If you noticed the acne you had when you were 15 has returned in your 30s, rest assured, you're in good company. One in 5 women between the ages of 25 and 40 suffer from adult acne and adult acne affects more women than men. Here are a few facts about adult acne and how to rid your skin of it:
Fact #1: Acne Begins With Blocked Pores, aka "Blackheads"
Acne is basically blocked pores that have become infected. Most pimples begin with blackheads, which are not dirt, they're actually the result of oil and dead cells getting trapped in a pore where they block the duct and mix with bacteria. They then turn black when exposed to air. Red pimples develop when blackheads become inflamed and they spread when touched with dirty hands. When the pimple becomes infected, it develops a whitehead or pustule. Breaking that puss-filled pimple can leave a scar.
Fact #2: Blame it on Your Hormones
Hormones are what kick off overactive sebaceous (oil) glands. That's why you got pimples at 13 when you started your period. It's why your son's face erupted in acne when he hit puberty. And it's why your acne flares up right before your period. It's also why women post-menopause don't suffer from acne: those hormones have gone bye-bye (no more pimples are definitely something to look forward to post-50!)
Life today is very different than it was 50 or 70 or even 100 years ago. We are filling our bodies with hormone-enriched dairy and meat products. The stress that comes with modern life (hello trying to work, raise a family and keep up with Facebook) can also mess with our hormones.
So how to fix this? You can use your acne as a reason to finally take up yoga or meditation. You can use your acne as a reason to go on birth control pills which can control those hormones that cause acne. And you can use your acne to start eating organic meats and dairy products.
Get the full scoop in What Really Causes Acne & Pimples?
Fact #3: Chocolate & Fried Foods Do Not Cause Acne
Blocked pores cause acne. Chocolate, fried foods, stress and your period do not. What they do, however, is exacerbate acne by causing your sebaceous glands to overproduce. But there are ways to remedy this:
- Love chocolate? No problem. You might want to stick to dark chocolate. Find out why here.
- Like fried foods? No problem. Instead of banning yourself from foods you love (which never works), consider controlling how much you eat them and supplement some healthy fruits and veggies into your diet. Some naturopaths insist that high fiber diets and a healthy digestive system lead to better skin.
- Super stressed? Take a moment and calm down using this approach, which I swear by.
Learn much more in What Really Causes Acne & Pimples?
Fact #4: Adult Acne is Not the Same as Teen Acne
Your skin at 13 is very different from your skin at 30. As teenagers, our skin is relatively thick. As we age, our skin thins out and becomes more sensitive to products. Those over-the-counter acne products with 10% benzoyl peroxide or 2% salicylic acid? Great for the 13-year-old, much too harsh for the 30-year-old.
The good news is products come in varying strengths. Stick to benzoyl peroxide products in the 2% range and salicylic acid gels, pads and cleansers in the .5% range.
Get the full scoop on teen vs. adult acne in Teen Acne vs. Adult Acne: What's the Difference?
For more information on teen acne, see Acne & Teens: How to Treat Pimples (& Cover Them Up)
Fact #5: Benzoyl Peroxide, Salicylic Acid & Tea Tree Oils Are Your Biggest Advocates
If you've struggled with adult acne in your lifetime, you likely know about benzoyl peroxide, which kills bacteria, and salicylic acid, which exfoliates your blocked pores while also calming your redness. But you may not know that tea tree oils are also a great natural way to treat acne. They aren't FDA-approved for acne treatments, but they are known for fighting inflammation on the scalp and skin.
I love Arithmetic's Acne Control Complex, which was developed especially for adult acne and combines both a lower-strength (3%) benzoyl peroxide with tea tree oils. Love the double whammy! Take that acne!
Get the full scoop on my favorite acne products, my 3-punch system and my aspirin mask recipe in my article, Best Treatment Options for Acne.
Fact #7: Over-exfoliating Skin is Bad, Bad, Bad
Many acne sufferers think the more product the use, the better their skin will get. I remember bathing my face in Clearasil pads when I was a teenager several times a day and wondering why my skin became redder as a result. Stick to one product and follow the directions and you should be good.
And stay away from facial scrubs. Even the most gentle ones made from brown sugar can tear at skin. Exfoliators in cream, pads and gel form (hello salicylic acid!) are much better for your pustules and pimples.
Fact #6: This 4-step Treatment Works for Most Acne-Sufferers
You can combine benzoyl peroxide AND salicylic acid products to really clear up acne. The salicylic acid will clear out your pores while the benzoyl peroxide kills the bacteria that has grown within them. Expect results within a month:
- Step 1: Cleanse skin with a mild cleanser (dermatologists recommend Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser) OR just rinse face with warm water and skip the cleanser, letting your treatment products do their work.
- Step 2: Apply a 3% benzoyl peroxide pad, gel or cleanser. (You can get great ones at drugstores).
- Step 3: Apply a .5% salicylic acid pad or gel.
- Step 4: Moisturize.
Moisturize? Yes, you read that correctly. If you strip skin of all its oils, your glands will react by over-producing more oils to compensate. So it's important to keep skin hydrated.
Fact #7: Yes, You Can Still Wear Makeup if You Have Acne
If you suffer from breakouts you may worry -- as I did as a teen -- that pimple-ridden skin needs to breathe and makeup will only exacerbate the problem.
Turns out it's not true. As makeup artist Bobbi Brown said in her book, Bobbi Brown Beauty, "The dermatologists who recommend not wearing makeup are usually men." The right makeup application can actually hide your acne.
Find out how in Can I Wear Makeup If I Have Pimples?
Fact #8: You Can Wipe Out Acne With Prescriptive Treatments
If you can't solve your acne yourself, book an appointment with a dermatologist. He or she will clear your skin up fast. Retinoids, antibiotics, azelaic acid and birth control pills are all options usually covered by insurance.
You might consider laser treatments, but these are more costly (about $500-$3,000). Severe cases are best cleared up by Accutane, which is a 5-month course that is considered the most effective treatment available. However Accutane is controversial and can lead to a host of side effects including birth defects if taken during pregnancy. Other side effects can include severe depression, Crohn's Disease and Ulcerative colitis. See "Accutane Side Effects" from Drugwatch.com for a full list.
More on Acne: