A European study recently confirmed that hereditary plays a principle role in the development of acne. Writing in this month’s Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, the researchers found a threefold greater incidence of acne in individuals who had one parent with a history of acne. When two parents had a history of acne, teenagers and young adults had an eightfold increase in risk of developing acne. One surprising result of the study was that smoking tobacco was associated with a 30% lower risk of developing acne, which contradicts some previous studies. Bianca Nogrady reports on one result that has long been suspected, involving a favorite treat craved by practically everyone:
Chocolate consumption was associated with a nearly 30% higher probability of having acne, depending on the level of consumption. However, there were no significant effects seen with consumption of other foods such as dairy products, pasta, ice cream, and fruit juice…
“Previous studies have demonstrated an association between high glycemic index foods and acne, although in our study, only chocolate, and not pasta or sweets, was independently associated in multivariate analysis,” wrote Pierre Wolkenstein, MD, of the department of dermatology, Hôpital Henri Mondor, Créteil, France, and his coauthors.
Good news/bad news? Mostly bad news? Bummer!
Mayo Clinic has a webpage that addresses acne in simple terms:
Four main factors cause acne:
- Oil production
- Dead skin cells
- Clogged pores
Anything that puts stress on your body can trigger or aggravate acne. This can be “good stress” (“Hey, I’m going to DisneyWorld!”) or “bad stress” (“Ugh, I’ve got two tests on Monday morning”). Other “bad” stressors include hormonal changes that mark the onset and progression through puberty (and also pregnancy), some medications, and as we’ve just discovered, certain foods like chocolate. Some foods, however, are not associated with acne, including foods that are high in fat:
Eating greasy food has little to no effect on acne. Though working in a greasy area, such as a kitchen with fry vats, does because the oil can stick to the skin and block the hair follicles. This further irritates the skin or promotes acne.
Mayo also debunks two other myths about acne:
- Acne isn’t caused by dirt. In fact, scrubbing the skin too hard or cleansing with harsh soaps or chemicals irritates the skin and can make acne worse. Though it does help to gently remove oil, dead skin and other substances.
- Cosmetics don’t necessarily worsen acne, especially if you use oil-free makeup that doesn’t clog pores (noncomedogenics) and remove makeup regularly. Nonoily cosmetics don’t interfere with the effectiveness of acne drugs.
We’ve looked at evidence-based treatment recommendations for acne previously on The PediaBlog (you can review them here) and there are plenty of options, including topical creams and ointments, oral medications, and physical treatments like light therapy, chemical peels, and steroid injections. But like most conditions in medicine, prevention and lifestyle changes (lower stress, wash your face, and watch chocolate intake!) can go a long way, too:
- Wash problem areas with a gentle cleanser. Twice a day, use your hands to wash your face with a mild soap and warm water. If you tend to develop acne around your hairline, shampoo your hair every day.Avoid certain products, such as facial scrubs, astringents and masks, because they tend to irritate skin, which can worsen acne. Excessive washing and scrubbing also can irritate skin. And be gentle while shaving affected skin.
- Try over-the-counter acne products to dry excess oil and promote peeling. Look for products containing benzoyl peroxide as the active ingredient. You might also try products containing sulfur, resorcinol or salicylic acid. Nonprescription acne medications may cause initial side effects — such as redness, dryness and scaling — that often improve after the first month of using them.
The Food and Drug Administration warns that some popular nonprescription acne lotions, cleansers and other skin products can cause a rare but serious reaction.
- Avoid irritants. You may want to avoid oily or greasy cosmetics, sunscreens, hairstyling products or acne concealers. Use products labeled water-based or noncomedogenic, which means they are less likely to cause acne.
- Use an oil-free moisturizer with sunscreen. For some people, the sun worsens acne. And some acne medications make you more susceptible to the sun’s rays. Check with your doctor to see if your medication is one of these. If it is, stay out of the sun as much as possible. Regularly use a nonoily (noncomedogenic) moisturizer that includes a sunscreen.
- Watch what touches your skin. Keep your hair clean and off your face. Also avoid resting your hands or objects, such as telephone receivers, on your face. Tight clothing or hats also can pose a problem, especially if you’re sweating. Sweat and oils can contribute to acne.
- Don’t pick or squeeze blemishes. Doing so can cause infection or scarring.
Parents are allowed to holler that last one: “DON’T PICK!”