7 Surprising Acne Facts That Can Help Clear Your Skin for Good
File these under: How did you not know that?
While you may be well-versed in the basics of breakouts, the topic of acne is often riddled with myths and misconceptions, not to mention that constant stream of new research and developments.
Upping your skin-care smarts as they pertain to pimples may just be the secret to clearing your complexion. (Related: The Best Skin-Care Routine for Acne-Prone Skin) Here, top dermatologists share seven acne facts you'll probably be surprised to learn.
1. Extra-strength treatments aren't always better.
Especially when you're talking about treatments that contain benzoyl peroxide, one of the most commonly used acne-fighting ingredients. "Clinical trials have shown that 2.5 percent benzoyl peroxide is just as effective as a 10 percent concentration, and is associated with less skin irritation," explains Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research for the Department of Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. (Related: Is Salicylic Acid Really a Miracle Ingredient for Blackheads and Acne?)
"Just because a treatment says it's 'extra-strength' doesn't mean it's going to be more effective." He advises sticking to the lower concentration; find it in Neutrogena Rapid Clear Stubborn Acne Daily Leave-On Mask. ($9; neutrogena.com)
2. A little sun won't help.
"A lot of my patients think that lying out in the sun, without sunscreen, can make acne heal faster because you're 'drying it up,' but that's just an optical illusion," says New York City dermatologist Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, M.D., a clinical attending dermatologist at NYU Langone and Mount Sinai Hospitals. "Tanning can make it look like your acne is fading, but really it's just blending in with the skin," she adds.
Aside from the fact that sun exposure can cause skin cancer and signs of aging, it can also leave your skin dry and irritated, leading to more breakouts in the future, adds New York City cosmetic dermatologist Sejal Shah, M.D., founder of SmarterSkin Dermatology.
Bottom line: Wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 every single day, whether or not you have acne. The oil-free, non-pore-clogging Differin Oil Control Moisturizer with SPF 30 ($13; cvs.com) is a good pick for the breakout-prone.
3. Your haircut may be to blame.
If your blemishes are concentrated on your forehead, take a closer look at both your style and your haircare regimen. "While bangs may be stylish, as oil and dirt accumulate on the hair and rub up against the forehead you're putting yourself at risk for breakouts," cautions Dr. Zeichner. Products can also be problematic: Oils in heavier stylers (pomades, waxes) can transfer onto the skin and clog pores, leading to blackheads and whiteheads, he adds.
Clip up your bangs at bedtime, and try washing your forehead with a salicylic acid–based scrub every night (the ingredient helps dissolve oil). Dr. Zeichner likes St. Ives Blackhead Clearing Face Scrub. ($4; target.com)
4. Not all pimples are created equal.
And different types of blemishes call for different treatment plans and active ingredients. An occasional breakout or some blackheads around your nose are not the same as diagnosed acne, and even acne can take different forms (cystic, hormonal). If you're unsure of what you're dealing with, see a dermatologist who can help lay out the best course of action. (Related: What Top Skin Docs Do When They Get a Pimple)
And, if you happen to be dealing with all the different types of blemishes-deep red bumps, whiteheads, blackheads-opt for brands that have products with different ingredients to create a complete regimen, advises New York City dermatologist Rachel Nazarian, M.D. Her pick? The ProactivMD 3-Piece System ($35; proactiv.com) coupled with Proactiv Mark Correcting Pads. ($40; proactiv.com)
5. Greasy foods aren't to blame (or at least, not in the way you think).
The idea that a diet full of pizza and burgers is causing breakouts is a myth as old as time. While diet does play a role in acne, it's not about the grease you eat. "Even though oil is in an essential component of developing acne, oily and greasy foods have not been shown to cause breakouts, " says Dr. Zeichner. While they won't do your waistline any favors, it's the sugar and starch in your diet that really take a toll on skin. Increased sugar levels increase inflammation, leading to acne flares, he adds.
Dairy products have also been linked to acne, notes Dr. Shah, so it's probably the bun on your burger or cheese on the pizza that's to blame. "If you think your diet may be triggering your acne, try eliminating those foods first," she suggests. (Related: Following a Dairy-Free, Raw Vegan Diet Finally Helped My Horrible Acne)
6. Moisturizing can be hugely helpful.
When you're dealing with a veritable oil slick on your skin, it can admittedly seem counterintuitive to load up on moisturizer. But, in fact, you should be doing just that. "Research has shown that scaly, dry skin increases the risk for infection, inflammation or redness, and sensitivity," says Ted Lain, M.D., a dermatologist in Austin, TX. Not to mention that dry skin can paradoxically trigger more oil production-and theoretically lead to more acne, he adds. Moisturize at least once a day; the key is to use an oil-free, non-comedogenic formula so that you don't have to worry about clogged pores, adds Dr. Shah. Our pick: Cetaphil PRO Oil Absorbing Moisturizer SPF 30. ($14; walmart.com)
7. You have to treat pimples even before you see them.
As the saying goes, the best offense is a good defense. When you're dealing with acne, there's much more going on than the pimple(s) you're seeing. The initial blemish in the development of a pimple is a microscopic blackhead, one you probably won't notice, but should be treating, says Dr. Lain: "Treating at this early stage helps ward off the development of pimples, and minimizes the risk of scarring, too." To the same point, stopping treatment once a pimple is gone also isn't a good move, since that can allow the process to restart, he points out. So if you're dealing with chronic breakouts, stick to a set regimen, even when your skin seems clear.