We can all agree that teenage acne is a horror best left to the hallowed halls of high school. But what happens when your pimples, bumps, and red breakouts follow you into adulthood like a clingy younger sibling? Not only can adults experience adult acne, but the condition has become common for people in their twenties, thirties, and even forties. Acne for people of all ages is caused by a build-up of bacteria, skin cells, and oils that clogs skin pores and causes breakouts of pimples, whiteheads, and blackheads. While teenagers experience acne all over their faces, adults are more likely to develop bumps around the lower face, jawline, chin, and neck. Adults also suffer fewer whiteheads and blackheads than their teen counterparts; adult acne largely appears as big, red, angry cystic bumps. Body acne is not as common amongst older men and women, as oil glands on the chest and back become less active with age.
While a family history and genetic predisposition may be causing your facial acne as an adult, it is probable that a lethal combination of hormones, stress, and dietary factors is to blame for the outbreaks.
Hormones are the most common culprit behind adult acne breakouts. And women are more prone to hormone-driven eruptions for several reasons: During a woman’s monthly menstrual cycle, estrogen levels dip while testosterone levels rise. Testosterone is an androgen, a male hormone that stimulates oil and hair follicle production, which leads to excess oil that clogs pores and creates acne. Menopause and pregnancy also cause normal hormone fluctuations that affect oil glands in the skin. Oral birth control helps control the oil production process, but cessation of the pill can renew increased amounts of oil.
By now, you are probably aware of the negative effects stress has on the body – too much stress can lead to weight gain, low energy, hair loss, and more. It can also be the reason behind adult acne. When the body is under stress it produces more cortisol, a hormone that causes increased oil production and inflammation. Stress also releases the male hormone androgen into the body, which in turn stimulates oil glands and leads to the appearance of angry red bumps on the face.
Mom always told you that too much junk food would cause acne – and there may be some truth in that. When the body produces too much insulin it triggers production of the hormone androgen, which in turn increases oil production in the skin and leads to acne breakouts. Excess insulin is released when the body digests foods with a high glycemic index – including refined starches such as pasta, cereal, rice, and bread. Starches and sugars affect insulin levels, so fill your plate with fresh fruits and vegetables instead, along with complex carbohydrates that have a low glycemic index, like whole grain oats. Hormone-heavy foods such as meats and dairy products can also cause breakouts, so eat these in moderation for clearer, more balanced skin.
Hair and skin products
Good skin care is an important element of adulthood, but too much of a good thing can turn into ugly acne breakouts on your face. Over-washing (more than twice a day) can strip the skin of its moisture and cause oil glands to work overtime. Harsh skincare products, or overloading on several different products, can also upset your skin’s balance and cause acne. When you are purchasing new personal care products, look for one or more of the following terms: oil free, water-based, non-comedogenic, and acnegenic. Oil free and water-based products will keep your facial pores from becoming clogged with bacteria and skin cells, thus preventing an adult acne breakout.
While adult acne is treatable, be wary of using the same products you used to control teenage acne – these treatments are too harsh for adult skin, and can end up causing even more skin problems, such as flaking, peeling, itching, or redness. Instead, talk to a trusted dermatologist about the treatment options that will work for you. For women, there are several acne control methods available:
- The FDA has approved four types of birth control that fights acne; ask your dermatologist for specific details about each one.
- Spironolactone is an androgen-blocking diuretic that is used to treat acne when prescribed in a low dose.
- Topical retinoids reduce acne breakouts by unclogging pores, preventing bacteria and dead cells from accumulating on the skin, and controlling oil production.
For all men and women with adult acne, simple at-home measures should be taken to lower your chances of breakouts. Use a gentle, water-based cleanser to wash your face daily, lower stress, and eat a well-balanced diet high in fresh vegetables and whole grains. And remember you do not have to suffer in silence: adult acne is highly treatable, under the care of a trusted dermatologist. Here at Florida Dermatology and Skin Cancer Centers, our board-certified dermatologists are qualified to effectively diagnose and treat your acne symptoms. Give us a call today at the location nearest you to set up an appointment.