Many of us spent our teenage years fantasizing about being a grown-up: You’d have your own house, make your own money, and wake up with flawless skin, because that’s what adults do, right? We can’t do much about the house and the money, but we can help you out with that last issue.
We tend to think of acne as a problem for the young, and there’s a good reason for that: Most of us start developing acne and often have our most severe acne during our teen years. Sadly, that doesn’t mean zits magically disappear the day you turn 20.
As many as 50 percent of women will suffer from acne at some point in their adult lives, with more than half of women in their 20s and 35 percent of women in their 30s experiencing some form of acne. Doctors believe that it may be due to a combination of stress, dietary factors and changing hormones.
Dr Low Chai Ling notes that many of the same factors that cause acne in teens play a role: pores getting clogged by oil, skin cells, and bacteria. “Another factor that may explain the prevalence of adult acne in women is hormones” she says. “In particular, the kind of hormonal fluctuation that accompanies the menstrual cycle.” As your period approaches, oestrogen levels in the body dip, leaving your testosterone levels unchecked. Since testosterone (an androgen) can crank up your skin’s oil production, that also means a higher chance of clogged pores and big, angry pimples.
Here, the hormonal acne is decoded, to help you address the issue successfully.
How Is Adult Acne Different From Teen Acne?
Location, location, location. The pattern of acne is usually different in adults than it is in teens. In teens, it’s usually on the forehead and cheeks while in adults it tends to be mostly on the lower face, along the jawline and neck. Dr Low also notes that acne in adults tends to come in the form of big angry bumps, while teens tend to see a mix of cystic bumps, as well as blackheads and whiteheads throughout the entire face.
How Can You Prevent It?
“While hormonal fluctuation may make women more prone to breakouts than men, it also gives them a few extra options for treatment” says Dr Low. “Oral-contraceptive pills and a medicine called spironolactone are particularly useful in adult women and are unique to this population as they cannot be used in males”.
Spironolactone helps to block hormones from stimulating the oil glands. However if you’re thinking about starting a family, definitely opt for a different treatment, as it’s been known to cause birth defects in women of child-bearing age that aren’t also on birth control.
Check the Fridge
Sometimes it isn’t what you aren’t eating that’s causing your skin grief but what you’re putting in your mouth. Studies have found that excess insulin from foods with a high glycemic index, like packaged foods as well as pasta, bread, and rice, may play a role in the effects of androgens (like oil-encouraging testosterone) on acne. Meanwhile, foods that are heavy in hormones, like dairy products, are often at the top of the list of things dermatologists recommend cutting out for clearer skin.
“I cut milk from my own diet when I experienced adult acne and found that it greatly improved my acne” says Dr Low. Milk naturally contains a great number of hormones — there is no such thing as hormone-free milk. Dr Low advises acne patients to cut down on dairy and eliminate straight-up milk altogether.
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And Chill Out
Stress leads to increased cortisol levels. Like testosterone, cortisol is a hormone that can increase oiliness as well as inflammation. Not a good combo when you want to avoid being red in the face. Once upon a time, our bodies produced cortisol only when we were in danger, but nowadays, it’s much more likely to flood your system in response to a looming deadline than in response to a predator in the underbrush. So when your acne starts acting up, take a minute to figure out whether there’s anything you’re freaking out over, then unload all of that skin-wrecking stress.
Think Before You Treat
“I have many patients who keep using the same acne regimen they were using when they were younger,” says Dr Low. “Just because you had an acne regimen that worked in high school doesn’t mean you should stick with it to treat your adult acne. Most acne solutions that are currently available were designed to treat teenage acne, and not many of them are designed to meet the special skin-care needs of adult women,” she says. Since your skin becomes less resilient with age, harsh acne treatments can exacerbate the problem with unwanted side effects, like itching, redness, flaking, and sensitivity. One good example is benzoyl peroxide which many teenagers may generously dab on their skin to control their acne. On the more sensitive, less oily skin of adults, side effects such as redness and flaking are more common.
Dr Low also warns that women of color are particularly prone to developing dark spots from acne treatments thanks to postinflammatory hyperpigmentation, or PIH. So be careful when using harsh ingredients such as fruit acids. Here are a list of the best adult acne fighters:
Fortunately, a lot of treatments that are already designed for adult skin also make ideal acne fighters. Topical retinoids are particularly useful in adult women as they prevent acne and stimulate collagen, addressing cosmetic concerns like fine lines and wrinkles.
Retinoids are particularly well suited to adult acne because they can be used in combination with other treatments and moisturizers to customize your results. If you would like an anti-aging and acne clearing formulation, try a the cream based Age Defy. If you would like a pore unclogging and anti-acne formulation, try the gentle fruit acid based Super Helper.
Laser & Lights
For adult acne, oral medications may not always be ideal, especially when family planning is in the way. That is why treatments using lasers such as Vbeam or lights such as BBL forever clear are popular alternatives. They are increasingly sought by adult acne sufferers who want more improvements on their skin than simple acne clearance. Vbeam for example reduces redness and flushing in addition to clearing acne so skin not only looks clearer but less patchy. BBL forever clear is an innovative broadband light that treats acne as well as lightens pigmentation on the skin!
By understanding the treatment options available for adult acne, using a combination of the above options will usually result in the most optimal outcome.