No matter your gender or how old you are, you’ve experienced some form of acne—and there’s a lot of misinformation out there about the condition. In honor of Acne Awareness Month, Mental Floss reached out to experts—Dr. Sandra Lee, a.k.a. Dr. Pimple Popper, creator of the SLMD Skincare Line; Vance Soto, President of Ole Henriksen Face/Body Spa; and Jennifer Yen, natural beauty expert and founder of pūrlisse—to separate fact from fiction.
1. MYTH: GREASY FOOD CAUSES ACNE.
"I tell my patients 'The only way greasy foods like pizza give you acne is if you rub it all over your face,'" Lee says. "Not many foods trigger acne, apart from in certain circumstances when food products contain hormones, such as cow's milk and cheese. In short: Be mindful of dairy if you are breakout prone, but other than that—this is a big myth!"
That said, the health of your body's largest organ is tied to your diet, according to Soto. "It’s so important to maintain a balanced diet of leafy green vegetables and drink plenty of water each day," he says. "Everything in life is about a healthy balance. Beauty starts on the inside, so what you eat and drink definitely plays a major role in the health of your skin."
2. MYTH: TANNING GETS RID OF ACNE.
It’s widely believed that tanning can dry out acne, and, says Yen, "exposure to sunlight can kill bad bacteria." But according to Lee, sun exposure makes acne worse, not better: "Sun exposure actually darkens pigmentation, making brown spots that appear after acne breakouts darker and more persistent," Lee says. "Exposing the skin to infrared heat from the sun can actually flare up acne." And, as Yen points out, that there are other potential consequences of tanning: Sun damage and skin cancer.
3. MYTH: WASHING YOUR FACE FREQUENTLY WILL PREVENT ACNE.
It seems logical: Acne is caused by bacteria on the skin, so washing your face until it's squeaky clean means you'll have clear skin. But our experts all agree that this isn’t so. "Over-washing your face, or scrubbing too hard, can make existing acne worse, or trigger a breakout," Yen says. Washing your skin too aggressively will actually make your skin create more sebum, which can cause more breakouts. Yen says that washing with a gentle cleanser (she likes pūrlisse's 4-in-1 Soy Milk Cleanser) in the morning and at night "is sufficient cleansing for acne prone skin."
When treating your skin, Lee advises using common sense: "Wash makeup, dirt, and sweat away before you go to bed, and if you feel your skin is greasy in the morning, wash it again! But don’t overdo it. Be gentle."
4. MYTH: SKIN IS OILIER IN THE SUMMER.
Even though your skin might look and feel like it's producing acne-creating oil on overtime during the summer months, that's not what’s actually happening: Yen says that being exposed to humidity and sweating is what's making your skin appear greasier.
"Our skin doesn't create more oil during the hotter months of the year, but we are likely to sweat more, which may make our skin feel more greasy and oily," Lee says. To keep oily skin under control, Lee recommends using salicylic acid-based cleaners. "Chemical peel ingredients such as this will encourage exfoliation of the skin, remove skin debris from within our pores, and help to clear up acne as well as prevent new acne from forming," she says. Her favorite is the Acne Cleanser from her SLMD line, which helps to tame acne and also minimizes brown spots.
And just because your skin is sweatier doesn't mean you shouldn't moisturize; Soto advises using lighter moisturizers like OLEHENRIKSEN's Sheer Transformation Perfecting Moisturizer.
5. MYTH: TOOTHPASTE IS THE IDEAL HOME REMEDY FOR GETTING RID OF ZITS.
Toothpaste with ingredients like menthol or mint will dry out a pimple, Lee says, and covering a pimple with something has the added benefit of reminding you to keep your hands off the bump: "If you don't pick a pimple, it will more likely resolve without scarring," she says.
But in some cases, toothpaste can overdry the skin—so there might be a better remedy to reach for. "Hemorrhoid cream can reduce redness and swelling associated with pimples," Lee says, "so reach for that over your toothpaste if you're looking for a home remedy!"
Soto had another recommendation: "I'd suggest taking a few drops of eucalyptus oil suspended into cold water and take your hand towel for some cold towel compresses,” he says. "The aroma is beautiful and we find wonderful results for eruptions."
6. MYTH: SUNSCREEN CLOGS YOUR PORES.
"The wrong kind of sunscreen can cause a chemical reaction on the skin, which can lead to acne," Lee says. So provided you pick the right sunscreen, you should be A-OK. "Look for ingredients that will not clog your pores, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide." Sunscreens marked "noncomedogenic"—which mean they're specially formulated not to block pores—will work best for acne-prone skin.
7. MYTH: ALL MAKEUP MAKES ACNE WORSE.
As with sunscreen, choosing the right kind of makeup makes all the difference. "Products that you put on your skin that are more 'occlusive' are thicker, and can clog your pores," Lee says. "Be ingredient savvy when it comes to anything you're putting on your skin, including makeup. Look for ingredients such as titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, mica, bismuth oxychloride, and iron oxides (normally found in mineral makeup) which will offer coverage and won't clog pores—which in turn, will not aggravate acne." If you're acne-prone, Lee recommends avoiding creams and using lotions or serums instead, "because lotions and serums are water- or alcohol-based, whereas creams are oil-based and can more likely make acne worse."
8. MYTH: ACNE IS YOUR FAULT.
Lee says she hears this a lot, and she wants people know that "in general, acne is not your fault, and it's not really under your control. It is largely dependent upon hormones and genetics, which is why most of us have it the worst during our puberty years."
But just because you're not to blame for acne doesn’t mean you can't gain control over it: "In my opinion, the best way to do this is to understand it: What type of acne you have, what type of skin you have, what makes your acne better and what makes it worse," Lee says. "Learn why certain products are recommended by dermatologists. Know that retinoids like retinol help prevent blackheads and whiteheads and be able to recognize that you have this type of acne and therefore this specifically is a great treatment option for you. You can take control and learn how to treat your own acne."