Adult Acne Is Frustrating But Treatable

Some of us have more to worry about than wrinkles—adult acne is on the rise. Find out how to treat it.

adult acne

Women are at a higher risk of developing adult acne than men, according to a recent study, but certain factors may put you at a higher risk regardless of gender

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Just when you thought you left them behind in your turbulent teen years, one pops up on your forehead seemingly out of the blue: pimples. And if you’re one of many who’ve experienced adult acne, you know the feeling.

According to the International Dermal Institute, between 40 and 55 percent of adults between the ages of 20 and 40 experience a mild version of adult acne, while 54 percent of women older than 25 have some form of facial acne. But why? Isn’t acne an adolescent issue? Well, apparently not.

Here’s what you may already know: Acne vulgaris is a condition that causes skin lesions on the face, chest, shoulders, and/or back due to the blockage and inflammation of hair follicles and their sebaceous glands. The lesions can develop into different forms, such as whiteheads, blackheads, papules, and pustules. Depending on the type and size, acne lesions can be painful, cause scarring, and lead to more serious skin infections if not treated properly.

While those who’ve suffered from acne during their teenage years are spared once they hit their early 20s, some continue to struggle with the condition as adults. And some adults who may not have had acne as teens sometimes find themselves struggling with it in adulthood. Let’s take a closer look at the causes and treatment options for adult acne.

Adult Acne Causes and Risk Factors

There are a number of different factors connected to adult acne, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, some of which you may find a bit surprising:

  • Hormonal changes. Women often experience breakouts during their menstrual cycle, as well as during pregnancy and menopause. Starting or stopping oral contraceptives can also affect the skin. An increase in hormones can also cause adult acne in men.
  • Stress. Where there’s stress, there’s inflammation and where there’s inflammation there’s acne. For more information about the link between stress and inflammation, check out “Inflammation Treatment: 3 Ways to Clam Your Immune System.”
  • Poor nutrition. Studies are inconclusive, but your adult acne might be caused by including dairy, chocolate, caffeine, or junk food into your diet. Iodine, which can be found in shellfish and some greens, can also have a negative effect on your skin.
  • Medication. Anticonvulsants, corticosteroids, and immunosuppressants are just of few of the drug types that can trigger acne. But it’s important not to discontinue any prescription medications without talking to your doctor first.
  • Poor hygiene/skincare routine. Washing your face too frequently or infrequently can upset the pH balance of your skin, which can cause acne. Wearing heavy make-up and using skin and haircare products that are greasy or clog your pores can also trigger breakouts.

Women are at a higher risk of developing adult acne than men, according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, but any of the following factors may put you at a higher risk regardless of gender:

  • Personal/family history. Research suggests that if you a have a family history of adult acne or if you suffered with acne as an adolescent, you’re more likely to develop it.
  • Environmental factors. Living in cities and metropolitan areas with high air pollution rates may increase your chances of getting acne.
  • Hirsutism. Those diagnosed with the hormonal condition that causes excessive body hair in places where its normally absent may also find that they suffer from acne as well.

Adult Acne Treatment Options

On a positive note, the number of treatment options for adult acne are somewhat larger since adult skin tends to be less sensitive to topical medications and there’s less risk of side effects from treatments that a developing body may not be able to tolerate.

Your dermatologist may recommend one or more of the following treatments to reduce the number of lesions on your skin, as well as treat existing acne scars:

  • Oral contraceptives. The hormones present in combination birth control pills can fight acne by decreasing androgens and sebum production. The pills must contain both estrogen and progestin to be effective against acne.
  • Topical medication. There are multiple creams and gels available by prescription and over the counter with acne-fighting ingredients, such as benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and retinol depending on the type and severity of the condition.
  • Oral supplements and medications. Some dermatologists recommend supplements containing vitamins A and E, niacinamide, and zinc to clear up and prevent adult acne. For severe acne breakouts, antibiotics or isotretinoin (also known as Accutane) may be prescribed. For more information, check out “Top Minerals and Vitamins That Help Acne.”
  • Laser and light therapy. This option, which includes visible, infrared, photodynamic, and photopneumatic therapies, may be used by your dermatologist in combination with other treatments. Results vary, and most people need multiple treatments before noticing results. Some visible light LED devices have been approved by the FDA for at-home use but are less powerful than the ones used in a dermatologist’s office.
  • Chemical peels. With this treatment, acids are applied to the affected areas by an esthetician or dermatologist to help shed cells on the skin’s surface, promote collagen production and help the skin heal itself. Chemical peels are also available over the counter but are significantly weaker than the ones used in spas and doctor’s offices.
  • Extraction. Popping your pimples at home is not recommended, but your dermatologist may want to pop them for you. This pore-clearing treatment is called an extraction and sterile instruments (instead of fingers) are used to prevent infection and scarring. Depending on the type and size of the pimple, your doctor may inject it with a corticosteroid afterward to promote healing and reduce the risk of scarring.
  • Natural treatments. If you have mild-to-moderate acne, you may be able to treat it at home. Natural acne remedies include apple cider vinegar, honey, cinnamon, tea tree oil, green tea, spearmint, witch hazel, and aloe vera. For more information, check out “Non-Toxic Acne Care.”

How to Choose the Right Skincare Regimen

Although you may be working with a dermatologist to treat your adult acne, it’s just as important to have the right skincare regimen at home to reduce inflammation, keep your pores clean, and maintain the right moisture balance. Here are some quick tips:

  • Choose products that are labeled as “non-comedogenic.” This means that the product doesn’t contain any ingredients that could clog your pores.
  • Don’t over-exfoliate. Exfoliating (removing dead skin cells) is an important step for preventing breakouts but using exfoliating scrubs too often can actually make acne worse. Limit your use to once or twice a week (but wash your face with a gentle cleanser twice a day) and use gentle scrubs to prevent irritation.
  • Acne-prone skin needs moisture too. Even if your skin is oily, moisture is still an important part of the healing process. Choose a gentle moisturizer that’s oil-free and has water as one of its main ingredients.
  • Protect your skin from the sun. UV rays can increase inflammation and hyperpigmentation, so use an oil-free sunscreen. This step is even more important if you’re using certain acne medications, since they can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight.

Sources & Resources

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