The truth behind healthy and clear skin

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The truth behind what causes acne breakouts, and how to prevent them, is hazy, with many theories and myths floating around.

Stacy Mitchell takes care of her skin by washing her face regularly. (Alex Olpin)
Stacy Mitchell takes care of her skin by washing her face regularly. (Alex Olpin)

Savannah Nord, a sophomore at BYU, shared some rumors she’s heard about keeping skin healthy. “I’ve heard things like eating chocolate causes breakouts, or even your pillow can cause irritation if it’s not washed frequently,” Nord said.

Madi Wright, a recent BYU grad, has heard other odd speculations. “I’ve heard that sweating, lack of sleep and oily makeup can cause irritated skin and can lead to breakouts,” she said.

A practicing dermatologist in San Diego, California, Todd Lythgoe, cleared up some of the confusion and explained the actual causes of acne, as well as how to best take care of skin.

Myths busted

With regard to the types of foods consumed, Lythgoe explained that food has little to do with acne. “It’s often heard that fatty or fried foods can cause you to break out more, but that can only be proven in very rare instances,” Lythgoe said. “It is uncommon that a certain type of food is the cause of a breakout. However, the healthier you eat, the healthier your skin will be in general.”

It turns out that pillows, phones and sweat don’t cause breakouts either.

General causes of breakouts

The main factors that contribute to skin conditions are internal.

According to Lythgoe, the most common cause of breakouts and acne is simply the genetic makeup of a person. If a certain condition is in a person’s genetics, there isn’t anything to prevent that situation.

“Sometimes acne is just a genetic gift from your parents,” he said. “With that said, despite genetics, there are several proven treatments that will work and will allow you to have healthy and happy skin. Finding those sooner, rather than later, will be beneficial to avoid complicated treatments and scarring.”

A common reason for female skin breakouts is the natural menstrual cycle and hormonal patterns. “Oil glands are sensitive to hormones and cause skin inflammation,” Lythgoe said. “This typically occurs for a female about a week before the menstrual cycle and is most prominent between the ages of 13–19.”

Lythgoe also said stress can contribute to breakouts of acne. It’s not necessarily the stress itself but what comes of stress. “When students have a deadline or test and are putting in long hours of homework, losing sleep and not eating well, it is the perfect storm for a breakout,” he said. “So try to find balance and relax.”

Guidelines for healthy skin

Lythgoe suggested six guidelines to preserve healthy skin:

1. In a dry climate, keep skin hydrated. Only wash skin twice a day, and use a hydrating moisturizer.

2. Wear sunscreen every day, even in the winter. This also helps to avoid wrinkles in the future.

3. Do not pick or aggravate the skin; it always makes conditions worse.

4. When using acne treatments, persistence and follow-through are key. Treatments, whether over the counter or prescription, typically take up to 8–12 weeks before showing desired results. Be patient.

5. Drink a lot of water.

6. Reduce your stress. Exercise, eat well and get enough sleep.

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