Is Adult Acne Ruining your Life?

Blonde haired female in her late twenties. close up of the side of her face with bad adult acne.

If you thought acne was limited to the hormonal frenzied teenage years, then you need to think again, because acne is fast becoming a problem amongst adults in their twenties, thirties and even in their forties.

It is believed that adult acne will affect 25% of men and 50% of women at some point in their adult lives, with a third of those suffering from facial acne, also experiencing acne on their backs and bodies. These figures highlight the fact that women are more likely to be affected and hormones play a big factor. Female hormones have a tendency to fluctuate more than male hormones, which is why women are most likely to suffer from outbreaks in the run up to the start of their period. Other times of hormonal imbalance, in which acne can occur, is during pregnancy; usually during the first three months when the body is getting used to pregnancy, and also if a woman is suffering from polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). If a man experiences acne as an adult it is unlikely to be hormone related, but rather that he has a prolonged irritation to the skin, for example a reaction to a product he has used.

Before we get on to the different ways acne can be treated, let’s take a look at what exactly acne is. Acne is caused when hair follicles, or pores, in the skin become blocked. Glands near the surface of the skin produce oil, called sebum, to lubricate the hair and skin, but if at any time they produce too much of this oil, it mixes with dead skin cells and forms a plug, which blocks up the hair follicle. This ‘blockage’ can become contaminated with, what is normally harmless, bacteria and then becomes infected. This causes papules, pustules, nodules or cysts or in terms you and me know, whiteheads, pimples, spots, blackheads etc

Adult acne differs to teenage acne and is often tougher to treat. Doctor of Dermatology, Amy Derick explains, “In teens, you’ll mostly see hundreds or thousands of tiny bumps, blackheads or whiteheads on the skin of the face, especially the forehead, along with occasional cysts on the chest and back. That’s because teens’ skin tends to be a little stickier and they’re more likely than adults to get clogged pores. The fine little bumps of teen acne can still happen in adulthood, but it’s much less common, it’s usually deeper nodules or red papules in those areas”.

There are numerous ways in which you can treat acne, but please make sure you do not use any of the products aimed at teenage acne sufferers. These products contain high levels of salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide, which are good for the whiteheads and pustules associated with teenage acne, but not so great for deeper adult acne.

If you only get the occasional spot, then chances are you don’t even really need to treat it.  Make-up is a wondrous thing and can hide a multitude of sins, so invest in a good cover up and you’ll be fine.  However, if you start to notice a pattern of when your spots appear, e.g. at certain times of the month, and they are often appearing in the same places, then you may well be one of the many people who suffer from adult acne and you would benefit from looking at treatment for it.

Here are the several options available to you if you suffer from adult onset acne:

Prescription creams

These contain retinoids, which help unplug follicles and have the added benefit of helping smooth out wrinkles, something teenagers definitely don’t need to worry about! Deriving from vitamin A, creams containing retinoids are applied directly to the affected area of skin and works really well on moderate-to-severe acne. They work by encouraging the skin’s cycle of growing and shedding, but because of this they can sometimes cause redness, dryness and itchiness.

Combination creams

These contain a cleansing agent, usually benzoyl peroxide, combined with an antibiotic, such as clindamycin. Benzoyl peroxide can also leave skin reddened, dry and sensitive to sunlight, so if you are using a product that contains this, then please make sure you visit your GP if you suffer from any of these side effects, as you may end up making the condition worse.

Oral contraceptives

Taking an oral contraceptive everyday can help regulate hormonal imbalance, which is one of the main causes of adult acne in women. However, it can take as long as a year before you may notice any improvements in your skin and is often only recommended to women who are also looking to use it as a form of birth control at the same time.

Oral antibiotics

These help by fighting against inflammation and cleaning up any bacteria present on the skin. It is important to note that they must not be taken by pregnant women and they are likely to reduce the effectiveness of oral contraceptives. These differ from topical antibiotics, by not only the fact that they are taken orally, but that they are also a lot stronger and consequently may have other side effects associated with them. Antibiotics do not address any of the other causes of acne, for example hormones, and therefore may take several weeks or months to clear it all up.

Oral retinoids

These contain isotretinoin, which is at present the most effective treatment for sever cystic acne, however users can experience numerous side effects and they must be monitored very carefully by a doctor when they are taking this as a form of medication.  The benefits are that it is so powerful it can clear up any kind of acne, even in cases where other treatments have failed. But, it really must be considered a last resort, as it can cause severe birth defects and consequently should NEVER be taken by pregnant women, someone who is not using contraception or by women who are breastfeeding. Other side effects may include, dry skin and lips, muscle and joint pain, headaches and thinning hair.

Dermabrasion/Chemical peels

Not necessarily a treatment for acne, but more a way of improving the skin’s surface appearance if it has scars or pitted skin from previous cysts that became inflamed or infected. Both treatments are carried out by an experienced dermatologist and works by removing the scarred surface and exposing the new unblemished skin surface below. Dermabrasion rubs away at the top layers of skin whilst peels use chemicals, such as glycolic acid, to loosen blackheads and decrease the chance of spots reoccurring. These procedures are not considered cures for acne, in fact the NHS deem both procedures to be a form of cosmetic surgery, which means if you want to try this you would have to pay for it privately yourself.

There are also ways in which you can help reduce your chances of suffering from acne by following these simple steps everyday:

  • Clean your face gently with soap and water, but no more than twice a day.  Over aggressive scrubbing may cause injury to the skin and may cause acne to worsen or worst case cause scarring. Using a soft, cotton flannel will help with this.
  • If use a moisturiser, consider swapping to a light, non-comedogenic product, which won’t aggravate acne.
  • If you use make-up, use an oil-free foundation or spot cover-up, as heavy make-up is likely to block pores, which then increases your risk of acne.
  • Remember to ALWAYS remove your make-up at the end of each day, before going to bed, or pores are also likely to get blocked and maybe even infected.
  • NEVER pick or squeeze a spot. If you do you are likely to get even more bacteria into the spot and you are increasing the risk of scarring.

If you are in anyway concerned about acne or any other skin problem, make an appointment to see your GP to discuss the various options that are best suited to you.

Comments