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Things That Make Acne Worse

By Liz Turner ; Updated July 18, 2017

You may have grown up believing some common acne myths, like eating chocolate or french fries would make your face break out. However, there is no direct connection between diet and acne, according to The American Academy of Dermatology. Understanding what causes the most common skin condition in the United States and the factors that might exacerbate an existing case can help you get on track for smoother, clearer skin.

Washing and Grooming

Contrary to what you might think, washing your face excessively will not help you get rid of acne. All that washing can stimulate the skin to produce more oil, and it’s excessive oil that causes acne to begin with. Scrubbing the skin has the same effect; plus, it can irritate your existing breakout. The University of Maryland Medical Center recommends washing once or twice a day with a mild cleanser. Avoid the temptation to pick or pop pimples. Although this may seem to make them go away, or at least reduce their size, picking and popping irritates the skin and worsens acne. It can also cause infection or scarring.

Cosmetics and Tanning

Covering your skin with foundation, moisturizer or sunscreen that contain oil can aggravate acne breakouts. The oil in some skin care products clogs pores, leading to more acne. Look for products marked as “noncomedogenic,” that won’t clog pores. You may think that a tan can help hide acne or that the sun may lessen the excess oil in your skin, but too much sun causes dryness that just makes this skin condition worse. Additionally, many acne medications cause the top layer of your skin to become thinner, making skin extra-sensitive to ultraviolet rays. Stay out of tanning beds and protect yourself when you’re outside to keep your acne under control.

Sweat and Friction

Excessive sweating can negatively affect acne, and its effects are magnified when you’re wearing tight clothing or items that cause friction, such as a backpack or helmet. This friction leads to acne mechanica, a specific type of acne caused or aggravated by heat, covered skin, pressure and repeated friction, says the American Academy of Dermatology. Wearing cotton T-shirts under uniforms, showering immediately after strenuous activities and using cleaners with salicylic acid to unclog pores can all help limit acne mechanica.


The University of Maryland Medical Center suggests that certain medications may contribute to acne breakouts. These include corticosteroids, lithium, phenobarbital and even oral contraceptives. Check with your doctor if you think a medication may be worsening your acne.

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