Acne: myths and realities

Acne is very common skin complaint which affects 85% of the population during the course of their life and gives rise to many beliefs, more or less based on scientific evidence. Following is an overview of common beliefs to sort out fact from fiction.

Submitted on 20/07/2012

 

Common belief no. 1: acne is caused by a lack of hygiene


FALSE


Poor hygiene does not cause acne: the pimples and blackheads are caused by an excessive secretion of sebum, which in turn is caused by hormonal changes which have an impact on the quantity and quality of the sebum produced. However, a lack of hygiene or failing to remove your make-up in the evening can contribute to worsening pre-existing acne. Conversely, too frequent washing or using harsh products can also harm the skin and lead to an increased number of lesions. It is therefore necessary to strike a balance: cleaning your face morning and evening with a mild cleanser suitable for acneic skin, preceded by thorough make-up removal in the evening if you wear make-up, are sufficient for skin hygiene.


Common belief no. 2: acne only affects the face


FALSE


The face is indeed the area most commonly affected by acne: 95.5% of subjects suffering from acne have acne lesions, especially in the T-zone (chin, nose and forehead), very rich in sebaceous glands. However, acne can also involve the back, torso and arms.


Common belief no. 3: acne only affects teenagers


FALSE


Acne primarily affects teenagers due to hormonal disturbances associated with puberty: around 80% of young people suffer from it between the ages of 11 and 18 years. But while it disappears spontaneously in most cases after the age of 20, it can also persist into adulthood, especially in women: over 40% of them still suffer from acne after the age of 25. 


Common belief no. 4: the contraceptive pill makes acne worse


TRUE AND FALSE


Contraceptive pills are composed of hormones (oestrogen and progestin) and can thus affect acne, but their effect is not always negative. The older pills, known as "1st or 2nd generation" pills contain a progestin derived from testosterone that can increase the secretion of sebum and thus make your acne worse. However, the progestins contained in the 3rd generation pills do not stimulate the sebaceous glands and may even have a positive effect on acne. It is therefore essential to discuss the condition of your skin with your gynaecologist before he or she prescribes the pill for you.


Common belief no. 5: acne is related to diet


TRUE AND FALSE


To date, no unquestionable scientific connection has been established between diet and acne. However, some foods are believed to have an influence on the condition of the skin: hence, fish and seafood may reduce the severity of acne thanks to omega-3 which has inhibitory properties with regard to one of the inflammation factors involved in acne. In contrast, refined white sugar and cereals tend to worsen acne because consuming them causes peaks in blood sugar levels which stimulates the production of various hormones. One thing is certain: a varied and balanced diet is the first guarantee of healthy skin.


Common belief no. 6: acne is related to stress


PROBABLY TRUE


Stress cannot trigger the appearance of acne pimples on healthy skin. However, some studies suggest it may cause a temporary worsening of acne: the number of lesions may increase with the approach of a stressful event.


Common belief no. 7: exposure to the sun improves acne


FALSE


The sun is a false ally to those suffering from acne. Indeed, at first, UV exposure leads to drying up of pimples which often leads to a noticeable improvement of acne in summer. But the sun also causes thickening of the stratum corneum, which promotes clogging of the pores and the formation of comedones. As soon as autumn arrives you thus see more pimples forming than before. In addition, most drug treatments for acne are not compatible with exposure to the sun. So if you have acne, avoid exposure to the sun or use high index sun protection.


Common belief no. 8: you should not wear make-up if your suffer from acne


FALSE


Make-up is not contraindicated for patients with acne, but you should only choose non-comedogenic and non-oily products. Thorough cleansing every evening is also necessary.


Common belief no. 9: acne is contagious


FALSE


Although bacteria (Propionibacterium acnes) are involved in the development of acne lesions, acne is not contagious: the proliferation of this bacterium occurs away from the air inside the hair follicles. Hence, it cannot be transmitted to others, even on physical contact.


Common belief no. 10: if you use good quality dermo-cosmetic products there is no point in following a drug treatment for your acne


FALSE


Suitable dermo-cosmetic products can help you combat your acne. However, their use does not replace drugs: Go and see your dermatologist as only he or she can determine whether your skin condition requires treatment.

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