The sad truth is—and you might want to sit down for this one—because women’s hormones fluctuate throughout life, pimples never go away. Sometimes they even appear for the first time—or, how’s this for a shocker—get worse as we age, says New York dermatologist Amy Wechsler, MD. “You may notice that it comes in waves depending on your hormones, lifestyle, and stress level,” she says.
And noticing patterns is a really helpful for getting to the bottom of the angry red bumps that are invading your adult life. Here is the 411 on the three main types of adult acne, and, on the next page, top tips on what you can do about it from our beauty swat team of a dermatologist, holistic facialist, and women’s hormone expert…
What’s up with postcollegiate pimples? The three main causes:
1. Acne that lingers past high school is likely due to very active sebaceous glands (the ones that pump out oil) and bacteria in the skin that’s out of balance, says holistic facialist Elena Rubin, who tackles her clients’ acne with regular deep-pore-cleansing facials to physically clear the congested pores and a regimen of products that includes salicylic acid, a clay mask, and lightweight lotions.
2. If the acne is pustular (red and painful), it’s also the result of bacteria that’s native to your skin. When a pore gets clogged (with a blackhead or plug of oil), that creates an airless pocket and ideal conditions for the bacteria to proliferate. (Eating sugar makes this even worse—it’s bacteria’s favorite food.) The solution? “Be vigilant about keeping pores clean, minimize sugar, and eat a deterrent botanical like cranberry extract,” she says.
3. The third type of adult acne usually comes as a surprise in the midtwenties through early thirties. It’s hormonally linked and shows up around the mouth, chin, and jawline area, especially during your period or ovulation. It happens when a depletion in estrogen occurs (like right before your period), causing the skin to exude more oil. (Yes, your skin gets PMS, too.) Rubin recommends the same skin-care and diet fixes, and finds acupuncture and Chinese medicine helpful for balancing hormones at the root level.
Click to read the next page for top tips on what to do about adult acne…
Ten tips on what to do about adult acne
First, don’t freak out. Flareups are not forever. “I think it’s most helpful to view adult acne as an invitation to learn what your body wants and needs and to give it what it is asking for,” says Rubin, who suggests looking at your beauty products, habits, and health. “Once you fix the root cause of acne—your diet and hormones to not washing up after a workout—your skin will clear itself naturally.” Here are some steps to help get you there.
1. Limit stress. And the unhealthy habits that come with it, like excessive drinking, not sleeping enough, smoking and eating unhealthy or overprocessed foods. Dr. Wechsler’s first piece of advice is to limit stress as much as possible by spending time with friends, cuddling or having sex, getting outdoors, sleeping, deep breathing, eating clean and drinking plenty of water or green tea. Take that, Clearasil!
2. Eat smart. “When your diet is wrong for you, it will do two things,” says women’s hormone expert Alisa Vitti, director of Flo Living and author of the ground-breaking health book, Woman Code. “It causes the overgrowth of bad bacteria in the intestines, which reduces immune response on the skin and increases inflammation. And it disrupts endocrine function such that hormones become more unbalanced and increase hormonal acne. Vitti’s villains are white flour, dairy, sugar, and animal and processed fats.
3. Limit dairy. Dermatologist Paul Jarrod Frank, MD, says, “A diet that has a lot of dairy in it is pro-inflammatory, meaning that it can exacerbate any condition, like acne, that involves inflammation.” Eat lean protein and brightly colored vegetables and fruits instead.
4. Wash your face every night and exfoliate. No matter how busy you are. And every morning. If that seems like too much, your cleanser is overdrying, says Rubin. If needed, use a gentle cleanser in the morning and a salicylic or glycolic one at night. And use an exfoliating mask a couple times a week: dry skin is dead skin, which is a breeding ground for bacteria, she says. Slough it off.
5. Wash up after a workout. If you’re dealing with acne, “it’s best to just shower immediately after working out and use a cleanser all over. Sweating is good for the skin, but you don’t want to let it linger.”
6. Choose products wisely. Rubin says 80 percent of acne issues are resolved with the right regimen—a good cleanser, an exfoliant, a balancing treatment serum, for starters. Many facial oils are great for acne-prone skin, but not synthetic or heavy ones like lanolin or mineral oil. Avoid artificial fragrances, which Dr. Frank says can increase skin sensitivity.
7. Don’t overtreat. Women over-exfoliate or overuse drying and irritating products like benzyl peroxide products when they aren’t making the internal connection to their skin, says Vitti. Or worse, they take antibiotics, which can mess with digestion further. She’s also not a fan of going on the pill for this reason, since it affects your body’s hormone levels and doesn’t solve the issue.
8. Find a skin-care ally. Maybe you’re not a skin-care expert—but you can work with one. Find a cool dermatologist, a smart facialist, or skin-care-savvy nutritionist to discuss your skin, diet, and health with instead of perusing the drugstore aisles for something to “just make your pimples go away.”
10. Try to be Zen about it. “Adult acne is a hugely frustrating, emotional, sensitive issue,” admits Rubin. “But while it can be a difficult experience, it’s often a great learning process that will re-connect your awareness to your body in a beautiful way that will last a lifetime.” Hopefully starting now. —Ann Abel