There are several common beliefs about the causes and course of acne that simply don’t square with scientific studies. Fortunately, it isn’t necessary to understand them in depth to separate fact from fancy. Common experience can help persuade, too.
Diet and acne
There’s no direct link between eating chocolate or greasy cheeseburgers and developing acne. Soft drinks do not increase the odds. What is true is that diet plays a role in all the body’s systems, and so has a minor part in whether acne is more or less likely.
For example, eating greasy foods doesn’t directly translate into increased oil production from the sebaceous glands that contribute to acne. But foods that do increase the oil production would. However, excess iodized salt is the only food substance that has been shown to have any substantial effect. It only worsens existing acne. It doesn’t cause it.
Hygiene and acne
Diet and hygiene are closely linked. But that’s more because people tend to have habits. People who have a non-nutritious or unhealthy diet tend to have poor hygiene habits as well. But even here the influence on the development of acne is minor at best.
The odds of acne are increased when a pore gets plugged and bacteria are trapped inside. White blood cells rush to the area to combat the bacteria. Trapped dead skin cells contribute. The result can be inflammation and the creation of pus, a component of one type of acne.
So, hygiene habits that tend to close the pores can play a role. But the effect is minimal. The dead skin cells and bacteria that get trapped, and can’t make their way out of the pore to the surface, are only somewhat influenced by whether a person washes the face regularly and well. After acne occurs good skin care is particularly important, though.
A mild cleansing twice a day with soap and water, not heavy scrubbing several times per day, is best. That helps encourage healthy skin in general.
But acne is strongly influenced by excess sebum production (a natural skin oil), triggered primarily by hormones. Good hygiene is a good idea for many reasons. But it helps more in treating acne that has already occurred by providing a good surface for medications to do their work most effectively.
Harsh cleansers applied roughly don’t just clear away the excess oil that plays a role in acne formation. Rather, it weakens the skin’s ability to deal with it. Also, contemporary makeup formulations will rarely increase the odds of forming acne.
Stress and acne
As a factor that weakens the immune system and influences hormones, stress might be thought to play a role in the onset of acne. But no clear correlation is found in major studies. Stress can have a small effect on acne that has already formed, but as a possible cause it ranks very low on the list.
Here again, though, people who experience excess or chronic stress tend to be in the cluster of those who have other health problems. Always a good thing to avoid. Keep in mind that stress and being challenged by ordinary life events are not the same thing. Stress occurs when someone thinks they’re not up to the task of dealing with those challenges well.
Medication and acne
Increasing the dosage of over the counter (or, worse, prescription) medications to treat acne is harmful, not helpful. At best, it wastes medication. At worst, it can actually harm the skin. Stick to the recommendations on the instructions. If over the counter medications don’t clear up the condition within a couple of weeks, seek the guidance of a dermatologist for better treatments.