The Top 10 Acne Myths

There’s a lot of information (and misinformation) out there about acne. We’re talking old wives’ tales, well-meaning advice from your cousins, home remedies, suggestions from your BFF, and natural treatments that claim to be better than over-the-counter products. It’s no wonder, considering acne affects up to 50 million people in the U.S. per year, that everyone wants to find the magic solution.

With so much conflicting information out there, it’s important to be able to tell the difference between acne facts and acne myths. The more facts about pimples and acne you know, the more successful your skin treatment will be. Genetics, lifestyle habits, hormones, certain medications, and personal hygiene can all influence acne, so it’s important to figure out what you’re doing right and what is actually affecting your skin. Read on to see our top ten.

Acne myth 1: Only teenagers get acne

Since approximately 85% of adolescents encounter some form of acne, it does seem like teen acne is the most common form of acne. However, up to 64% of American men and women in their 20s (and 43% in their 30s!) have dealt with adult acne. Women tend to have more adult acne than men, since they experience hormonal fluctuations throughout their lives. Though it’s probably not much comfort for teens, it’s still a myth that they are the only ones to experience acne.

So why do people believe only teens can get acne? Because those teenage years are when acne typically first becomes an issue. Puberty triggers the production of androgens, or male hormones, in both girls and boys (yup, girls have them too!). Androgens tell your glands to enlarge and produce more oil. When that excess oil mixes with dead skin cells and bacteria, it can clog up your pores and lead to teen acne. Teenage acne often starts with a few blackheads or whiteheads or smaller pimples around the nose, cheeks, and forehead. Blackheads and whiteheads will eventually turn into red, inflamed pimples if they aren’t treated properly.

Acne myth 2: It’s OK to pop your pimples

Tempting as it may be, popping a pimple is never a good idea. Squeezing a blemish may drive all that acne-causing bacteria deeper into the pore or, worse, spread it to other pores and cause more breakouts. More importantly, when you pop a pimple, you increase the chance of leaving your skin damaged with a scar or post inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH).

While challenging, it’s best to wait it out and let your pimple run its course, but there are a couple of things you can do to help make the outbreak more bearable in the meantime. Apply an ice cube (wrapped in a clean cloth) to the pimple to reduce inflammation. Then follow with a medicated spot treatment that contains either benzoyl peroxide (which helps kill bacteria) or salicylic acid (this helps loosen dead skin cells and reduces swelling and redness). A little concealer can help cover up acne as well — that goes for the guys out there, too! Just make sure it’s noncomedogenic so it won’t further clog your pores.

Acne myth 3: The sun clears up acne

When it comes to acne and acne-prone skin, the sun is not your friend. It may feel like it’s drying up your pimples, but, at best, a tan or mild sunburn only camouflages the breakout. The sun can inflame the skin, something you want to avoid when treating acne. And the sun’s ultraviolet light rays can damage the skin’s surface, causing sunburn, releasing free radicals, and destroying cellular DNA, leading to premature aging and skin cancer.

While we recommend products with benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid to fight acne, these ingredients can make your skin more susceptible to sun damage. So it’s crucial to avoid the sun when you’re using acne-fighting actives. If you do need to be in direct sun, wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen. Look for a sunscreen that is oil-free and noncomedogenic.

Acne myth 4: Pimples Happen Overnight

Acne always seems to appear out of nowhere, but it can actually be weeks in the making before it shows up on your skin. Acne is a complicated process that’s usually the result of four interrelated stages:

  • Stage 1: Excess dead skin cells clog the pore
  • Stage 2: Overproduction of oil (sebum)
  • Stage 3: Overgrowth of P. acnes bacteria in the pore
  • Stage 4: Inflammation (swelling) as a reaction to the bacteria and its byproducts

The acne cycle doesn’t occur overnight. It’s a slow process that occurs over several weeks, well beneath the surface and well before the breakout appears on your face or body. Proactiv goes to work early in the cycle to help prevent clogged pores and keep you from breaking out. Nothing can completely cure acne, but with the daily use of Proactiv, you can help treat mild-to-moderate acne and prevent future breakouts.

Both exfoliation and the use of salicylic acid medication (as seen in Proactiv’s Proactiv + Complete Kit, Blackhead Dissolving Gel, and Proactiv Deep Cleansing Wash) remove the build-up of dead skin cells on your skin. Benzoyl peroxide kills the P. acnes bacteria, and sulfur reduces swelling and redness and absorbs excess oil. Since it takes a while for that pimple to reach your skin’s surface, it’s crucial to address acne before it starts. While this can take time initially, a consistent, daily acne treatment routine can help break the acne cycle.

Acne myth 5: Acne is curable

Unfortunately, there’s no official cure for acne. Acne is chronic and can last anywhere from a few years in your teens to 20 years or more in adults. It’s a condition, which means it’s a continuous situation that exists on your skin and beneath its surface. Acne may come and go at different times in your life, but if you are acne-prone, you should always maintain a consistent skincare regimen.

But don’t worry, it’s not all bad news! You can keep acne under control with daily cleansing, exfoliating, and hydrating. Keep in mind it may take time to find the best combination of medicines and skincare products. Also, since our bodies and skin change throughout our lives depending on many factors (hormones, lifestyles, habits, environments, etc.), what worked for you as a teenager may not do the job when you’re in your 30s.

It’s all about finding the right skincare products and putting them to work in the right combination. That’s exactly what Proactiv offers you. Our complete, multi-step skincare regimens including gentle skincare and powerful acne-fighting medicine. Our formulas attack acne at every stage of the cycle, helping to stop current breakouts in their tracks and new ones from forming.

Acne myth 6: Spot treating pimples is the best way to clear acne

Acne is the underlying condition that creates different types of breakouts. Pimples (like papules and pustules) are the last stage of the acne process, so treating one pimple at a time isn’t the most effective route to take, and it will not help prevent new breakouts from forming. Like all good hygiene habits, we recommend taking a preventative approach by treating your entire face twice a day, every day to prevent breakouts. This way, you’re addressing the pimples you can’t see, as well as those you can. While it’s great to treat a visible pimple with a spot treatment, just know that won’t prevent future breakouts.

Acne myth 7: Pores can open and close

You’ve probably heard that you can steam open your pores with hot water and close them with cold water, but this isn’t true. Pores are passageways that house hair follicles and sebaceous glands. They allow sweat to cool you and your skin’s natural oil, sebum, to condition your skin, but they do not have a muscle to allow them to open and close at will.

Genetics mostly determines your pore size, but oily pores will appear larger and dryer, while clearer pores appear smaller. Although steam can’t technically open a pore, it can help loosen the sebum that builds up in the pore, allowing it to exit more easily. Exfoliating with a physical scrub and daily cleansing with glycolic acid and salicylic acid can loosen dead skin cells, decreasing the crater-like build up around a pore. These actions can help make your pores appear smaller, but they don’t actually shrink your pore.

Does cold water help acne? Not really. While cold water may tighten pores, it prevents the secretion of oil and acne-causing bacteria. Hot water, on the other hand, dries out your skin which can then stimulate even more sebum production, potentially leading to further breakouts. The best solution? Use tepid water when washing your face or showering.

Acne myth 8: Dirty skin causes acne

The good news is that acne isn’t caused by dirt or uncleanliness. The bad news is that the bacteria that cause acne (P. acnes) are already on your skin and feeding on excess oil. Washing your face will help reduce bacteria, remove surface oil, and help exfoliate dead skin cells. It’s only when the bacteria gets trapped in the pore that you need to take the extra step and target it with benzoyl peroxide.

On the flip side, washing too often can make your acne worse. Overzealous scrubbing can irritate the skin and cause tiny scratches and even micro-tears, opening the gates to more infection and inflammation. And stay away from rubbing alcohol, as it will only cause dryness and irritation. Overwashing will also encourage your skin to create more oil, as you strip the oil it already produced. Stick to washing your face just twice a day and using oil absorbing products to help manage sebum production.

Acne myth 9: All Exfoliators Are the Same

Absolutely false! A physical exfoliator, or scrub, uses mechanics like beads to remove dead skin cells from your skin’s surface. Chemical exfoliators — such as alpha hydroxy acids and beta hydroxy acids — are ingredients like glycolic acid and salicylic acid that help encourage your skin to shed dead skin cells.

Acne myth 10: French fries and chocolate cause acne

This is one of the oldest myths out there. While you should probably keep the junk food consumption to moderate amounts for other health reasons, the grease in your fast food isn’t what causes acne. It’s actually the high glycemic index in high-starch foods (like wheat, rice, and potatoes) that can increase oil production and lead to more breakouts. But eating foods high in oil doesn’t mean that oil can make its way from your intestines to your pores.

Another diet myth is that drinking more water will somehow flush your acne from the inside out. While you should definitely stay hydrated which will help with your skin’s overall health, there’s no evidence proving that more water will reduce your acne.

A sure-fire acne truth? Proactiv’s targeted skincare regimens treat and prevent breakouts, hydrate, and protect so you can achieve a clear, balanced, and glowing complexion. Whether you choose our original Proactiv Solution for oily & combo skin, Proactiv+ for sensitive skin, or our ProactivMD prescription-strength retinoid, managing acne-prone skin has never been easier.