Sure, there are some things from our teenage years we wouldn’t mind having as an adult: seemingly endless energy, the ability to stay up all night without feeling like you’ve been hit by a train, the never-ending social life that doesn’t leave you exhausted. But acne? Leave that with our teenage selves, please!
Unfortunately, for most of us, the one thing we’d like most to leave in the past continues to haunt us. Because adult acne is real! And so, so frustrating. It is so frustrating that we wanted to learn more about it, and how to treat it. So what is acne, really? What causes it? Why do adults get it? And, most importantly, what can we do to treat it and prevent it?
What causes acne?
Without getting too technical, acne is caused by four things:
- Oil production
- Dead skin cells
- Clogged pores
Acne tends to appear on the face, neck, back, chest, and shoulders. Why? Because that is where the most oil glands are on your body. And those glands are breeding grounds for the four items listed above. And they each contribute to any kind of acne, whether adult or adolescent.
So how does oil production play a part? Well, the hair follicles on your skin are connected to oil glands. The oil glands produce an oily substance to lubricate your hair and skin, preventing it from feeling dry and rough. When the oil comes out of the gland, it goes up the hair, through the opening to your skin’s surface.
In theory, that sounds great. Your body is constantly working to moisturize your skin, which, as we all know, helps to slow the appearance of the aging process. But when your body starts producing more oil and dead skin (item number two on our list), they build up in that oil gland with the hair follicle, forming a soft plug in the gland, which then creates the perfect breeding ground for item number 3, bacteria. In thrives in that pore that is now clogged, which is number four.
This combination often results in the follicle bulging, producing a whitehead. But if the plug is open to the surface, it darkens, causing a blackhead. Once those form, voila! You have the beginnings of acne.
Now that we know how acne is formed, what actually causes that extra oil production? What signals our body to produce more?
There are a couple factors that play into excess oil production. These include:
They seem to be the root of many problems! Hormones increase during puberty (as we all know. Being a teenager, right?), which causes those glands to enlarge and make more oil.
Not all medications cause acne, or else it would seem like everyone we ran into was dealing with acne. But drugs that have lithium, androgens, or corticosteroids unfortunately make acne worse. Check out this list of medications that cause acne here.
What you put into your body can affect what happens to the outside of your body in more ways than you would think. Food can make quite a difference in your skin’s health. Spicy food, dairy, sugar, bread, they can all contribute to high oil levels in your body. Every person is different, so the way your body reacts to food will be different for everyone.
So now that we know what happens in your body to create acne and what contributes to acne, what are the “facts” about acne we’ve all heard that just aren’t true? Because since you were a teenager, you probably heard a large variety of reasons why you get acne. You may be as surprised as we were with what we found!
- Greasy food does not cause acne - Yes, you read that right. How many times did you hear that eating that deep fried something of deliciousness would give you acne? We heard it too, only to find out it is a myth. If you work in a greasy area, that is different, of course (grease on your skin can block those glands), but eating it? Won’t increase acne!
- Dirty skin does not cause acne - As we just learned, acne isn’t caused by dirt. It is caused by too much oil production. Dirty skin doesn’t make a difference.
- Wearing too much makeup causes acne – If dirty skin doesn’t cause acne, then makeup doesn’t cause acne. Unless you use an oil-based makeup that adds to that oil, know that your makeup isn’t contributing!
Learn more acne myths from the expert herself, Dr. Pimple Popper! a.k.a. Dr. Sandra Lee. Check out her appearance on the Today Show below:
Why adults get acne and what you can do to stop it
So, now that we know a bit more about acne, let’s figure out why there is such a thing as adult acne. Because, ideally, that should have been left behind in high school! Here are the top 6 things that contribute to adult acne:
We just can’t escape those hormones! In our youth, our hormones were raging because of puberty. But as we get older, those hormones continue to fluctuate. Before your period, for example. And the hormone that tends to flare up the most, causing adult acne, are the male hormones coursing through your body. They contain testosterone, which causes that oil production. You’ll notice this most from the deep (and painful) acne flare ups around your neck, back, and chin.
As if the hormones and acne itself weren’t enough, stress also contributes! You may be working a stressful job, taking care of kids, or both, or just dealing with the challenges of life, all of which are incredibly stressful. And whenever your body feels stressed, it produces a stress hormone (yes, another hormone) called cortisol. Your body uses cortisol to help with the stress, but when cortisol is released, testosterone comes out as well. Which, as we know, increases the oil production on your skin!
Managing stress can definitely be a challenge. Life throws quite a lot our way. But there are ways to manage stress. While working out regularly can seem like a pain – finding time and energy in an already busy life is a challenge for everyone – it helps your stress levels stay low. Meditation also helps to reduce stress, as you take time out of your day to specifically focus on you and your mental health. By focusing on yourself, you’ll find your stress levels down, and acne down with it!
We use skin care products more and more the older we get, in an effort to slow down the aging process. Knowing what is in those products makes all the difference in preventing acne! If you are using products, whether it is your makeup or anti-aging products, that are oil based, you are going to break out more.
The good news is that there are plenty of products that are not oil-based. When you’re looking at purchasing your makeup or other skin care products, make sure you can see the words “oil-free”, “water-based”, or “noncomedogenic”, and you will be using products that won’t clog your pores.
Remember that myth that dirty skin causes acne? Over-cleansing can cause those adult acne flare-ups you’re trying to avoid! When you wash your face too much, you dry out the skin, which makes your skin produce even more oil in an effort to compensate. The same thing can happen if you’re exfoliating too much. Removing too many layers of skin results in more oil as well, as your skin tries to compensate for that loss of layers and, with it, moisture!
When it comes to cleansing, it’s all about moderation. Instead of washing your face all the time, focus on when you wash your face. At night, be sure to wash your face to remove makeup, pollution and impurities from the day. In the morning, either wash your face as normal or simply splash your face with cold water. However you do it, use a gentle facial cleanser to keep that important oil on your face. And when you exfoliate, do it 1 to 2 times a week. Breakouts will go away in no time.
We all love to indulge our sweet tooth. Who can resist ice cream, cake, or candy? But sugar is a definite culprit of adult acne. When you eat a lot of sugar, your blood sugar levels raise, raising your insulin levels. And why are insulin levels bad? Because they trigger testosterone in the body, which brings out your acne!
The solution is one many don’t like or want to hear. Reduce the amount of sweets you eat. By reducing your sugar intake, your body will slow down on making that testosterone, which means your breakouts will slow down even more.
Picking at your skin
When you get a pimple or zit, are you one of those people who just can’t stand having it there, throbbing in pain? Do you see the white heads and just have the irresistible urge to pop the pimple? Popping a pimple or zit may bring temporary relief, but can cause more problems in the long run. It cannot only leave a scar, it can also push the bacteria causing the pimple deeper into your skin. Once it’s deeper, the bacteria can spread around, causing even more pimples!
What is the solution? Instead of attempting to pop your pimples, try using a spot treatment. If using the right treatment, they can dry out pimples and reduce inflammation. You may still have one day of feeling slightly uncomfortable, but isn’t that better than a scar?
Do-it-yourself skin care treatments
While we know the causes, and what to do to solve them, having some treatments you can do yourself can make all the difference. So what are some adult acne treatments you can do?
Sometimes, a spot treatment for those individual pimples or zits is just what you need. Try dabbing some over the counter hydrocortisone cream on your pimples. Sure, it is typically used as an anti-itch cream, but it goes a long way in reducing redness and inflammation on those pesky zits!
Often the same areas on your face seem to be the areas that get more acne. Try applying some crushed peppermint to those areas. With peppermint being a natural antiseptic and anti-inflammatory, you’ll not only help you skin fight the bacteria on your face causing those break outs, you’ll also help reduce the redness and swelling!
Simply crush some peppermint leaves until they create a paste. Then apply to the affected areas and leave on for 10 minutes before rinsing with cold water. (Note that peppermint can be irritating to sensitive skin)
Apple cider vinegar is a great facial treatment. It helps remove excess oil from the face and also has antibacterial properties. Try putting some apple cider vinegar on a cotton ball and rubbing it over your face. Or, boil some apple cider vinegar with water and use it to steam your face. You’ll notice a difference in your skin’s oil levels, and hopefully your breakouts!
Honey is often touted as a cure-all for many ailments, and when it comes to adult acne, that may just be true. Add in oatmeal, which helps to absorb any excess oil, and you have one powerful mask! To make the mask, simply mix ½ cup cooked oatmeal with 1/8 cup of honey and allow it to cool. Then apply the paste to your oily skin and leave it on for 15 minutes. Rinse it off with warm water. When you do this once or twice each week, you should see reduced outbreaks and oiliness!
(via Live Strong)
Adult acne is something that many of us struggle with. But it is also something we can work to treat and even prevent. By making some simple changes to diet and lifestyle, and by treating our skin properly, adult acne can stay in the past, along with those teenage years we’ve worked so hard to move past!