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Adult acne: Why you get it, How to treat it

Mdhil
18 April 2012

A zit or two is a common thing for most adults. For many others, acne flare-ups in adulthood can be very severe. We tell you everything you need to know about adult acne – occasional, mild or severe.

Adult acne
Adult acne

Say hello to clear skin!

You’re not a teenager, but still have acne…

Thought you had left acne behind in college? Think again, acne can come back to haunt you in adulthood. Statistics reveal that acne comes back to haunt 65% of women and 35% of men in their 20s, 30s and 40s.

Also read our article Acne: Dealing with those annoying pimples

Causes for adult acne

  • Hormonal imbalance: Sensitivity or over production of testosterone, or an imbalance in the female hormone oestrogen during perimenopause and menopause act as triggers for acne. Another condition called polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) leads to hormonal fluctuations, of which acne is a by-product. Oral contraceptive pills can also trigger acne in adults.
  • Stress, emotional disturbances and pollution can also cause a flare-up.
  • Weather: Acne is rampant during winter. One theory is that the creams we use to hydrate dry skin trigger acne because of excess oil. Summer too can be tricky — as the heat causes sweating — which means more oil clogs the pores. Also, sunscreen used liberally during summer may contain oil or equivalent substances.
  • Skin type: Oily skin produces excess sebum a fluid present in sebaceous glands of our skin. Hence oily skin or combination skin on the t-zone (forehead, nose and chin) is more prone to acne. Take the tissue test to know your skin type.
  • Cosmetics: Most people use their bathing bar on the face too. This may be too harsh for the delicate skin on the face. Changing beauty products at random is an absolute NO. When you find certain products that go well with your skin and do not cause breakouts, stick to them instead of buying whatever catches your fancy. Avoid oil-based products, as they aggravate the problem. Other substances to avoid are sodium lauryl sulphate, laureth -4 and D and C red dyes.
  • Genetics: No matter how much care you take of your face, your flare ups are linked to your genes. If your parents suffered from this problem chances are you won’t be able to wish it away. But we can definitely take solace from the fact that acne is treatable if not curable.

Signs and symptoms of adult acne

Most adults end up with acne at some point in time. Apart from the face it can also appears on the back, buttocks, arms and underarms.

Acne may present itself as elevated pink spots called pimples. If the opening of the pore is clogged it is called a whitehead, but if it is deep-seated with dirt and debris, and has a wide opening on the skin it’s a blackhead.

Diagnosing adult acne

The diagnosis of acne is fairly simple due to its characteristic appearance. Sometimes acne scars may be visible in long standing cases.

Treatment for adult acne

Acne can be effectively treated using topical medication, oral antibiotics or both.

  • Topical medication includes benzoyl peroxide, retinoic acid and antibiotic ointments.
    Benzoyl peroxide is available in strengths of 2.5 – 5%. Generally, a lesser strength is prescribed as it may cause skin reddening and irritation.
    Retinoic acid acts as a peeling agent and is prescribed at night as it may cause irritation if skin is exposed to the sun after application.
  • Topical antibiotics like clindamycin are prescribed in some cases.
  • Oral drugs: Antibiotics like tetracycline or dapsone are prescribed in more severe cases.

Complications seen in adult acne:

The longer you live with acne without getting it treated, the more chances you have of the acne leaving permanent scars. Hence, it is advisable to consult a dermatologist promptly and follow a morning and nighttime skincare regimen daily to treat it and prevent it from getting worse.

If acne is disrupting your life, seek help from a counsellor or guide. The social stigma that acne causes should not be suffered in silence. Pursue hobbies, meet friends and relatives and don’t worry about it.

Adult acne prevention

Follow these tips and tricks for a clear complexion.

  • Take off make-up thoroughly: As soon as you’re home make it a habit to remove all make-up thoroughly. And to make the job easier, don’t put on lots of it in the first place.
  • Fine tune your cleansing technique: Use a mild cleanser like Cetaphil and then a toner. Now apply your topical medication. Cleansing should be done twice a day.
  • Leave it alone: Never squeeze pimple and whiteheads. Pimples means it is an inflammation and touching it may cause the infection to spread. The only exception is when the pimple has a yellow dot in the centre. That indicates pus inside and gently squeezing it will bring out the pus and enable it to heal faster. So in that case, squeeze the puss out till a little blood flows out.
  • Apply medication the right way: When applying an ointment don’t just apply it on the acne spot. Go half an inch around it as this prevents more pimples.
  • Don’t be too aggressive: Slathering on too many products at a time is detrimental. Use only those tubes prescribed by your doctor.

Written by Dr Nisreen Nakhoda, General Physician

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