Acne Myths: Chocolate and Sex Causes Acne!

By Richard Thomas, MD

Have you been told that you shouldn't eat chocolate because it causes acne?

Or how about French fries? Pizza?

Wrong! That's just a myth, and while some foods can make acne worse for some people, researchers have found that it does not cause it!

There is recent work from Australia that suggests that high carbohydrate foods may in some people flare their acne. The theory is that chronic consumption of high carbs stimulates the excessive production of insulin so that eventually more and more insulin is needed to assist glucose into cells. This is called insulin resistance. The higher insulin may drive the ovaries to produce more testosterone which in turn encourages acne. This may be what is happening partly in a condition called polycystic ovary syndrome.

There are a number of myths about the causes of acne and how to treat it. Here are just a few:

1. Acne is caused by sexual activity.

When you reach puberty, your body experiences hormonal changes that lead to the development and maturation of your sexual features. These hormonal changes may also cause you to get acne. Acne is associated with these changes, not with sexual activity.

2. Cosmetics will make acne worse.

While it is true that many creams, oils and greases can aggravate your acne, there are many cosmetic products you can use that do not, including sunscreens, moisturizers and foundations. Those that do not aggravate acne or lead to development of comedones are labelled 'non-acnegenic' and 'non-comedogenic' respectively. (See more information about cosmetics and acne)

3. Acne is caused by dirty skin.

If you have acne, it does not mean that your skin is dirty. What may look like dirt inside your black heads is actually melanin, the pigment that provides the natural color in your skin. Cleansing and scrubbing your skin excessively will not help your acne. In fact, it may make it worse. Remember that the causes of acne affect oil glands, which are well below the surface of the skin, so you should avoid over washing. This can dry out and irritate your skin, increasing inflammation and aggravating the situation. The best thing to do is to gently wash your face twice a day with a mild soap and then pat dry. (Check out MildCleanser.ca for more hints)

4. There is nothing I can do to treat my acne. It will go away on its own.

This is not true! While your acne may eventually go away on its own, it can leave permanent scars on your skin that could have been prevented if you had treated your acne. These scars can really hurt your self-esteem, too! There are many treatment options available. Talk to your doctor about which ones are right for you.

5. Only teenagers get acne.

Wrong again! You can get acne at any age. Even babies can get it, and about 25% of all people between the ages 25-44 have acne. Many adult women have acne because of the constant fluctuation of their hormones during each menstrual cycle. Some medications, like birth control pills, as well as being pregnant can also contribute to adult acne.

6. Picking or squeezing a pimple is the best way to get rid of it quickly.

Squeezing or picking can damage the cells under your skin and cause the pimple to be inflamed or leave a permanent scar. As tempting as it is, you will be better off in the long run to leave them alone and let them heal on their own.

7. Sunlight will improve acne.

While it is true that sun exposure will dry out your existing pimples, it will not prevent new ones from forming. For some people, the sun can actually make their acne worse, and some of the common acne medications, like tetracycline and the retinoids can make your skin supersensitive to the sun leading to serious sunburns. When you're in the sun, it is always wise to use a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher to protect your skin.

8. Acne is caused by stress.

While the ordinary stresses from every-day living do not affect acne, some drugs that are used to treat people with severe stress can cause acne as a side-effect. If you think you may have acne because of a drug that has been prescribed for stress or depression, you should talk to your doctor about it.

9. Some foods can cause acne.

In large clinical research studies, no clear associations have been made between foods and acne. However, some foods can make acne worse for some people. If you suspect that a certain food type is making your acne worse, you can determine if it affects it by avoiding that product for 2-4 weeks. If your acne improves over that time period, then it's possible that you were right! After a break of a few weeks, you can try eating the suspect food again to see whether you get another flare of your acne. Just remember that a healthy, well-balanced diet is the best choice, and foods like chocolate and French fries should be eaten in moderation.

So chocolate lovers, you can still enjoy chocolate now and then without worrying about getting more zits!


About the author:
Richard Thomas, MD, FRCPC is Assistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology, Department of Dermatology and Skin Science, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.


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