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New York , NY , August 2007 – Americans might be up-to-date on the latest fashion and beauty trends, but many of us are sadly uninformed about our own skin and the best way to care for it. Lots of otherwise well-informed people still believe in myths and old wives’ tales, explains Joshua Fox, MD, founder of Advanced Dermatology and a spokesman for the American Academy of Dermatology. “Some of these beliefs are harmless,” he says. “But some of them can be downright dangerous.”
Here are some of the most common skin myths:
MYTH #1: Acne is for teenagers.
Unfortunately, plenty of people in their 20s and 30s (and beyond) experience breakouts, whether they were pimply teenagers or not. And more women – more than 50 percent – will develop acne long after graduation from high school.
In puberty, high levels of hormones called androgens signal the body to produce more sebum, a waxy substance that helps the skin retain moisture but can also clog pores and, when combined with bacteria, can help trigger breakouts, explains Dr. Fox. After puberty, most teenagers develop some amount of acne and things like a family history, stress and the use of oral contraceptives and other medications can up your chances of being one of them and perhaps having a more severe case.
“Even though everyone experiences changes in androgen levels and encounters bacteria, not everyone will develop acne,” Dr. Fox explains. It seems to be related to how your skin responds to these things. So the same levels of sebum and bacteria that might produce a pimple or two on one person may lead to a severe case of acne in another.
MYTH #2: If your face breaks out, it’s because you’re not washing it as often – or as aggressively – as you should.
Wrong, says Dr. Fox. “Sure, if you wear oil-based makeup or heavy creams and don’t wash your face properly, you’ll wind up with blocked pores, which can turn into blemishes. But acne isn’t caused by dirty skin.”
“The truth is, experts don’t completely understand what causes acne. We know that genetics plays a role, and that poor hygiene, stress, hormonal fluctuations and other factors can make acne worse, but they don’t cause it”, Dr. Fox explains. So it’s not your imagination: PMS and pimples often do strike at the same time. But your period isn’t causing your acne – it’s only contributing to it.
The bottom line: Keep your skin clean, but don’t overdo it. Washing once or twice a day with a mild cleanser should be enough. Studies show washing more often doesn’t lessen outbreaks. Scrubbing and/or using harsh products will only damage your skin and might even make your acne worse.
MYTHS #3 and #4: Eating too much chocolate, pizza or potato chips will make you break out. Or, conversely, diet has nothing to do with acne.
Both of these are untrue, says Dr. Fox. Years ago, he explains, teenagers were told that acne was caused by eating certain foods. But there was little evidence implicating these things in acne, and in recent years many doctors have taken the opposite position, telling patients that diet has nothing to do with acne.
Today, we’re seeing research showing a definite link between eating a healthy diet and having healthy skin. And there’s even been a study showing that teenage girls who drink lots of milk have a higher incidence of acne than those who drink very little milk.
So what’s the bottom line? “Be sure you’re eating plenty of nutritious foods.” says Dr. Fox. “And pay attention to your own triggers. If you notice that you break out after eating a certain food, avoid it.” Also, keep any grease from touching your skin as we know it is a precipitant. So if you eat pizza or potato chips – eat them sitting down and wash your hands after eating them.