9 Adult Acne Facts

Plus: A Simple 4-Step Treatment Plan to Clear Up Acne

Adult acne fixes
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Adult acne is different from the acne you got in your teens. But it's quite common, especially among women between the ages of 25 and 40. Discover the basics of adult acne and how to clear it up for good.

Fact #1: Acne Begins With Blocked Pores ("Blackheads")

Acne is basically blocked pores that have become infected. Most pimples begin with blackheads, which are not dirt, but 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 can spread when touched with dirty hands. When a pimple becomes infected, it develops a whitehead or a pustule. Breaking or "popping" 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 most 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-menopause!)

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 suppress those hormones that cause acne. And you can use your acne to start eating organic meats and dairy products.

Fact #3: Chocolate and Fried Foods Don't 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, which contains fewer inflammatory ingredients like sugar and dairy than milk chocolate, and only in moderation.
  • 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? Find activities and practices that help you manage your stress. Whether it's yoga, a guided meditation or breathing exercise, a walk, or just carving out some time for yourself, find what works for you and your skin will thank you for it. 

Fact #4: Adult Acne Is Not the Same as Teen Acne

Your skin at 13 is very different from your skin at 30. As a result, teen acne isn't the same as adult acne. As teenagers, our skin is relatively thick. As we age, our skin thins and becomes more sensitive to products. Those over-the-counter acne products with 10 percent benzoyl peroxide or 2 percent salicylic acid? Great for the 13-year-old, but 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 percent range and salicylic acid gels, pads and cleansers in the .5 percent range. Look for products made to treat adult acne and skin. 

Fact #5: Benzoyl Peroxide, Salicylic Acid, Tea Tree Oils Are Your Biggest Advocates

If you've struggled with 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 oil is also a great natural way to treat adult acne. Tea tree oil isn't yet FDA-approved for acne treatments, but it is known for fighting inflammation on the scalp and skin.

I have read good things about Arithmetic's Acne Control Complex (buy it from Amazon), which was developed especially for adult acne and combines both a lower-strength (3%) benzoyl peroxide with tea tree oils. Love the double whammy! 

Fact #6: Over-Exfoliating Skin Is Bad

Many acne sufferers think the more product they use, the better their skin will get, only to find that their skin becomes redder and more irritated 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 over-exfoliate and tear already irritated, inflamed skin. Exfoliators like salicylic acid in cream, pad, and gel form are much better for your pustules and pimples.

Fact #7: 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, buy from Amazon) 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 (I recommend Vivant Acne Wash from Amazon, but you can buy products 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 #8: Yes, You Can Still Wear Makeup if You Have Acne

If you suffer from breakouts you may worry 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.

Fact #9: You Can Wipe Out Acne With Prescription 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 medical acne treatment options usually covered by insurance.

You might also 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.