Pimples: Myths and Facts !

Dr Gem

15th Mar, 2016



About three months ago, I wanted to purchase a bottle of groundnuts (peanuts).  The seller then asked me in a confused tone, “Errmm sister, are you sure you should be eating groundnuts?”

Pretending at first not to know what he was trying to say, I asked, “Why not?”  I waited for an answer but he seemed too polite to say more, so I answered for him, “because of my pimples right?" He nodded in confirmation.  I shook my head and carried my groundnut away. I needed it to accompany my Ijebu Garri. It would not be the first, second or the third time someone was suggesting that I stay away from groundnuts simply because I have acne (pimples).

 If you have acne, like me, you probably might have heard one (or more) of the following a gazillion times. "Don’t eat groundnut again oh." "Stay away from fried foods." "Don’t eat chocolate." "Try so and so cream." "Buy so and so soap/ cleanser, it works like magic!" "Stop using a sponge on your face." "Will you stop picking at your face!"  "That pimple looks ‘ripe’ let me help you ‘burst' it." "Just leave your face alone, don’t do anything to it, it would go on its own." "Don’t use foundation or compact powder." "Why don’t you try so and so natural remedy?"  "I wash my face with early morning urine; maybe you should try it "…etc.  While some of these are quite helpful others are of no benefits and may even make matters worse.

 The issue of acne is such an extensive topic that it cannot be covered within the length of one article, you can do some further reading to get more information.  Let’s go on shall we?

Acne vulgaris is a very common condition. As at 2010, it was estimated to be the 8th most common disease globally affecting 650 million people worldwide. It is ccharacterized by papules, pustules and cysts and possibly scarring, that occur on the face, neck, back, chest, shoulder and upper arms. It occurs commonly in teenagers but can occur in any age group.  More severe forms can leave scars and disfigure affected areas.  

The exact cause of acne is still unknown. According to the experts, three factors contribute to the formation of acne1:

  1. Overproduction of oil (sebum).
  2. Irregular shedding of dead skin cells resulting in irritation of the hair follicles of your skin.
  3. Build-up of bacteria.

Acne occurs when the hair follicles become plugged with oil and dead skin cells. Hair follicles are connected to sebaceous glands. These glands secrete an oily substance known as SEBUM, to lubricate the hair and skin. When the body produces an excess amount of sebum and dead skin cells, the two can build up in the hair follicles and form together as a soft plug blocking the hair follicles, creating an environment where bacteria can thrive.

 Other pores in the skin, which are the openings of the sweat gland are not involved in the development of acne.

Some common misconceptions about acne include:



FACT:  I heard this a lot while in secondary school.  Those who had ‘fresh faces’ where considered not to be 'mature' i.e. yet to have fully attained puberty. (Pimples were considered to be a sign of 'maturity', so I prayed to look more 'mature'. Yea, no thanks guys.)  Although acne occurs mostly in teenagers, it is not a compulsory ‘rite of passage' of puberty.  During puberty, an increase in sex hormones called androgens causes the follicular glands to grow larger and make more sebum which is one of the factors that contribute to formation of acne. However, overproduction of sebum alone isn’t responsible for acne as explained above.   



FACT:   Some people think that acne is caused by poor personal hygiene - because people don't wash their face well. Well, this is not the case. The bacteria responsible for inflamed acne breakouts are Propionibacteria acnes, P. acnes for short. (Staphylococcus aureus has been discovered to play a minor role). Both are natural flora (like landlords) of the skin.

Washing the face is good, but too much cleansing or washing too vigorously can lead to dryness, irritation and cause the skin to produce even more oil (sebum) — which can actually make acne worse.

Dermatologists usually recommend gently washing — not scrubbing or rubbing — the face no more than TWICE A DAY with a cleanser or toner (that don’t contain alcohol).  Cleansers or toners containing high concentrations of alcohol can dry out the skin and should be avoided.

 Avoid harsh scrubs e.g. regular body scrubs. Also avoid using facial scrubs every day of the week. Also, some people believe that the facial treatments that work must 'pepper' them. The fact that a facial treatment stings doesn’t mean it’s effective. It may seem to work initially but in the long run it can cause further skin damage.



FACT: Yes! Here we are. Some background story first. Previous scientific studies showed that food does not cause acne. Some researchers are now finding out that there is indeed some connection between food and acne. In the sense that food might not cause acne, but some foods might aggravate it. Here’s the surprise, groundnuts and greasy foods have proved to have very little effect on the development or course of acne, but dairy (of all things!), gluten (found in wheat and some other grains) and food with high glycemic index (sweets, breads, and pastas) have  been found to have a much more stronger link.

A researcher looked at the diets of more than 200 people and found that those who ate more sugary foods, dairy (milk, yoghurt, cheese etc.), and unhealthy fats, as well as less fish, were more likely to have moderate to severe acne.

Also, some dermatologists have reported an improvement in their patients’ acne when they cut out diary from their diet. (I tried it once and I did notice some improvement, unfortunately I couldn’t stay off dairy for long, Why? one word - Osteoporosis. Dairy is my major source of dietary calcium and a young lady needs her calcium.*shrugs* Besides, I love ice-cream and frozen yoghurt way too much). If you can find milk substitutes and calcium supplements, you can try a dairy-free diet and see if it’s worth it.

If you feel any food worsens your acne, you might try avoiding those foods. What is important however is for you to eat a balanced diet, include lots of fruits and vegetables in your diet.

Stay tuned for more Myths and Facts on pimples.

Fighting with those awful spots on your cute face? Why don't you have a private chat with our Doctors today, please visit the chat room.

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