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Acne Myths Persist Despite Lack of Evidence

Experts Speak Out to Clarify Acne Misconceptions
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WebMD Health News

Feb. 22, 2005 (New Orleans) -- Here's the real truth about acne: Most of what you learned about it from your school friends, your hair stylist, and your mother is wrong. The truth, say experts, is that the myths regarding acne are almost more common than the condition.

Propagated by word of mouth, popular lay magazines, newspapers, and teenage Internet chat rooms, the blame for unsightly pimples has been placed on everything from lack of sleep to eating too much chocolate to a dirty face to not drinking enough water and -- this one is really popular in locker rooms -- exercise.

"There are substantial differences between popular belief and scientific support, yet this does not change the way patients attempt to care for their acne," says Alexa Boer Kimball, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

Kimball joined other dermatologists at an American Academy of Dermatology press briefing on acne presented as part of the dermatology group's annual meeting in New Orleans.

Tina Alster, MD, a clinical professor of dermatology at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C., agrees with Kimball. Alster, who also spoke at the press briefing, says some of her most educated patients still hang on to the myths handed down through the generations.

"Parents at times use the acne myths to correct their children's diet, warning them to stay away from chips and chocolate," Alster says. "Otherwise smart people are still clinging to these notions."

Acne: Fact vs. Fiction

And now a solid fact about acne: At some time in their lives nearly 80% of Americans will suffer from some degree of acne.

Although it is more common in the teenage years and early adulthood, acne can occur in adults as well.

Only about 8% to 30% of adolescents ever seek professional medical attention for their acne, says Alster. Rather than seeking treatment -- and information -- from expert sources, acne "knowledge" is passed around among friends, family, and casual acquaintances, Alster says. Most of this "knowledge" is "based on anecdotal observation and conjecture with little supporting evidence."

This point was confirmed in a Stanford University survey of 103 female college freshmen, which found that the young women's knowledge of acne was based more on fiction than fact.

For instance, 91% of the young women believed acne could be worsened by poor hygiene, 88% thought increased stress triggered acne outbreaks, and 85% said that "popping pimples" makes acne worse. Wrong, wrong, and wrong, say the experts.

Additionally, about two of every three women said poor diet, lack of sleep, and not drinking enough water affected acne. Again, Kimball says there is no evidence that any of these were factors in the outbreak of acne.

"The general public believes that cleaner skin will resort to fewer blemishes, but dermatologists know that overwashing can irritate and exacerbate the condition," she explains.

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