Years ago, acne wasn’t regarded by many as a condition that required medical treatment. Today, perhaps due to better awareness or higher standards of skincare, treating acne has become so commonplace that more and more people would actually consult a doctor for this skin condition that affects many adults and teenagers in Singapore.
Yet, I’m surprised that there are still common myths surrounding acne in this day and age! Whether it’s diet or skincare routine-related, it is such myths that can cause added anxiety for patients.
Previously, I have written an article on pigmentation treatment myths which was extremely well received. I have since received quite a number of requests for me to do one on acne myths.
In this guide, you’ll realise that acne is a very manageable condition and you CAN have healthy clear skin with a sound treatment approach with the right doctor.
Myth #1: Acne only happens in teenagers
Definitely not true! Adult hormonal acne (which can develop in women from aged 21 to 50 years old i.e. young adulthood till peri-menopausal period) is actually very common and is often more severe in men. For more details on this topic, check out a recent article I wrote on adult acne in Singapore.
Here are the common factors that can aggravate adult acne:
- Emotional stress
- Squeezing acne inappropriately
- Peri-menstrual periods (for ladies)
- Prolonged hours of mask wearing on the face
- Diet rich in glycemic load (e.g soft drinks, sweet desserts, etc) and dairy products
- Comedogenic makeup or skincare products
- Certain medical conditions or medications
Myth #2: Acne is caused by poor skin hygiene
Acne is actually caused by excess oil and comedone buildup (from hormones, genetics), and skin inflammation with bacteria proliferation. So, trying to “wash away” your acne with harsh soaps and cleansers —which are NOT friendly to the face at all— can actually lead to worsening of skin irritation and acne issues.
Instead, you should cleanse your face with a mild gentle cleanser twice a day, and seek appropriate medical treatments to address the underlying acne causative factors mentioned above.
Myth #3: Sun exposure worsens acne
There is no definite evidence to suggest a link between sun exposure and acne outbreaks.
However, excessive sun exposure may cause more severe post-acne pigmentation on the skin, so make sure to apply non-comedogenic sunscreen (SPF 30 to 50 with PA+++) daily to protect your skin.
On the flipside, some also believe that sun exposure will clear up your skin. Again, there is no supportive evidence. Moreover, I do not recommend sitting under the hot sun to clear your acne because application of topical acne skincare with ingredients like benzoyl peroxide and retinoids may cause more skin irritation with sun exposure.
Myth #4: Eating greasy food worsens acne
I’m sure you’ve been told to avoid “heaty” food that is fried, oily, spicy or chocolates because they can trigger acne breakouts. However, there is no solid evidence that proves such food can worsen acne. For health’s sake, that does not mean you should over-indulge in such food as well.
Having said so, there is some evidence that suggests food high in glycemic index (e.g. white rice, soft drinks, sweet desserts) and dairy products may aggravate acne outbreaks. Thus, acne patients are encouraged to reduce their intake of such food.
I sometimes would recommend to my patients to keep a food log to observe any changes in their acne status with regards to their diet, and slowly eliminate food that they think might be causing their acne outbreaks.
Myth #5: Dark-coloured food intake causes dark spots or hyperpigmentation after acne outbreaks
This is what I would consider as an old wives’ tale.
Post acne hyperpigmentation (or post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation/PIH) is the result of your skin’s natural response to acne inflammation and skin recovery, and NOT from the food you eat (e.g. coffee, soy sauce). As such, the more inflamed your breakout, the larger and darker your PIH spots tend to be.
Additionally, PIH tends to be more prominent in darker Asian skin types.
Furthermore, you should not undergo acne treatments that are not suitable for you. Yes, procedures like chemical peels, microdermabrasion and laser resurfacing are all highly effective treatments, provided they are done appropriately during the different stages of acne activity, otherwise over-treatment can also cause PIH.
So, be very careful and selective with your acne treatments, and choose the right doctor or clinic with rich clinical experience in this field who can guide you properly.
Myth #6: You should not apply makeup if you have acne outbreaks
I do not discourage my patients from applying makeup when they go through acne outbreaks, as I know how concealing of the acne blemishes by makeup can greatly boost their confidence at work or in social situations.
However, remember to avoid oil-based makeup or thick foundations that may potentially clog pores and worsen your acne outbreak.
I recommend choosing loose powder or mineral makeup from reputable brands that are oil-free, water-based, non-comedogenic and hypoallergenic. These are more suitable for acne prone skin.
Most importantly, remember to remove your makeup thoroughly with an effective makeup remover and cleanser before going to bed. If you are unsure on how to do it with proper technique, speak to a skincare professional.
Myth #7: Self-squeezing acne or pimples speeds up the healing process
Definitely not! It may be “satisfying” to do so on your own, but very often this can lead to even more damage and inflammation to the skin structure, causing deeper pitted scars, or bigger and darker post acne hyperpigmentation.
Instead, try to use topical medicated creams to resolve any inflamed pimples at the initial stage of the outbreak. If it doesn’t get better, please seek help from the right doctor experienced in treating inflamed acne.
I’ve written an entire article on the dangers of popping your pimples by yourself, do check it out.
Myth #8: Facials help to clear acne
This really has to depend on the severity, type of acne and skill of the practitioner.
Simple facial procedures like cleansing and gentle extraction of mild clogged pores on skin is usually fine. However, the professionalism and extraction techniques of the beautician or aesthetician performing your facial treatment plays a huge role in your outcome.
They should avoid excessive or forceful extraction of huge inflamed acne bumps; these should be treated medically with a doctor instead.
Myth #9: Taking antibiotics for acne treatment is not good for health
This is a common misconception that needs to be addressed. I have personally taken oral antibiotics to treat my acne issues in my younger days during adolescence.
A short course of oral antibiotics is sometimes needed to control more severe acne inflammation which does not improve with topical creams. They MUST be taken under a doctor’s supervision to prevent the issue of drug resistance (i.e. drug efficacy will diminish over time, leading to the use of stronger drugs down the road).
One can at times experience some potential side effects (e.g gastric upset, etc) or allergy reactions from antibiotics, but they are usually transient. However, if your acne keeps recurring after the initial course of antibiotics, then antibiotics are definitely not a long-term solution.
Another medication called isotretinoin may have to be considered as a more appropriate longer-term treatment, which will be discussed by your doctor.
Myth #10: Everyone around me has acne issues, so it’s alright not to seek treatment. Anyway, the acne will go away by itself eventually.
Some patients do not see the urgent need to seek acne treatment because they may think that;
- Acne is so common among their peers, so it is no big deal
- The acne problem will resolve by itself
As a doctor, I have to strongly disagree. Patients should be mindful that if left untreated, acne can cause:
- Unnecessary pain and discomfort on the face from the active inflammation, which can affect daily activities.
- Unsightly acne marks or pitted scars which can be permanent
- Emotional distress with affected self-confidence.
I hope this article has helped to dispel some misconceptions you have about acne. If you have any questions or need advice on acne-related myths or treatments, please feel free to contact me over WhatsApp @ +65 9822 2989, or call in @ +65 6222 2262
You can also email me at: email@example.com
Dr. David Ng C H
- The Complete Guide to Clear Skin: A to Z about Acne & Zits. Authors: A/P Chua Sze Hon, Dr Hazel Oon Hwee Boon. Published by Straits Times Press