been warned chemicals are bad. But Bankson says this statement is problematic and misleading.
“There are definitely things that do and don’t belong on our face and on our skin, but everything is a chemical— including water and air. So not all chemicals are bad in skincare, and just because a product says ‘clean’ or ‘natural’ doesn’t mean it’s better for acne.”
Some acne fighting ingredients she recommends include salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide and sulfur.