Like a monster from a horror movie, it's back to haunt you. Red, unashamed and smack on the end of your nose. It's the attack of the killer pimple!
If only you hadn't eaten that chocolate bar yesterday! If only you had stayed away from the fried chicken! Maybe if you just pick at it a little. . . . Whoa! Hold it right there.
How much of what you believe about acne--what causes it and how to get rid of it--is true? And how much is merely rumor that you picked up during seventh-grade slumber parties? While millions of teen-agers have acne some time or another, pimples are not a hot topic of conversation in most social circles. So, a lot of theories--some true, some not so true--are surreptitiously spread. Here are a few of the more common beliefs:
1. Chocolate, fried or greasy foods, caffeine and dairy products cause acne.
Wrong. Sorry, but it's not that easy. This food myth has long been passed down as the reason for any pimple outbreak following a major holiday, but studies have proven it false. Dr. Ira Bell, a dermatologist in El Toro, said, "If you took a thousand people and you fed them chocolate, potato chips and fried foods, and you took a thousand people and fed them healthy foods, there would basically be no difference."
Dermatologist Dr. Daniel Dwyer of Costa Mesa agreed: "Foods don't really correlate (with acne). There may be an individual who reacts a certain way to a food, but no correlation can be proven with a large study."
The one substance in food that might aggravate acne is iodine, used in commercial table salt. But Dr. Alex Miller, a dermatologist in Yorba Linda, discounted this theory: "There is an acne-like rash that can be produced from massly over-consumed iodine, but there really has to be massive amounts, not like the amount that is contained in salt."
So, a doctor is not going to argue with the occasional patient who comes in and complains that whenever he drinks a cola or eats potato chips, he breaks out. But, for most people, advising against these foods is needless. Most likely, Miller said, those individual reactions are triggered by the person's guilt and anxiety about eating junk food.
More than anything, Dwyer said, acne is brought on by hormonal fluctuations and a family history of acne.
2. Stress causes people to break out.
True. Why? No one knows for sure, but some doctors suspect it is linked to the rise in hormone levels. In any case, at least everyone else looks bad during final exam week too.
Bell commented: "It also doesn't help to know that stress causes acne because you can't tell people, 'Don't stress,' and the best treatment for acne is not tranquilizers."
3. People with large pores have more acne.
This one can be true, sometimes. Acne forms when oil secreted at the base of the hair follicle rises to the surface and tries to escape through the pores. Bacteria love to prey on this oil, causing an infection at the pore. People who produce more oil tend to have larger pores, and since acne thrives on oil, the people with larger pores tend to have more acne too.
As Bell pointed out, though, "It's not like if you have large pores and shrink them down, your acne will get better, because there's no way to do that."
4. Touching the face spreads oil and dirt and worsens acne.
This is not as true as some might believe. Casual touching of the face does not worsen acne, but pressure does.
Said Miller: "If people are constantly resting their chin on their hand, and they do that every day for a long period of time, they sometimes end up plugging up pores and heating them up." This combination of heat and pressure produces the acne that is common under a football player's chin guard and shoulder pads and on a weight-lifter's back.
5. Makeup makes acne worse by trapping oil on the surface.
Probably false. People used to believe that any sort of makeup at all would trigger a flare-up. Then, doctors said that only oil-based makeups are a problem. Now, doctors are not so sure about that, either.
A few people already susceptible to acne will react to oil-based makeup by producing more pimples, Miller contended. Because no one can predict how oil-based makeups will affect a certain individual's complexion, dermatologists usually recommend that patients avoid heavy moisturizers and stick to water-based foundations.
6. Drinking water will clear up a complexion.
"Absolutely not," Miller said. While drinking water does not hurt anything, it probably doesn't have much effect on oil production in the skin.
Bell agreed: "A lot of people talk about cleansing the skin with eight glasses of water a day. I don't think there's any good evidence that that does anything but exercise your kidneys."
Besides, Miller reminded, "We have a water shortage."
7. Wash three or four times a day to rid the skin of dead cells.
This is really unnecessary, and over-washing can even make acne worse. Washing once or twice a day is plenty.