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A woman looking at her acne in the mirror

6 Acne Myths You Should
Stop Believing

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We’re dropping some major truth bombs here.

Alligators living in the sewers of New York City, Bigfoot roaming the Himalayas—some myths have staying power. That happens in skincare too. But when it comes to acne myths, buying into the nonsense can have a profound effect on your complexion—and your mood. Making the wrong move can inflame your skin, cause more breakouts, and make you feel helpless in your fight to get clear skin. Here, James Del Rosso, D.O., adjunct clinical professor of dermatology at Touro University Nevada in Henderson, Nevada, and an Acne Store advisory board member, breaks down some of these myths about pimples to help you separate truth from fiction. 

1. Acne myth: You can cleanse away pimples

While washing your face is the start of any solid skincare routine, that alone is unlikely to curb breakouts. “You cannot scrub pimples away—acne starts deeper in the skin and you really can't get to it with a washcloth or your brush or whatever else you might be using to take cleansing up a notch,” says Del Rosso. In fact, the key is to use both a gentle touch and a gentle product. This strategy helps to protect the skin barrier so it can work to prevent irritation and moisture loss. Del Rosso’s own research proves it: He found that acne is associated with epidermal barrier impairments. [1] The kid-gloves cleansing approach is even more important if you’re using topical acne medications, he explains. “Putting these powerful ingredients onto already-irritated skin will often make things worse.”

2. Acne myth: Natural ingredients are gentler on skin

As the demand for natural skincare products continues to grow, more people are searching for plant-derived ingredients to help with their acne, believing them to be safer and less irritating than their synthetic cousins. And while some natural ingredients like the salicylic acid made from willow bark can be beneficial in curbing acne, it’s an acne myth that all naturals are your best bet. “Remember: Poison ivy and arsenic are natural too,” Del Rosso explains. “In the end, you want ingredients that are actually doing something for the skin and have been shown to be beneficial and safe. The formulation is extremely important when it comes to the overall quality of a product—there are plenty of lab-made ingredients that can be very helpful to acne sufferers in the right formulation.”

"Del Rosso's research has found that acne is associated with epidermal barrier impairments."

3. Acne myth: You’ll be stuck with breakouts forever

While some people do battle acne well into adulthood, for others, it eventually resolves over time. “Speaking personally, my breakouts suddenly went away within six months of turning 20,” says Del Rosso. Why? In some people, the immune system seems to develop the ability to shut off that inflammatory process. The reason this happens for some people and not others isn’t known, but individual hormonal shifts are thought to play a role. 

And if you find yourself suffering with adult acne, you’re not alone. According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, breakouts impact 26 percent of 40-year-olds and 12 percent of 50-year-olds. [2] Even if you find yourself with acne well past your teenage years, it’s a myth that pimples will stick around forever. Dermatologists have many tools in their arsenal now to effectively send them packing, no matter your age. 

4. Acne myth: Accutane is bad

Over the years, oral isotretinoin, commonly referred to by its brand name Accutane, has gotten a bad reputation. Headlines linking the drug to intestinal problems, depression, and suicide have been splashed across the Internet, causing some to be leery of taking the medication. But many experts, including Del Rosso, think it’s time to take a closer look at this acne myth. Sure, there are potential side effects, but the truth is, acne itself carries risk of depression and suicide. [3] And, Del Rosso insists, “Oral isotretinoin is the single most dramatic and helpful treatment for acne that we have. It has completely turned around the lives of many acne patients in a positive way.” Indeed, clinical trials show it clears acne in 16 weeks in 85 percent of patients. [4]

That doesn’t mean, however, that you shouldn’t take these potential side effects seriously. Oral isotretinoin may not right for everyone: Women who are currently or intending to become pregnant should not take the drug. Those with a history of depression should carefully discuss the potential risks with their doctor. If you and your dermatologist determine oral isotretinoin may be right for you, it’s important to stay in close contact with him or her when starting the treatment. And if you or anyone you know is experiencing emotional distress or suicidal thoughts, immediately seek help with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

5. Acne Myth: Oily skin doesn’t need moisturizer

You may think adding moisturizer to already-oily complexion is a recipe for disaster. But ensuring skin is hydrated is the best way to keep its protective barrier intact, which can help balance your skin overall. This is really important when using potentially drying acne ingredients like retinoids, which studies show are best used in combination with a moisturizer. [5] Del Rosso understands the hesitation, but assures, “over the last several years, major cosmetics companies have gotten very good at formulating products that won’t clog pores or make skin feel oilier.” 

When looking for a formula, he recommends seeking out the term ‘noncomedogenic’ on the label, which means the product is not likely to clog pores and exacerbate acne. And when in doubt, he says, “Go with a recognized brand marketed for use by acne sufferers and use it daily after every skin-washing session.”  

6. Acne Myth: Scarring only happens in severe cases

While the longer a pore is clogged and the deeper down the inflammation goes are both correlated with scarring, even mild acne can leave lasting marks. “Some people may simply be born with pathways of inflammation that lead to scarring,” insists Del Rosso. A 2017 study found that risks for scarring include the severity of the lesions and the gap in time between onset and treatment. [6] That means even if your breakouts aren’t severe, there’s a long-term benefit to your skin to treating acne early and effectively. 








Information in the Acnepedia is for general educational purposes only. It should not be relied on as medical advice. You should not use this information for self-diagnosis or for treating any health problem or disease. Some of the information in the Acnepedia may reflect individual dermatologists' views and may be different from the label information on skincare products. You should always carefully follow the label information on skincare products. If you have questions about your health or the use of any drug or cosmetic skincare product, please speak to your healthcare provider. The provider of this website is not licensed to practice medicine in any state. Members of the Acne Store Board of Dermatologists have reviewed the Acnepedia articles but have not evaluated the safety or efficacy of specific products and do not endorse or recommend specific products.

James Del Rosso, D.O.

Dr. Jim Del Rosso is an internationally renowned dermatologist who has been practicing dermatology since 1986 and a member of the Acne Store Board of Dermatologists. He is Clinical Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, has published multiple peer-reviewed articles and textbook chapters, and was President of the American Acne & Rosacea Society, American Society of Mohs Surgery, and the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. He is Adjunct Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the Touro University Nevada in Henderson, Nevada. Currently, Dr. Del Rosso is Research Director of JDR Dermatology Research and practices at Thomas Dermatology in Las Vegas, Nevada and also serves as Senior Vice President of Clinical Research and Strategic Development at Advanced Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery in Maitland, Florida. He served as Head of the Section of Dermatology at the Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine after receiving his D.O. degree from the same medical school in Athens, Ohio, interning at Doctors Hospital in Columbus, completing a dermatology residency at Atlantic Skin Disease and Skin Surgery in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and completing a fellowship in Mohs micrographic surgery and cutaneous oncology at OSU.

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