Your grandma probably told you that eating fatty foods or chocolate will cause breakouts, and your mom may have simply said that acne will fade after puberty. Here, we sort out common myths, so you know which ones are true, and which ones are filthy lies!
Myth # 1
Eating specific foods (ie: pizza, chocolate) causes acne.
So if this is false, how did such a rumor start? It is not entirely untrue that diet can cause acne – however acne can be triggered based on diet as a whole, rather than the occasional intake of one or two certain foods, like a slice of pizza or the occasional burger. Let me explain…
As stated in our pH balanceing article, processed foods that are high in sugar and carbs cause your blood to become acidic over time. This increases system-wide inflammation and decreases immune function – leaving your skin more susceptible to takeover from acne bacteria. Not only does the P. Acnes bacteria thrive in such an environment, it actually feeds off the acids in your body, to grow and multiply. This is the reality of how diet (rather than 1 or 2 individual foods) can cause breakouts. People whose diets consist of acid-forming fast food, soda, alcohol, carbs and sugar are much more likely to endure a struggle with acne than those whose diet is considered “clean” and consists of low acidity lean meats, vegetables and fruits.
The way we eat also comes into play where hormones are concerned. A study was conducted (Ackerman et al., 2012) determining that people who have a non-Westernized diet have extremely low instances of acne compared to those with a highly Westernized diet. Since Westernized diets typically contain exceedingly high amounts of sugar, the food causes a rapid spike in blood sugar. This in turn leads to activation of IGF1 (Insulin-Like Growth Factor), which is an androgen receptor. If you recall from our “what causes acne and oily skin” page, androgen receptors influence the uptake of testosterone, triggering acne breakouts.
Myth # 2
Eating fatty food causes acne.
However, topical exposure to fats can clog pores. Say you’re taking a bite of deep fried chicken wings and some of the oil sprays onto your face. It may be a nearly un-noticeable amount, but if left on the skin, it can seep into pores to clog them to trigger breakouts. Avoid touching your face while eating greasy food and wash hands thoroughly afterwards. Keep some oil dissolving cloths handy, so you can blot around the chin and mouth area after eating these foods.
Myth # 3
Exercise causes acne
During a workout sweat is released. Sweat can smother pores, disallowing oxygen flow and promoting a bacteria-friendly environment. This is especially true for individuals with excessively oily skin, as sweat combining with sebum forms an especially sticky film to clogs pores. Showering within half an hour of your workout can help prevent breakouts.
Another cause of exercise related breakouts? Hormones. If you’re still suffering from breakouts even after a strict shower regimen, it may be due to a change in hormone levels. Exercise causes changes in Testosterone production, which can trigger breakouts.
Myth # 4
Acne only strikes during puberty
During one of the most vulnerable times of our lives, acne seems to run rampant. As we have discussed, hormonal changes are related to breakouts - and especially during puberty, hormone levels spike. However, for many people acne does not stop occurring after puberty, and continues all the way through adulthood.
One of the biggest influencing factors for those who suffer from extensive bouts of acne for their entire lives is genetics. Some people are genetically predisposed to produce more sebum, causing more frequent breakouts. Studies have also found that having a first-degree relative with acne increases your risk of developing lifelong breakouts by 4 times.
Myth # 5
Topical dirt on the skin causes acne
Acne is caused by a bacteria known as Propionibacterium acnes (P.Acnes), which is already present on the skin. This is not something you can pick up in public places and transfer to your pores. However, if bacteria from your hands or your cellphone are allowed to enter an existing blemish, this can inflame the skin or trigger infection, and cause the blemish to become larger. Be sure to wash your hands several times daily, and especially before touching any irritated areas on your face. Also, don't press your cellphone up against your face while speaking into it.
To see how the P.Acnes bacteria actually does cause breakouts, please refer to our page "what causes acne and oily skin" - which provides detailed, scientific answers to your acne questions.
Myth # 6
If you pop a pimple, it will get larger
TRUE and FALSE
We already know that acne is born from the P. Acnes bacteria, and not regular every-day dirt that may be present on your hands. However, if you pop a pimple with dirty hands or fingernails, bacteria can enter the open wound, leading to additional inflammation. This leads to infection, which can cause excess redness and puffiness around the breakout.
That said, not many people are willing to let a breakout fester and grow a whitehead, without doing something to release pus and contain the problem. Breakouts that become filled with unreleased pus feel painful and irritated, and you also cannot risk the blemish releasing on its own, when you are in public.
Keep in mind that you should only pop a pimple after it has formed a whitehead! Whiteheads signify that existing infection has risen to the top of the epidermis, and pus is at the surface waiting to be released. If you attempt to pop a pimple that has only formed a raised red bump, you could end up forcing bacteria deeper inside the pore – resulting in a larger blemish that takes much longer to heal.
To successfully pop a pimple that has a whitehead, use this sanitary technique:
Thoroughly wash and dry your face with warm water. It’s important to use warm water to soften skin and enlarge the pore, preparing the blemish for puncture.
Sterilize the tip of a needle or safety pin with rubbing alcohol.
Gently poke just the very top of the whitehead.
Pus will begin to emit from the breakout. At this point, gently press on ONE side of the pimple, pushing up and out.
Repeat step 4, pressing on the opposite side of the breakout.
At this point, most of the pus should now have drained out, the blemish should be flatter, and pressure will have been released. Dab some of your favorite toner or Apple Cider Vinegar onto the open blemish. This immediately gets to work killing bacteria so that the wound does not become more inflamed. If you don’t have either of those items available, rubbing alcohol, peroxide, or hand sanitizer can also help prevent infection.
Sleeping with your makeup on causes breakouts
While it might seem like an inconvenience to remove all traces of makeup after a long day, don't neglect this step in your beauty routine! It's no joke that sleeping with makeup on can ruin your skin.
BUT WHY? During sleep, body temperature increases, causing pores to dilate. This enables any product on the skin’s surface to sink deep into the root of pores. (That's why it's useful to apply beneficial products before sleep). While this increase in temperature allows nourishing ingredients to work better, it can cause deep cystic acne when foundation is left on over night. After you awaken, body temperature resumes to normal, and pores close slightly – trapping foundation and sebum, forcing it deeper into the pore. For this reason, it's also important to remove all traces of eye makeup & eye liner as well. Sensitive pores and hair follicles along the lash line can become clogged, resulting in an unsightly stye.
Be sure to thoroughly wash your face with an oil-busting cleanser before bed time. It doesn't hurt to use an exfoliating product as well, as this sloughs away any dead skin cells that may be trapping makeup. If you've used an oil-based eye makeup remover, be sure to use an oil-dissolving cleanser afterwards! Residue from the remover can clog pores along the lash line, causing unsightly styes. If you're in a situation where you don't have access to wash your face, carry some cleansing wipes that are designed especially for oily, acne prone skin.
If you need yet another reason to avoid sleeping with makeup on, here you go: The accumulation of makeup inside of pores can actually cause them to stretch and lose elasticity over time. This means larger pores…for life!
You don't need to use moisturizer if you have oily skin and acne
It's a common misconception to think that oily skin provides enough hydration on its own, making moisturizer unnecessary or even harmful if you have acne prone, oily skin. The truth is, your skin needs topical moisturizer to hydrate cells, which prevents skin from producing even more oil to compensate for dryness. Skin may not actually look dry, because of its oily surface - but deep below, cells are screaming for moisture. If they don't obtain this moisture topically, your skin begins pumping out additional oil. (For this reason, it's also important to stay internally hydrated by drinking plenty of water.)
The factor here is selecting the RIGHT moisturizer for your oily skin type. Steer clear of hydrators that contain oils, waxes, paraffin, crosspolymers, or dimethicone (silicone), which all have a tendency to smother pores. These heavy, sticky ingredients lodge inside pores, trapping dirt and oil beneath, and triggering breakouts. These types of moisturizer are usually white and thick - you can literally feel their heaviness.
Instead, opt for products marketed as light-weight gel formulas that are oil-free. Clear gels or serums are your best bet, as they normally hold less weight and contain ingredients that pump water into cells. As cells obtain water, they become plump and hydrated, which goes a long way toward making skin look healthy and firm. Those with deeply pitted acne scars will find that moisturizing diminishes their appearance, as skin cells plump up.
For optimal results, apply moisturizer in this order: Cleanse and dry face as usual, apply toner, apply acne treatments, and then apply moisturizer.