There is still a lot of misconception, stigma and misinformation surrounding acne by the wider population. Having had skin disease most of my teenage and adult life, it is hard not to take the comments personally. When acne sufferers are criticised, it feels that they are directed at me as well and it reinforces my resolve to make sure that I work harder to break down the myths that surround this medical skin condition.
Some of the most popular acne myths will be familiar to those who have suffered with skin problems. They are always variations on a theme and couldn’t be further from the truth; common criticisms faced by the acne suffer include:
- The sufferer must be “unhealthy” which is why they have spots
- The idea that “you are what you eat”
- “It is her lifestyle that made her like this”
- “Laziness” - either due to poor hygiene or an unwillingness to seek treatment or make a lifestyle change.
What many people fail to see is that suffering with cystic acne does not define who a person is. Spots or no spots, we are all human beings, with feelings and emotions. We need to stop equating beauty with clear skin or seeing skin as an outward marker for health.
Through my work as a dermatologist, it's alarming to see the amount of unsolicited advice generally being offered. I have no doubt that some of it comes from a good place with people genuinely thinking they're helping but I can tell you now that celery juice, Proactiv, or making significant food restriction choices are not going to be the solution for most acne sufferers.
Acne affects over 80% of the population at some point in their lives. People who escape unscathed are incredibly fortunate. It is a medical condition that occurs due to the complex interaction of genetics, hormones, bacteria, oil production, and sticky skin cells. About 20% of those who suffer from spots will go on to develop scarring. Acne is associated with mental health issues including low self-esteem, poor body image, social isolation, depression, and even suicide.
Common acne myths remain pervasive and need tackling. The next time you hear someone make an ill-judged or poorly informed statement about acne, please try and educate them so we can put an end to silly ideas.
Acne is not due to infection. There is bacterial involvement leading to inflammation in the skin but this is not contagious. You can’t “catch” acne.
Acne is not due to poor hygiene or not washing your face properly. If anything, many acne sufferers tend to over wash their skin in an attempt to remove surface oils.
The link between diet and acne is weak. For a small select group, reducing sugar or dairy may be of benefit but this is unlikely to help everyone. Food restriction to try and control acne can potentially lead to disordered eating patterns. (Also for the record, eating “healthily” or following a vegan or gluten-free diet does not protect against acne development).
One of the things that always manages to make me angry on social media is the propagation of poor quality skin information. It has the ability to create hurt, shame and embarrassment for the sufferer of skin disease. It wastes a large amount of money and resources as people spend their hard-earned finances on treatments that inevitably won’t work. It drives worry and anxiety around food. It creates a culture of self-blame, self-loathing as well as other negative mental health impacts.
This is my why. This is why I do what I do. I was that person buying into any advice for sorting out my skin - over washing, food restricting, and all the while feeling “ugly” and “disgusting”. Ultimately it was medical attention that sorted out my skin. If I can even change one person’s mind about myths around acne then that’s a victory. We can all do our bit and the next time you hear someone offering ill-informed advice, then challenge them - nicely of course!