Dispelling the Top Myths About the Causes of Acne

There are plenty of misconceptions out there regarding acne causes and development. Understanding acne means sorting through fact and fiction.

Many of the beliefs we hold about the causes of acne are actually myths. Let's take a look and uncover the truth about what really causes acne and what doesn't.


Myth: Acne is caused by not cleansing your skin.

a man washing his face with tap water
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Acne is not caused by a lack of hygiene. Instead, it is a disorder of the pilosebaceous unit, or what we commonly call the hair follicle or pore. 

Excess oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria become trapped within the follicle, creating an impaction. If the follicle wall ruptures, inflammation occurs and a pimple is created.

Acne is not created because of a lack of cleansing, and frequent cleansing cannot heal it. In fact, washing the face too often can irritate the skin and exacerbate acne.


Myth: Chocolate, pizza, and French fries cause acne.

a woman eating chocolate
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There is no proven link between diet and acne. Chocolate, French fries, and other junk foods, while not exactly healthy, aren't going to cause acne.

Bacteria have a greater impact on breakouts than your diet. The bacteria responsible for inflamed acne breakouts are Propionibacteria acnes (P. acnes).

P. acnes are routinely found in the follicles of most skin. When the P. acnes population grows out of control it can trigger redness, inflammation and the formation of pus.

Although a few studies show a possible link between certain foods acne severity, there is no evidence that any specific food actually causes pimples. So, enjoy an occasional treat without worrying about what it's doing to your skin.


Myth: Blackheads are caused by dirt trapped in the pore.

a close up of the pores on a young man's nose
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That black top of a blackhead is not dirt.

A blackhead, or open comedo, is an accumulation of dead skin cells and sebum that has formed a worm-like plug within the pore. The top of this impaction is not covered by a layer of dead skin cells.

The oil impaction changes to a dark brown or black color when exposed to air, much like a sliced apple turns brown when left sitting on your kitchen counter.

So, blackheads can't be washed away.  Instead, OTC products containing salicylic acid, or prescription medications like topical retinoids, can help remove these blemishes and prevent them from forming.


Myth: Masturbation (or having sex) causes acne.

teen boy and girl looking awkwardly at each other
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Chalk this fable up to parents trying to dissuade their youngsters from having sexual relations. Masturbation doesn't cause acne. Neither does having sex.

Sexual activity and acne development ​are completely unconnected. Along the same lines, having sex won't cure acne either.


Myth: Touching your face causes acne.

a woman popping pimple on face
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Sure, your fingers may not be the cleanest objects in the entire world.  But that doesn't mean touching your face with your hands is the cause of your acne.

Even if you stopped touching your face -- forever -- you'd still break out in pimples.  Blame hormones, excess dead skin cells, bacteria (deep within the pore, not from your hands). 

You're not causing your acne by touching your face.


Myth: You can catch acne from someone else.

teen girls with faces pressed together
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Acne is not contagious. You aren't going to "catch" it by shaking hands, touching, or even kissing someone with acne.

Acne is really caused by three major factors: retention of skin cells within the pore, excess oil, and an overabundance of acne-causing bacteria. When all of these factors are present, acne can develop.

None of these factors can be caught from someone else. So don't worry. You didn't catch acne from your best friend, and you can't give it to someone else either.

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