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Acne Myths

Busting the Myths Surrounding Acne

Last updated: February 23, 2019

Contrary to what you may have seen in commercials, pores do not get blocked from the top down due to "impurities." Rather, the walls of a pore stick together deep within the skin, starting acne formation.1 Far from preventing acne, frequent washing actually irritates pores, which can cause them to become clogged. A washcloth or any other cleansing device can add even more irritation . The best bet is to wash very gently with bare hands and only wash twice a day.2

Myth: Washing or scrubbing your face will help clear up acne

This antiquated notion, originating as early as the 17th century to discourage young people from having premarital sex, is not based on scientific evidence.

Myth: masturbation or sex causes acne

10-20 minutes per day of sun exposure for people with lighter skin and 20-30 minutes per day for people with darker skin may prove beneficial for acne symptoms, especially body acne. However, overly exposing your skin to the sun creates skin damage, which leaves the skin irritated. This irritation can result in more acne in the weeks following overexposure as the skin heals itself. If you notice a breakout "out of the blue," ask yourself if you got sunburnt about two weeks ago. That may be the cause.1-3

Myth: the sun will help get rid of acne

The bottom line is we need more research. We do know that people in some hunter/gatherer societies do not experience acne whatsoever across the entire population. This is in stark contrast to the widespread presence of acne throughout all modern society. It leaves us to ponder whether the indigenous people's unprocessed diet contributes to their acne-free skin or whether their clear skin is a result of genetics or some other factor. Discovering a dietary way of preventing acne may be a future reality. However, we may live so differently from our ancestors that it has become close to impossible to replicate our ancestral diet.1-2,4-6 

Myth: diet and acne are related

Note: If you feel that you have cleared your acne using a particular diet or if you are planning on attempting a diet of some kind, please post your method on the Nutrition & holistic health forum. Keep in mind that almost any diet will appear to work in the short term because as your body loses weight, insulin and other hormones react and acne tends to recede. Then, as body weight levels out or increases, acne symptoms tend to return. Any legitimately effective anti-acne diet should continue working after the initial weight loss period.

Exactly why this occurs is unknown but 50% of adult men and 25% of adult women now experience adult acne at some point.7-9The good news is that it is treated the same way in an adult as in a teen.10-13

Myth: only teens get acne

If you search online, the vast majority of medical sources specifically warn against popping a pimple. However, this advice is never based on scientific evidence. While it is commonly agreed that attempting to pop pimples which are not yet ready and do not have a white or yellow center can cause the pimple to become more severe and potentially scar more severely, popping a zit which is ready and does in fact have a white or yellow center can actually eliminate the infection and initiate healing. Popping must be performed correctly to achieve the best result. Also, it is vital that popping should never be combined with picking of the skin. Countless plastic surgeons who specialize in acne scar correction will tell you that picking the skin causes as much or more scarring than the initial acne lesion itself.

Myth: you should never pop a pimple

It is the bacteria deep within your pores (Propionibacterium acnes) that are part of the acne formation process and not the bacteria on the surface of your skin. The reason it is important to leave your skin relatively untouched is because physically irritating the skin can cause breakouts and not because you are moving bacteria around.14

Myth: bacteria on the surface of your skin causes acne

Even though acne is the #1 reason people see dermatologists, this does not mean that a dermatologist is a specialist in acne unless she specifically decided to focus her practice on this area. Becoming a dermatologist requires a person to study and understand a huge list of skin diseases, and acne is simply one of many. It is important that an acne sufferer be his own advocate when it comes to acne and learn everything he can about available treatments before speaking with a dermatologist to prevent a revolving door of prescriptions which very often do not provide adequate clearing of the skin.

Myth: dermatologists know everything there is to know about acne

The Experts at Acne.org

Our team of medical doctors, biology & chemistry PhDs, and acne experts work hand-in-hand with Dan (Acne.org founder) to provide the most complete information on all things acne. If you find any errors in this article, kindly use this Feedback Form and let us know.


  1. Questions and Answers About Acne. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases Jan. 2006. National Institutes of Health. 2001.
  2. Magin, P., Pond, D., Smith, W. & Watson. A. A systematic review of the evidence for 'myths and misconceptions' in acne management: diet, face-washing and sunlight. Fam. Pract. 22, 62-70 (2005).
  3. Gfesser, M. & Worret. W. I. Seasonal variations in the severity of acne vulgaris. Int. J. Dermatol. 35, 116-117 (1996). Abstract. PubMed. 15 Apr. 2002.
  4. Diet best medicine for pimply problem - study.  RMIT.edu. 2 Apr. 2007.
  5. Cordain, L. et al. AcneVularis: A ddisease of Western civilization. Arch. of Dermatol. 138, 1584-1590 (2002).
  6. Cordain, L. Implications for the Role of Diet in Acne. Semin. Cutan. Med. Surg. 24, 84-91 (2005).
  7. Cunliffe, W. J., Goulden, V. & Stables, G. I. Prevalence of Facial Acne in Adults. J. Am. Acad. Dermatol. 41, 577-580 (1999).
  8. Knaggs, H. E., Wood, E. J., Rizer, R. L. & Mills, O. H. Post-adolescent acne. Int. J. Cosmet. Sci. 26, 129-138 (2004).
  9. Collier, C. N. et al. The prevalence of acne in adults 20 years and older. J. Am. Acad. Dermatol. 58, 56-59 (2008).
  10. Dhir, R., Gehi, N. P., Agarwal., R. & More, Y. E. Oral isotretinoin is as effective as a combination of oral isotretinoin and topical anti-acne agents in nodulocystic acne. Indian J. Dermatol., Venereol. Leprol. 74, 187 (2008).
  11. Ng, P. P. & Goh, C. L. Treatment outcome of acne vulgaris with oral isotretinoin in 89 patients. Int. J. Dermatol. 38, 213-216 (1999).
  12. Quereux, G., Volteau, C., N'Guyen, J. M. & Dreno, B. Prospective study of risk factors of relapse after treatment of acne with oral isotretinoin. Dermatology 212, 168-176 (2006).
  13. Akman, A. et al. Treatment of acne vulgaris with intermittent and conventional isotretinoin: a randomized, controlled multicenter study. Arch. Dermatol. Res. 299, 467-473 (2007).
  14. Kwon, H. H., Yoon, J. Y., Park, S. Y. & Suh, D. H. Analysis of distribution patterns of Propionibacterium acnes phylotypes and Peptostrepococcus species from acne lesions. Br. J. Dermatol. 169, 1152-1155 (2013).

Further Reading

  1. Adebamowo, C. A. et al. High school dietary dairy intake and teenage acne. J. Am. Acad. Dermatol. 52, 207-214 (2005). Abstract. PubMed. Feb. 2005.
  2. Fulton, J. E. Acne Rx (James E. Fulton Jr., M.D., PhD: 2001).
  3. Plewig, G. & Kligman, A. M. Acne and Rosacea (Springer, Berlin, 2000).

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