The most recent research has demonstrated that the majority of adult acne is the result of a genetically predetermined abnormality of the pilosebaceous (oil producing) glands of the body. While multiple factors, such as hormonal changes, can contribute to exacerbations of the acne at different times in a patient’s life, including during adulthood, the root cause of acne is a fundamentally abnormal gland to some degree.
Unlike teenage skin, adult acne is more challenging to treat due to the special needs of adult skin. Older skin is much more prone to dryness; adult skin is also more prone to showing signs of aging and may be more sensitive to acne treatments designed for oilier, more resilient teenage skin.
“People used to think that acne was just a cosmetic issue, but it’s a chronic skin condition with intermittent flare-ups and relapses,’ says Dr. Bethanee Schlosser, director of the Women’s Skin Health Program at Northwestern University in Chicago.
As we age, collagen production slows down, which in turn slows the skin’s healing process. This delayed healing response commonly increases the duration of each acne episode of adult acne as compared to teenage acne and increases the possibility for post-acne scarring. This means that treating adult acne needs to done as early as possible and on a case-by-case basis.
While adult acne is challenging to treat, there are some things adults can avoid to decrease the intensity and frequency of acne flare-ups.
Adult Acne Skin Care Tips
It’s been proven that stress both physiological and psychological causes an increase in androgens, which stimulate sebaceous and pilo-sebaceous glands. These glands produce the oil that moisturizes our face and hair follicles. But, when sent into overdrive, these glands can overproduce oil, and become irritated and that can clog pores and contribute to acne.
2. Changing Birth Control
Oral contraceptives contain estrogen and progesterone hormones, which can control androgen activity. Changing pill brands or coming off of it completely can create acne flare-ups because androgen activity is increased. Certain IUDs contain progesterone and can also contribute to acne.
3. Pregnancy and Menopause
Pregnancy presents many changes in a woman’s body - one of those is the increase of the androgenic hormone, progesterone; the hormone responsible for causing sebaceous glands to be stimulated and can result in overproduction of oil that results in flares of acne.
Menopause is marked with strong fluctuations in hormones, which can lead to heightened sebaceous gland activity, causing pimples.
4. Prescription Drugs
As we age, some of us require prescription medication to treat illnesses and conditions. While they are designed to improve our quality of life, some medications can trigger or worsen adult acne. Barbiturates used as sleep aids, lithium for treating depression, and corticosteroids are well known acne agitators.
Used to enhance beauty and self-confidence, oily skin care products and occlusive makeup can often be bad for the skin, especially acne-prone skin. Even though your skin may be dry, the additional oils in your skin care products can clog and irritate the skin. Look for non-oily, light coverage alternatives, which will hydrate the skin without clogging the pores.
To reduce and prevent adult acne flare-ups, get to know your skin. If you have sensitive or dry skin, it’s best to use a gentle cleanser and an alcohol-free toner along with a calming mask, as opposed to the oily skin acne treatments that may cause dryness. Harsh cleansers, toners and abrasive scrubs will only irritate the condition.
Drink lots of water. Drinking at least 6 - 8 glasses or 8 ounces of water daily will keep skin hydrated and help dilute the skin’s secretions, preventing pore congestion.
Look to changing your diet if you notice an increase in oil activity after certain meals. In some cases reducing the fat content of the diet can help slow the increase of sebum in the skin. Eating foods rich in antioxidant vitamins keeps the skin healthy and in good condition.
Protecting the skin from the sun may not prevent acne, but it will ensure your skin is healthy and able to combat irritants effectively, which is key to fighting adult acne. Unprotected UV radiation from the sun can also contribute to more noticeable acne scars as the skin’s collagen and elastin support structure break down.
Fortunately, there are many very successful treatment strategies available for adults suffering from acne. It is important though that adults with acne are correctly diagnosed early in the course of the disease so that an effective treatment can be initiated in order to prevent progression of the acne and morbidity including scarring.
Early Diagnosis and safe and effective treatment of adult acne most often requires the expertise of a dermatologist, a professional skin specialist, with experience treating a variety of skin types, familiarity with traditional acne medications, and knowledge of the many new medical and non-medical treatment options now available.