Spots. Zits. Pimples. Whatever you call acne, almost everyone gets it at some point in their life.
Yet there’s a lot of confusion around understanding and treating such a common skin condition, meaning it’s easy to make mistakes – potentially exacerbating the problem.
Here, consultant dermatologist Dr Catherine Borysiewicz reveals the truth behind five common acne myths…
Myth 1: Acne only affects teenagers
Acne is extremely common, with about 95 per cent of 11 to 30-year-olds affected by spots to some extent, according to the UK's NHS.
“However, there is evidence to suggest the spectrum of onset of acne is changing, with cases emerging both earlier and later than what has been noted in the past,” says Borysiewicz. “Acne can affect adults, and may also develop for the first time after the age of 25 years old. Late-onset of acne can be much more challenging to treat.”
Myth 2: You shouldn’t put sunscreen on acne
Do you find spots clear up when you’re on holiday somewhere warm and sunny?
“Many people will report their acne improves in the sunshine,” says Borysiewicz. “This is because the skin reduces its immune response following UV radiation exposure.”
You might think it’s better not to put heavy sunscreen on acne-affected areas, but it’s actually even more important to ensure your skin is protected. “Certain acne treatments, which include ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide, alpha hydroxy acid, retinol or vitamin C, can make skin more photosensitive, so it is advised to apply a daily SPF sunscreen (minimum SPF30) to protect yourself,” Borysiewicz explains.
Plus, these products can lead to hyperpigmentation after sun exposure – when melanin deposits cause dark spots. Borysiewicz adds: “The hyperpigmentation can remain long after the acne lesions have settled. Products used to treat acne can also make your skin more sensitive to the sun, which will worsen pigmentation.”
Myth 3: Washing your face more will help clear spots
While it’s important to remove all make-up and dirt from your face before you go to bed, don’t be tempted to over-cleanse.
“Cleansing your face twice a day is sufficient,” says Borysiewicz. “Avoid harsh products that further strip and imbalance the natural oils of the skin and its microbiome (healthy bacterial balance).”
If you have dry or sensitive skin she recommends “a lotion or cream cleanser”, but oily skin types might “prefer a foaming cleanser”. Look out for active ingredients including “benzoyl peroxide or AHA/BHA”.
Myth 4: Toothpaste will dry up spots
As seen in many a high school movie, dabbing toothpaste on your spots and leaving it overnight is thought to dry them out. But does it really work?
“Applying toothpaste to a spot has no real evidence,” says Borysiewicz. “Although some toothpaste ingredients have a possible antiseptic effect, the other ingredients are likely to further irritate the skin. It is better to use skincare products specifically developed for use in acne-prone skin.”
Myth 5: Squeezing spots will get rid of them quicker
“No, no, no!” says Borysiewicz. “By far the most important thing is to avoid squeezing spots. This can worsen the problem and cause scarring.
“Remember to be gentle with your skin, don’t aggravate or damage it by picking, squeezing or over-exfoliating.”