The 7 Worst Myths About Adult Acne

We’ll clear up some acne myths that could be making you even more red in the face.

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Adults don’t get acne


Even if you never had pimples when you were younger, it’s possible to develop acne in adulthood, especially during midlife hormonal changes. “Not realizing adults get real acne leads to delay in diagnosis and delay in proper, helpful treatment,” says Jessica Krant, MD, board-certified dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in New York City. Since your blemishes, facial rashes, or sensitivities could, indeed, be acne vulgaris (the Latin term for common acne), it’s best to see a dermatologist. Here are the main causes of adult acne and what your doctor might advise to do about them.

Spot treating a pimple will suffice


“There are many products on the market intended for people who want to dry up a single pimple,” says Dr. Krant. “But overapplying these medications dries and irritates the skin and can actually make a pimple hunker down and stick around even longer.” Instead, she advises patients to gently steam the offending pimple with a hot washcloth and use your regular acne regimen on a preventive basis. For a natural approach, you might also try tea tree oil and other home remedies for acne.

Your go-to treatment from high school will still work


"Most acne solutions that are currently available were designed to treat teenage acne, and not many of them are designed to meet the special skin-care needs of adult women," Doris Day, MD, a clinical associate professor of dermatology at NYU Langone Medical Center and the author of 100 Questions & Answers About Acne, told Instead of picking up your old salicylic acid treatment, opt for a topical retinoid, which not only prevents acne, but stimulates collagen to help with lines and wrinkles.

You need to scrub your face clean

iStock/Andy Nowack

While many people think acne is caused by dirty skin, it actually develops deep in your pores. Overwashing or overscrubbing can disturb the pore more, causing swelling and even scarring, according to Mary Lupo, MD, board-certified dermatologist and clinical professor of dermatology at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans. To avoid increased irritation and breakouts, use a gentle cleanser and a non-comedogenic moisturizer.

Squeezing that sucker will speed up the healing process

iStock/Eva Katalin Kondoros

You probably know this isn’t true, but the temptation to pick at that deep pimple is often too powerful to ignore. Don’t do it. “If you pop it, the inflamed follicle will most likely break underneath the surface of the skin, exposing sensitive tissue to the bacteria of the pimple,” warns Dr. Krant. “You’ll risk a true infection at worst, and a much longer lasting swollen area, at best.” Try to control your urge to pick, and see your dermatologist for a painless cortisone shot to treat a deep cyst. Touching pimples too much can also cause acne scars.

Chocolate is causing your acne

iStock/Arthur Carlo Franco

It’s not the chocolate, but the sugar in it, that worsens acne. Sugar raises your insulin levels, which boosts hormones that cause inflammation and increase oil production, according to Here's how to tell if you're eating too much sugar in your daily diet. If you just can’t give up chocolate, Dr. Lupo recommends choosing a square of very dark chocolate that’s at least 70 percent cocoa. The higher the percentage, the lower the sugar content.

Tanning will help clear up your skin


Not only is this untrue, but sun exposure might actually worsen breakouts. (Not to mention put you at risk for sunburns and skin cancer.) “Tan skin may hide the redness of acne, it does not help clear it up,” says expert Jwala Karnik, MD, chief medical officer at Suneva Medical, Inc. in Santa Barbara, California. It's just one bad skin myth dermatologists hear all the time.

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