Acne is caused by not washing properly.
False. Washing is irrelevant, although over-washing, especially with abrasive products, can sometimes make the skin too sensitive to use anti-acne medications. Excess washing can also cause pores to become further clogged – wash cloths and abrasive cleaners will cause further irritation.

Stress worsens acne.
Probably true. Stress has been shown to make acne worse, although the way in which this happens is not clear. Some experts think it is because we fiddle with our skin more when we are stressed. A study of students found that acne was worse at exam time.

Does diet affect acne?
We need more research to answer this question. Losing weight will change insulin and other hormones that positively affect acne, but as the weight steadies or increases again the acne may come back.

Eating chocolate, sweets or fried foods gives you spots.
False. There is currently no scientific evidence for this.

Drinking lots of milk worsens acne.
Possibly true. There is strong evidence for all types of milk, but one study suggested that skimmed milk may make acne worse in women. But remember, milk is good for building strong bones!

Masturbation, too much sex or too little sex worsens acne.
False – total myths! There is no evidence for this. This falsehood was stated in the past to try to discourage extramarital sex.

You can ‘catch’ acne by skin contact, or by using the same flannel or towel as someone with acne.
False. Acne is not infectious. However, the bacteria that are involved in acne can be passed from one close contact to another. If strains of these bacteria are already resistant to antibiotics this may stop close contacts from responding as well to antibiotic treatments.

Acne is worse premenstrually.
True. Women often notice that their spots are worse during the week before a period. Acne may improve or get worse during pregnancy; it is unpredictable which way it may go.

Acne runs in families.
True. You are more likely to get acne if one of your parents had acne.

Acne affects only the face, chest and back.
False. Although these are the most common sites, acne can affect other body sites including the arms, legs and scalp.

Acne usually clears up on its own.
True. In most people, acne will clear up on its own after 7 or 8 years. But there is no need to wait that long, as effective treatments are available.

Acne always disappears in the late teens/early 20s.
False. Whereas most cases of acne will be improved by the 20s, some people have acne for prolonged periods. Persistent/late-onset acne is thought to be more common in women but this might be because they seek help more frequently than men.

Taking drugs causes acne.
Partly true. The drug ecstasy can cause an outbreak of acne; the spots last for several days. Inhaling solvents can produce spots around the mouth and nose. Certain prescribed medications can make acne worse – always ask your doctor. Anabolic steroids used for body-building can make acne worse. Certain supplements, including protein shakes, may contain ingredients that make acne worse.

Sunlight will get rid of acne.
False. Exposure to the sun will improve acne for short periods but it does not achieve long-term benefit –otherwise we would not see acne in sunny climates! Over-exposing your skin to the sun will cause damage to the skin and increase your risk of skin cancer in later life.


First published on:
Reviewed and edited by: Fiona Elliott
Last updated: December 2020

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