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Acne Myths

Acne (say: AK-nee) — also known as pimples or zits — is a totally normal part of growing up. Kids get acne because of changes that occur during puberty, the time when kids' bodies begin the many changes that turn them into adults.

When you got your first pimple, you probably ran to ask your parent, older brother or sister, or a friend about what to do. But before you take their advice and pop that pimple, you should know that some of what you hear about acne is just plain wrong.

Let's clear up some common myths about acne — and maybe even your skin in the process!

Myth: Popping your pimples is the best way to get rid of them.

Fact: Step away from that mirror! Some people might tell you that popping your zits will make them less noticeable and help them heal faster, but they're wrong. Picking or popping your pimples pushes germs further under your skin, which could cause more redness, pain, and maybe even a nasty infection. And popping zits can lead to scarring, which could last forever.

If pimples always seem to show up at the wrong time, like before a big event such as a dance, talk to your parent about seeing your doctor or a dermatologist (say: der-muh-TAH-luh-jist), a doctor who specializes in treating acne. A doctor can help get your acne under control.

Myth: Stress causes acne.

Fact: Are you worried that the big test tomorrow or that next week's championship game will cause your skin to break out? Don't worry — the normal everyday stress of being a kid doesn't cause acne. If you're going through an especially stressful period in your life — such as moving to a new house or dealing with your parents' divorce — your skin may produce more oil, also known as sebum (say: SEE-bum), but that doesn't mean you'll get more zits.

Myth: Getting a tan clears up acne.

Fact: Baking in the sun does nothing to improve your acne. When you spend time outside and your skin becomes darker, the redness caused by acne may be less noticeable for a little while. But when your tan fades, you'll still see your zits. And spending time in the sun without the proper protection can cause dry, irritated, or burned skin — not to mention it increases your risk of developing wrinkles and skin cancer later in life.

Before you head outdoors, protect your skin with a sunscreen that contains a sun protection factor (on the label it'll say SPF) of at least 30. Use a brand that's marked "noncomedogenic" or "nonacnegenic," which means it won't clog your pores and worsen acne.

Don't forget to wear a hat and sunglasses when you're outside to keep your skin in top shape. And if you ever wondered about tanning beds, here are the facts — they're boring, expensive, and dangerous because they increase your risk of developing skin cancer.

Myth: You can get rid of acne by washing your face more.

Fact: Washing your face regularly is a good idea because it helps remove dead skin cells, excess oil, and dirt from your skin's surface. But overwashing or scrubbing your skin too hard can dry out and irritate your skin, which only makes acne worse.

What's the best skin care strategy? As a general rule, gently wash your face no more than twice a day with a mild soap or cleanser. After you've finished washing, gently pat your skin dry with a soft towel. Steer clear of exfoliants or scrubs, which can irritate your pimples. Also avoid products that contain alcohol because they can dry out and irritate your skin.

Myth: If you want to avoid acne, don't wear makeup.

Fact: Young skin looks great without makeup. But if you like cosmetics, be sure to choose products that are labeled "oil-free," "noncomedogenic," or "nonacnegenic." That means the product won't clog your pores or cause breakouts. Some cosmetics even contain acne-fighting ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid. If you are not sure, ask your parent or doctor.

Myth: If you keep breaking out, using more medicine will get your zits under control.

Fact: Do you know the saying "less is more"? It definitely applies to acne medication. Using too much medicine to zap zits can lead to dry, irritated skin. Whether you bought an acne product at your local drugstore or you are using something prescribed by a doctor, be sure to follow the directions carefully.

If over-the-counter medicine isn't helping your acne problem, talk to your mom or dad. You may need to see your doctor or a dermatologist, who may prescribe other medications to help clear up your skin.

It can take as long as 8 weeks before you notice an improvement. If you don't, talk to your doctor, who will make the right adjustments for you. Don't use extra medicine on your own, though — using more than prescribed can cause unpleasant and even dangerous side effects.

Almost all kids and teens have to deal with acne at some point — but the good news is that with the right facts and the proper acne treatment, you can help your skin and put your best face forward!

Reviewed by: Patrice Hyde, MD
Date reviewed: June 2014