We as adults might sometimes wish we could be young again, until we recall the bouts with acne we battled in our teen years.
What's even worse, is that most of us as adults will face what's called adult acne. Acne vulgaris is probably the most common skin disease in the USA. Its estimated that one in five adults from the ages of 25 to 44 have issues with acne. It rarely goes away on it's own, but it is treatable with proper skincare and the consistent use of acne treatments. Don't wait to start treatment, either! Adults too often think their acne is 'just a phase' that will pass quickly, but the sooner you begin treatment the better off your skin will be.
Blackheads aren't dirt, but the result of oil and dead skin cells getting trapped inside a pore, blocking the duct as they mix with bacteria. Reddish pimples develop when blackheads become inflamed and these inflammations can spread when touched. (see "A 'hands-off' approach" below). If the pimple becomes infected, it will develop a whitehead or "pustule".
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Types of Adult Acne
Note: You should verify that what you are experiencing is actually acne vulgaris - especially if you have never had acne before. Some skin disorders, like rosacea and folliculitus cause pimples that resemble acne. When a woman’s acne symptoms also include irregular periods, excessive facial hair, thinning hair or bald patches, it may be a sign of polycystic ovaries (where cysts develop in the ovaries) or adrenal hyperplasia (an adrenal gland disorder). The acne will not clear up until the medical condition is treated. Consulting with a doctor to identify the problem and properly treat your breakouts is your best bet.
Persistent acne is a term used by dermatologists for acne that does not clear by your mid-20s. It's more common in women and it produces pimples and nodules that are tender, deep-seated, and inflamed. It tends to form on the lower face, mostly around the mouth, on the chin, and along the jawline.
Late-onset or adult onset acne is another type. Again, women are more susceptible, and again it generally forms on the chin, jawline, and around the mouth in the form of deep-seated, inflamed pimples and nodules. Acne lesions can also appear on the chest and back. People who have not had acne for years - or at all - get late-onset acne. For some women, acne becomes an issue during menopause.
Causes of Adult Acne
No matter your age, acne develops at the buildup of dead skin cells, bacteria, and excess oil that our body makes to moisturize the skin naturally. Here are things that may trigger this condition in adults:
Birth control pills and other prescription medications. Some women develop adult acne when they stop taking birth control pills. The pills may have been keeping their acne at bay since they contain estrogen and progestins and often help control acne in women. If a birth control pill contains only progestins, it could make acne worse. Acne is a possible side effect of other medications as well, like anticonvulsants, corticosteroids, and sobriety drugs. Note: Do not stop taking a prescription medication because acne develops or becomes worse. Consult with the prescribing doctor and ask if a different medication that will not cause acne flare-ups can be taken. If only one medication can be used, then consult with a dermatologist about different ways to control the acne.
Some cosmetics and personal care products such as oily sunscreens and hair pomades promote a type of acne called acne cosmetica. When you're purchasing skincare or hair products, check for ones that are labeled “non-comedogenic” or “non-acnegenic” which means that they are less likely to cause acne.
Family history. In one study conducted by researchers, it was discovered that half the adults with acne had a parent, sibling, or child who had acne. This may suggest that acne may "run in the family".
Hormonal swings due to PMS, pregnancy and menopause cause acne in some women. Increased stress levels go hand in hand with higher levels of acne in women, especially those with fast-paced careers. When responding to stress, the body produces more hormones, cortisol, androgens, which stimulate the oil glands and hair follicles in the skin. These over-stimulated glands can cause acne flare-ups.
As stated above, check the labels on your hair and skincare products to see if they are marked oil-free and "noncomedogenic." Know that even products marked "dermatologist tested" can cause acne in some people. Oil-free and noncomedogenic cosmetics can clog pores if worn during heavy exercise, so wear as little makeup as possible during these activities. After your workouts, rinse off as soon as possible. Perspiration from physical activity will mix with surface skin oils, trapping bacteria in your pores. If there's no time for a quick shower, towel off and change into fresh clothing. If you wear a hat, headband, helmet or any safety gear with straps, be sure to wash the items frequently to reduce the presence of bacteria.
A hands-off approach
Do you often cradle your chin or cheeks with your hands or rub your nose? If so, stop. It can encourage the growth of Propionibacterium acnes or P. Acnes, which is a substance always present in the skin, but it can multiply very quickly in clogged hair follicles, and cause an infection to the areas most affected by adult acne. This "hands off" policy should be in force during breakouts, too. Popping, picking at or squeezing blemishes can drive acne bacteria further into the skin, which leads to more inflammation and possibly permanent scars.
It's a Wash
Dermatologists generally recommend that their patients gently wash their face - no more than twice a day - with a mild facial cleanser, and avoid scrubbing, as it might irritate the skin and make acne worse. Do not rub your face dry, but pat it with a soft towel instead. Daily sun protection is key because some acne medications increase the skin’s sensitivity to sunlight.
It's Best to De-Stress
Stress, for reasons stated above, should be avoided whenever possible. You might find a relaxing massage helpful. You can also try to take short breaks during the day to for stretching and deep breathing exercises. Regular exercise in general will reduce stress, as will soothing music and owning a pet, believe it or not. Yes! It's been proven! Sometimes my pets stress me out, but mostly I enjoy having them around. Another favorite stress-buster of mine is to delegate work. When you need help with something, don't be afraid to ask for it.
Why treat adult acne? Getting it under control reduces the risk of scarring. The stuff you used back in middle school and high school won't work on adult acne! Most of the acne treatments on the store shelves are geared just toward the teenage oily-skinned crowd. But as we age, sebum production slows and the skin becomes less oily. Drying acne remedies can be too harsh on adult skin. Adult acne sufferers would do best to use an oil-free, noncomedogenic moisturizer (even on oily skin) to minimize side effects like dry, peeling, flaky skin. Don't expect quick results, either. It might be awhile before you notice some improvement.
Your skin will benefit from a proper facial. Adult acne isn't a disease, it's a skin condition and a good facialist will know just what your skin needs.
Seeing a dermatologist can help. The lesions may not even be acne. There are other skin conditions which closely resemble acne, and a dermatologist can tell. If acne is the problem, different medication may be required and most cases of adult acne can be effectively brought under control with acne therapy. For serious acne, a dermatologist has a whole arsenal of products to clear your skin up.You might also consider laser treatments, but these are more costly.
Acne-fighting ingredients are making their way more and more into skincare products like facial moisturizers and foundations. The active ingredients are the same as those available in products made for teen skin, and the ones formulated for women are less drying. As an added bonus, many of these products include anti-aging ingredients!