Challenging myths about acne

Dr Michelle O'Driscoll looks at what causes acne and how to treat it
Challenging myths about acne

Acne occurs when pores in the skin get blocked by dead skin cells and sebum or oil. This is coupled with the growth of bacteria, causing the skin to become inflamed. Picture Stock

IT is estimated that up to 80% of us will experience a break-out of acne at some point in our lives. Severity varies as does its effect on one’s confidence. With the New Year upon us, and intentions set to look after health, including that of our skin, here are some myths about acne that are worth dispelling.

Acne is caused by dirt

Dirt doesn’t cause acne, it can actually be exacerbated by scrubbing the skin too much.

Acne occurs when pores in the skin get blocked by dead skin cells and sebum or oil. This is coupled with the growth of bacteria, causing the skin to become inflamed.

The bacteria C. Aeruginosa is present in certain amounts on everybody’s skin, but when it’s combined with blockages, it multiplies and exacerbates the inflammatory response. Skin becomes hot, red, irritated, and pimples form.

Acne is a teenage problem

Not necessarily. While it is the case that acne most commonly presents between the years of 12 -14, and hits its peak usually from age 16-19, it can actually persist into adulthood, or even occur for the first time in your twenties, thirties or beyond. Because the misconception is that once you hit 20 it should disappear, or you’ve escaped its wrath, later presentation of acne can be more upsetting and disconcerting.

Acne occurs only on the face

While the face is the most common and most visible area to be affected, other places with increased production of sebum can present with acne too.

The chest and back can be prone to acne, which makes sufferers very self-conscious, and restricts their clothing choices in summer months. This doesn’t have to be the case however, and appropriate treatment should be sought for acne presenting in these areas too.

Treatment for acne must be from your doctor

While more severe acne will require a prescription that either a GP or dermatologist would need to provide, there are products available over the counter for less severe acne presentations that are available from the pharmacy. General skincare products, as well as those with active ingredients to treat acne can be obtained. Benzoyl peroxide, for example, is available in a form that you apply to the skin, and will help to reduce the amount of bacteria that’s present via its antiseptic properties. You can always seek further assistance if these aren’t working, and move to prescription items, such as creams, gels or oral tablets.

Treatment should take effect quickly

Patience is a virtue that is essential in the treatment of acne unfortunately. It usually takes at least six weeks to begin see a noticeable difference in symptoms, and diligence with the prescribed regimen is required to maintain these improvements. This makes sense if you consider the need for the various layers of skin to rejuvenate.

Scarring is unavoidable

Not necessarily. Scarring is more likely in acne that is very severe, when treatment is delayed or if the acne relapses. The area affected by acne can lose collagen which acts as scaffolding in the skin, and may dip or pucker where the spot used to be. Alternatively, collagen may be overproduced, causing a raised effect. The appearance of skin that does scar can be improved through treatments after the acne has been resolved.

These are just some of the misconceptions about the causes and treatments for acne. It is something many will experience, but doesn’t need to be suffered in silence or without appropriate treatment.


Dr Michelle O'Driscolltarget="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> is a pharmacist, researcher and founder of InTuition, a health and wellness education company. Her research lies in the area of mental health education, and through InTuition she delivers health promotion workshops to corporate and academic organisations nationally. See

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