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Don’t freak out about your breakout! 85% of teens struggle with acne—and adults can get it too.

Uncovering the Truth About Spotty Skin

Worried about pimples on-screen and IRL? Don’t hide! Read on as we pop the most common myths about what causes acne—and give you the lowdown on how to really get rid of it.

Your math teacher is breaking down polynomials on-screen, but your eyes are glued to the giant volcano in the middle of your forehead. It’s red, it’s angry, . . . and it looks like it might blow any minute. You’re so busy worrying about what to do—pretend you’re having a Zoom malfunction and disable your camera? Try to pull off the indoor ski cap look?—you miss the entire class. Even worse, you’re convinced your classmates were equally transfixed by your massive zit. You’ll never make it through the semester like this. You need help— fast.

We’re here for you. First of all, relax: Acne is normal, and no one’s staring. Still, pimples can be a pain—and even painful—so it’s understandable if you’re desperate for a fix. But before you can clear up your skin, you need to clear up the confusion. Stop before you pop, and read this.

Myth 1: "Popping Zits Makes Them Go Away”

Easy squeezy, right? Wrong. As tempting as it may be to squeeze the gunk out, you’re likely to do more harm than good. When you squeeze pimples with your fingers or tweezers, you can introduce dirt and bacteria to the area—and into the pimple itself. This could lead to more redness and even infection. Worse, you can push the gunk in the wrong direction and cause new pimples to form. Overzealous popping can also tear the skin, leaving a scar. So resist the urge—it’s not worth the risks.

Myth 2: “Greasy Foods = Bad Skin”

There are plenty of reasons to avoid greasy foods. They’re high in unhealthy fats and low in nutrients. But are chicken wings and fries also causing those agonizing breakouts? The simple answer is no. There is no direct or proven relationship between food and zits, explains Dr. Cynthia Chen, who specializes in adolescent dermatology: “Unless you are smearing greasy foods on your face—grease can clog your pores—food is not likely contributing to acne.”

Myth 3: “Dirt Causes Acne”

Not true, says Dr. Jesleen Ahluwalia, a New York City dermatologist. Pimples pop up when the hormonal changes you experience during your teen years trigger the glands under your skin to produce an excess of an oily substance called sebum. That oil traps dead skin cells, and a plug forms in the hair follicle. Bacteria that live in the follicle can then worsen inflammation. The result: clogged, red, swollen sebum plugs, also known as pimples or zits.

Although it’s important to cleanse skin gently every day (to rinse off excess oil and dead skin cells that make acne worse), washing your face more often won’t make pimples go away. In fact, excess scrubbing can cause the skin to produce too much natural oil, leading to more breakouts.

Myth 4: “The Sun Clears Up Spots”

As recently as 30 years ago, doctors put teens with acne under sunlamps. They didn’t know then what’s clear now: The sun isn’t a treatment for acne—and trying to burn away zits can lead to skin cancer. This myth was born because the sun temporarily hides discoloration from acne, but that doesn’t last. In fact, the sun can leave you with a permanent reminder of a pimple. “It causes hyperpigmentation,” says Dr. Chen. “That’s when dark marks form at the site of an injury, such as acne.” It can also lead to an increased risk of skin cancer, so say “yes” to the SPF.

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