Myths and Facts About Acne

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
  • Confident, mature male doctor at the hospital
    The Facts Behind Common Acne Myths
    You might think an embarrassing acne breakout is just part of life and that it has to run its course. Fact is, acne is almost always treatable. It helps to know more than what acne looks like. You need to understand what causes it and how to prevent breakouts. Let’s start by separating acne facts from fiction.
  • health_coach_rosacea_young_woman_wash_face
    Myth: Acne Means You Don't Wash Your Face Enough
    You do not have acne because your skin is dirty or you don’t wash enough. The culprit behind acne is an oily substance known as sebum. Your skin naturally produces sebum to keep it from getting too dry. Acne develops when too much sebum is produced or its chemical makeup changes. Your genes, changes in hormone levels, and certain medicines are among the factors that can affect sebum production. 
  • variety-of-fast-food
    Fact: Greasy Foods Do Not Cause Acne
    Many people believe eating chocolate, pizza, or greasy fries triggers acne breakouts. Really, there’s no scientific evidence to support this claim. There are many health benefits to eating a well-balanced diet low in oily or fatty foods. However, experts say that acne prevention is not one of them. 
  • Facial Wash
    Myth: Scrubbing Your Skin Helps Get Rid of Acne
    It may seem like a good idea to scrub and exfoliate your skin. However, scrubbing can do more harm than good. Trying to scrub away skin oils doesn’t help. That's because acne forms below the skin's surface. But, scrubbing can irritate your skin and trigger a breakout. Instead, clean your skin gently with a mild cleanser two times a day and after exercising. 
  • At Your Appointment Guide: Stress
    Fact: Stress Can Make Acne Worse
    Stress does not actually cause acne. Stress can, however, cause your body to make more hormones called androgens. And, changing hormone levels can lead to acne or make acne worse. It's important to understand that facing constant stress can have a negative effect on your skin and aggravate existing breakouts. 
  • hc_happy_group_adults
    Myth: Only Teenagers Get Acne
    Acne usually starts during the teenage years. Still, adults can get acne. In fact, some people don't develop acne until they are in their 50s. There are various reasons why adults may get acne. Changes in hormone levels that occur during pregnancy or menopause may be to blame. Certain medication, greasy makeup, and some skin care and hair products also can trigger acne breakouts in adults.
  • Control Sun Exposure
    Fact: Getting a Tan Doesn't Help Treat Acne
    Tanning may help hide acne scars, but it does not help treat the skin condition. Exposure to the sun, however, will raise your risk of skin cancer. It also can speed up the formation of wrinkles. Also keep in mind that some acne treatments can make your skin more sensitive to the sun. This includes the use of retinoids and antibiotics. To protect your skin, wear an oil-free sunscreen of at least SPF 30 before heading outside.  
  • iStock_000003505522Small
    Myth: Appling Extra Acne Cream Clears Skin Faster
    Use your medication as directed by your doctor. Do not use more acne medicine in hopes of getting clear skin faster. Using too much can backfire. Like any other medicine, acne treatments may cause side effects. These can include skin peeling, itching and burning. Even over-the-counter acne treatments can cause your skin to become dry and irritated if you use more than you should.
  • health_coach_rosacea_woman_mirror_moisturizer
    Fact: There Is No Quick Fix for Acne
    Be patient and give your acne treatment time to work. There is no “quick fix” when it comes to this skin condition. Treating acne often requires a combination of treatments. It also could take 6 to 8 weeks before you see an improvement in your skin. Acne treatments are not cures. Even after your acne clears up, you will probably need to take steps to prevent future breakouts. 
Myths and Facts About Acne

1. "Facts About Acne," National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), Nov 2010.

2. "Acne," American Academy of Dermatology.

3. " Questions and Answers about Acne," National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), May 2013.

4. " Erythromycin and Benzoyl Peroxide Topical," U.S. National Institutes of Health, Aug 2010.

5. "The response of skin disease to stress: changes in the severity of acne vulgaris as affected by examination stress;" Arch Dermatol. 2003 Jul;139(7):897-900.

6. " A review of the use of adapalene for the treatment of acne vulgaris," Ther Clin Risk Manag. 2007 Aug; 3(4): 621–624.

7. Topical Therapy for Acne. Am Fam Physician. 2000 Jan 15;61(2):357-365.

8. Acne Myths. American Academy of Dermatology, Jan 2009.

9. Adult Acne. American Academy of Dermatology.

10. Acne: Diagnosis, treatment, and outcome. American Academy of Dermatology.

11. Acne: Who gets and causes. American Academy of Dermatology.

12. What Causes Acne? American Academy of Pediatrics, Nov 1, 2013.

13. Parker Magin, Dimity Pond, Wayne Smith and Alan Watson. A systematic review of the evidence for ‘myths and misconceptions’ in acne management: diet, face-washing and sunlight. Family Practice, Feb 2005.

14. How to Protect Your Skin From the Sun. American Academy of Dermatology, Apr 2010.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Aug 31
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.