The Ultimate Guide to Adult Acne


Adult acne is a skin condition closely related to emotional distress, and statistics suggest it is on the increase. With stress, hormonal and environmental factors all playing a role in its development, it’s no surprise to hear that we are currently experiencing a national peak.

If you are suffering from an adult acne attack, know that you are not alone. In fact, it is estimated that 15% of adult women have suffered from this disease.

Here, the experts explain everything you need to know about adult acne, from the triggers that could be causing yours, to the best lines of attack.

What is acne?

“Acne is a skin condition characterized by bumps or pimples on the skin that are the result of clogged hair follicles,” says general practitioner and holistic esthetics specialist Dr Rabia Malik.

“In medical terms, acne is a disorder of the pilosebaceous unit of the skin, which consists of a hair follicle and its associated sebaceous or sebaceous gland. Blocking or inflaming it leads to acne, ”adds Dr. Terry Loong, skin specialist at GetHarley and author of The Hormonal Acne Solution.

What are the main causes of acne in adults?

According to Dr. Malik, acne in adults is often caused by hormonal changes, which lead to increased sebum production. “It can happen at different stages of the menstrual cycle, during pregnancy or as a result of certain conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome,” she says.

Dr Loong also believes that hormonal fluctuations are the root cause of most acne breakouts, adding that “hormonal imbalance can make the sebum more sticky and thick, hindering movement out of the lining of the pores, causing breakouts. clogs “.

Acne can also be triggered by inflammation of the intestines. “This is another common cause of acne in adults and may be due to a number of factors, including certain dietary triggers (such as gluten or dairy in those who might be intolerant)” , explains Dr. Malik. “Although there is no conclusive evidence on the link between diet and acne, some studies have suggested that a high glycemic index diet may make acne worse, due to the impact of spikes. insulin on other hormones. ”

Of course, acne can also be affected by external factors, such as the products you apply topically. “The use of certain skin products or cosmetics can also be a cause of acne in adults. For example, thick creams or foundation that is not completely removed can lead to follicle blockage, ”says Dr. Malik.

Are certain skin types more prone to adult acne?

“Oily skin is more prone to adult acne because overactive sebaceous glands increase the risk of follicle blockage.

“Women are also more likely to have acne in adulthood than men, mainly due to hormonal changes related to the menstrual cycle and throughout life (especially during pregnancy),” explains Dr. Malik.

Unfortunately, acne in adults is also present in families. In 2018, an in-depth study revealed previously unknown links between genetics and acne, suggesting that differences in hair follicle shape may influence the development of the disease.

Understanding the different types of acne lesions

Not all acne is created equal and there are actually several key categories of lesions. By identifying the person (s) you are dealing with, you can better target your treatment.

“Acne occurs when the sebaceous glands (which are attached to hair follicles) produce too much sebum, causing the hair follicle to block. If the blocked follicle is close to the surface of the skin, a white point forms and swells outward, ”says Dr Malik.

Contrary to popular opinion, “blackheads” are not caused by dirt that gets trapped in the pores. “Blackheads form when clogged follicles open up on the skin, causing the melanin to oxidize which results in a black appearance,” says Dr. Malik.

“Hair follicles can also become inflamed or infected with an overgrowth of normal skin bacteria, resulting in papules, pustules, nodules or cysts,” she adds. Pauples are “raised areas of skin that are different in tone or texture” while pustules are “bulging areas of skin containing yellowish fluid”. Nodules appear as lumps that develop under the skin, while cysts are “fluid-filled lumps just below the surface of the skin.”

The rise of maskne

When the pandemic set in and wearing a mask became mandatory, a new beauty buzzword entered our lexicon. “Maskne” refers to the development of rashes around the mouth and on the cheeks, and has affected many women who previously had largely fair skin. According to Dr. Malik, this “maskne” occurs “due to the combination of sweat, heat and pressure or friction on the skin, especially for those who wear masks for long periods of time.” She recommends avoiding foundation under a mask and cleaning the skin as soon as possible after removing it for the day.

It’s also worth considering investing in a mask made from silk or natural fibers, as they can be washed off after each use and are significantly more breathable than synthetic alternatives.

Fighting acne in adults: the first steps

Rethinking exfoliation

According to Dr. Malik, there is a trend in skin care in particular that is fueling an increase in cases of acne in adults. “Recently, I’ve seen a lot more skin irritation from excessive exfoliation,” she says. “Skin care routines that result in disruption of the skin barrier can certainly trigger acne and rashes. Using too much product or using products with a very high percentage of active ingredients can lead to skin irritation. the skin.

If you suffer from acne, abandon alpha-hydroxy-acid exfoliating products in favor of a product containing a poly-hydroxy acid: with a larger molecular structure, these acids penetrate less effectively and are therefore easier. to be tolerated by the skin.

Likewise, Dr. Loong also cites the overuse of “active” products as the cause of many cases of self-inflicted acne. There is a trend that I see with over-exfoliation and too frequent use of active ingredients, for the skin to become inflamed, ”she says. This often results in a damaged skin barrier, which means increased sensitivity and inflammation – it’s a vicious cycle.

Talk about your diet

Dr Malik recommends aiming for a “low glycemic index diet and eating more pre and probiotic foods to improve your gut health.” A probiotic supplement is also a good thing: she recommends Symprove and Optibac. “Keeping a food diary can also help you determine if there are any food triggers for your acne such as diary, gluten, and sugar.” She adds.

Keep calm

Dr Loong also believes that an increase in stress levels contributes to the prevalence of acne cases in adults today. “Stress affects our levels of cortisol which, when constantly elevated, can increase inflammation, affect gut health and hormone balance. Additionally, stress can disrupt sleep, induce skin picking and increase food intolerances, ”she says, adding that“ stress tends to increase alcohol or caffeine intake, both of which can dehydrate the skin, so the skin compensates by producing more sebum. . “

Acne Treatments for Adults – Clinic Options

For acute acne breakouts, you may want to consider seeking professional help. “I always recommend consulting a skin expert to help you design the ideal home care routine for your skin, and this can certainly be supported by in-clinic treatments,” says Dr. Malik.

“Peels are one of my favorite adult acne treatments because they are effective in unclogging hair follicles by dissolving dead skin cells and excess sebum on the skin’s surface,” says she. “Mandelic acid is effective for inflamed acne, and treatments with salicylic acid are especially good for blackheads and whiteheads.”

Although a face-to-face meeting is not possible at this time, many experts currently offer virtual consultations, where personalized advice and topical prescriptions can be administered following a full video chat. Dr Loong offers 30-minute consultations through the GetHarley aesthetic platform, while time with Dr Malik can be booked through his website.

Acne Treatments For Adults – The Home Routine

According to Dr. Loong, effectively managing adult acne requires a three-step program. First of all, you need to reduce the inflammation in the skin, which “will improve the redness and restore the balance of the sebum”. Once the inflammation is managed, you can work to restore the stratum corneum (or skin barrier) and possibly encourage healthy skin regeneration, healing the scars left by previous breakouts.

“Finding the right cleanser is probably the most important first step, as it’s crucial to cleanse the pores and prevent sebum build-up in the hair follicles,” says Dr. Malik. While many teen-focused acne lines remove excess oil with harsh astringents, adult skin is generally drier, so consider a soft cream or milk that won’t strip the skin.

There are several great ingredients to use on acne prone skin, but it’s crucial to start slowly, especially with something new to you. Dr Malik highlights salicylic acid to dissolve excess sebum in the pores, as well as a nocturnal retinol to stimulate cell renewal. Dr. Loong also rates niacinamide and zinc for their anti-inflammatory and protective properties.

Of course, there are also some ingredients that are important to avoid. Olive oil, coconut oil, and cocoa butter could potentially clog pores, making things worse.

At the end of the day, everyone’s skin is different, and getting to the root of your acne can be a long process. While there is no single path that leads everyone to clear, healthy skin, the principles of reducing inflammation and treating the skin barrier with kindness are the universal first steps that everyone takes. should use.

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