The unblemished truth about adult acne and the products that treat it
Find yourself shopping for both acne treatments and wrinkle creams? Yes, life’s not fair. But many people are in the same boat: About 26 percent of women and 12 percent of men in their 40s report having acne, according to a survey by the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Acne affects about half of women in their 20s. The good news is that drugstore remedies have improved a lot over the years. If those don’t’ work, dermatologists have many tools to tackle the problem, including prescription drugs and even lasers. Below are the answers to common questions about treating adult acne.
Why now? How come I didn’t outgrow this?
In addition to genetics, fluctuating hormones can be complexion killers. Pregnancy, going off birth-control pills, and menopause can cause acne to flare. And research shows that stress can cause the body to produce more androgens, hormones that stimulate oil glands.
Another culprit: Some products such as oily sunscreens and greasy hair products contain pore-clogging ingredients that could lead to acne. Breakouts can also be a side effect of drugs, including anticonvulsants, corticosteroids, and sobriety drugs. If you think a drug is affecting your skin, talk to your doctor about alternatives. Also talk to a doctor if acne is accompanied by other symptoms, such as excessive facial hair, thinning or bald patches on the scalp, and irregular period. That could indicate a disorder affecting the adrenal glands or ovaries.
Can foods cause acne?
There’s little evidence that soda, chocolate, and greasy foods cause breakouts. But some researchers theorize that a diet generally high in those and other carbohydrates and sugars may be bad for your skin, citing a lack of acne in non-westernized societies. Diary consumption has also been linked to increased acne. The theory is that hormones in cow’s milk could possibly exacerbate acne.
Is it really so bad to pop a pimple?
Yes, especially if the blemish is inflamed. Squeezing forces infected material deeper into the skin. That can worsen inflammation and increase the chance of scarring. If you have a lot of blemishes, a dermatologist can use sterile instruments and the proper technique to clear them, but there is always a risk of infection or scarring. And if a large zit threatens to ruin your big day, a doctor can inject it with a small amount of steroid to shrink it more quickly.
Which products help?
Blackheads and whiteheads form when excess skin oil and dad skin cells clog pores. Bacteria can multiply in this oily environment, causing a red and inflamed pimple. Over-the-counter and prescription treatments target one or more of those problems. According to medical experts, very effective OTC remedies contain salicylic acid, which helps unclog pores, or benzoyl peroxide, which dissolves dead skin cells and reduces acne-causing bacteria. Everyone with milk-to-moderate acne should first try these OTC products. You might use, for example, a face wash that contains salicylic acid (in a concentration of no more than 2 percent), followed by a 2.5 percent benzoyl peroxide cream.
Birth control pills can also help by reducing excess skin oils. But you may still need o use other products. Although some brands of the pill actually advertise acne-reducing ability, and birth-control pill with a mix of estrogen and progesterone could help. But a progesterone-only pill, sometimes referred to as a mini-pill, can aggravate acne in some women.
What can a doctor do?
If you have deep inflamed lesions, widespread acne, or even milder breakouts that persist after a couple of months of OTC treatment, it’s time to call or professional help. Your dermatologist can prescribe a variety of treatments, depending on how widespread and severe your acne is.
• Topical treatments. Retinoid gels or creams, such as Retin-A, work by cleaning out pores, keeping them from reclogging, and reducing inflammation. (Bonus: They might help diminish wrinkles). If you have red or swollen spots, your doctor may prescribe a topical antibiotic.
• Antibiotic pills. If acne is moderate to severe and persistent, your doctor may recommend antibiotic pills, usually a form of tetracycline.
• Isotretinoin pills. This is the big miracle drug for acne, but it also has a high cost and requires careful clinical monitoring. Oral isotretinoin cures acne in about 85 percent of people who take it for about five months. But it’s only used for severe cases. Side effects include nosebleeds, increases in triglycerides, secondary infections, and rarely, a higher risk of ulcerative colitis. A 2005 systematic review found no evidence to support that the drug worsened symptoms of depression.
• Laser and light therapy. These are possible additions to conventional treatments. But they can be expensive and might not be covered by insurance.
Lotions and washes
Benzoyl peroxide topical treatments are some of the best over-the-counter options for most people. Proactive, promoted in ads with starts like Katy Perry and Justin Bieber, and AcneFree both claim to be the top brand. ShopSmartMag experts tested those three-part systems against Oxy Maxiumu, and inexpensive benzoyl peroxide wash, and found they all work about the same. None got rid of acne completely, but they all reduced blemish counts on many faces by about 40 percent.
No-no’s for acne-prone skin
• Don’t’ clean too aggressively. Gently wash your face with a mild cleanser twice a day or after sweating. Scrubbing, as well as astringents, masks, toners, and exfoliating products with scrubbing particles, can irritate your skin and actually make acne worse.
• Don’t use greasy hair products. Gels and pomades, for example, can cause acne. Also, style hair away from your face and avoid leave-in products.
• Don’t’ use makeup with oil. Look for “oil-free”, “will not clog pores”, or “noncomedogenic” on the label.
• Don’t tan. Some acne treatments can thin the top layer of your skin, leaving it more vulnerable to damage. And tanning increases your risk of cancer.
• Don’t touch your face! Hands can carry oils and germs that aggravate acne. Wipe down the phone and anything else that touches your skin.