When pimples start popping up, so does the advice about treating and preventing acne. But it isn’t always backed by medical evidence, so it’s important to be able to separate fact from fiction.
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We asked dermatologist Jennifer Lucas, MD, to address these commonly held acne beliefs:
1. Putting Listerine or toothpaste on a zit will clear it up
Maybe, but don’t do it. These dental products might dry up a pimple, Dr. Lucas says, but they can also make the skin dry, scaly and inflamed. In other words, don’t try it at home, opting instead for a benzoyl peroxide wash.
2. Eating chocolate makes me break out
Maybe — avoid it if you wish. The verdict is still out on this one. Further studies are needed to know for sure, but foods containing dairy and high sugar content may be associated with worsening your acne. Therefore, if you feel like it makes your acne worse, avoid it, Dr. Lucas says. Also, people tend to eat chocolate when they are stressed, and this may also play a role.
3. Popping a zit will make it clear up faster
Maybe, but don’t do it. Even though we all do it sometimes, and it may appear to make it go away faster, you are also setting yourself up for scarring. When you express the content of the pimple out, you’re also pushing it in, Dr. Lucas says.
4. Working out makes me break out
True, but it doesn’t have to. Acne is worsened by sweat and dirt being left/trapped on your skin. Make sure you cleanse your face (chest and back if they are prone to breakouts) as soon as possible after every workout, especially when you’re wearing helmets, hats, etc. that physically trap the sweat against your skin.
5. I break out more around my period
True. “Hormones do play a role in acne,” Dr. Lucas says. That can mean flare-ups during your monthly period or during pregnancy. Birth-control pills are a treatment she sometimes turns to when a hormone imbalance is responsible for acne.
6. Adults aren’t supposed to get acne
False. “I hear that all the time, and I would love for that to be true,” Dr. Lucas says. Not only can acne continue into adulthood, but some people experience adult onset acne, usually driven by hormonal imbalances.
7. Shaving my face makes me break out
False. What looks like pimples are probably ingrown hairs, but the benzoyl peroxide products recommended for acne can often help. Dr. Lucas tells patients to switch to an electric razor, although some patients say razor-shaving more frequently can eventually ease the irritation.
8. Going tanning will help my skin clear up
Maybe, but don’t do it. “I don’t see it helping people,” she says. “Putting yourself at increased risk of melanoma as an alternative to acne is not worth the risk.”
When is it time to see a dermatologist?
“When you’ve tried simple things and haven’t gotten results, it’s time to see a dermatologist,” Dr. Lucas says.
When you have big, deep nodules that are painful, it’s setting you up for scarring. If you notice your acne leaving more permanent marks or scars, she suggests making an appointment.