You’ve reached that age where you’re focused on battling grey hairs, wrinkles and age spots. You have a regimen down that has you feeling and looking youthful. Then one day you wake up with a pimple and then the next day a few more. You are suddenly thrown back to the social anxiety you had as a teenager. How is this fair? Why is this happening? And how can you fix it while still focusing on fighting your mature skin problems?
Is adult acne really “a thing”?
Sad but true, many adults get acne well into their 30s, 40s, and even 50s. According to acne.org, 25% of adult men and 50% of adult women will experience acne at some point in their adult lives. Similar to teenage acne, adult acne is caused when dead skin cells build up and clog your pores, causing oil to and bacteria to get trapped inside. The location of the adult acne flare-ups will most likely be different then when you were a teen. Adult women usually experience acne in the v-zone (jawline, chin, lower cheeks and upper neck) vs in the t-zone (forehead, nose, chin) when they were teens.
Why does adult acne happen?
Adult acne breakouts can be triggered by stress and fluctuating hormone levels (during period, pregnancy and menopause) all of which stimulate oil glands. Other triggers are family history, medication side effects and undiagnosed medical conditions. It may seem strange that you can have both acne and signs of aging such as dry skin, wrinkles and sun spots at the same time, but it isn’t. As we age, our skin has a harder time holding on to water so it gets drier. As a woman experiences hormonal changes, her pores are triggered to produce more oil so skin feels dry and oily at the same time. If the oil gets trapped then pimples occur. At the same time, the stress hormone cortisol that causes increased oil production and breakouts also causes a break down in collagen, which leads to wrinkles and sagging skin. The skin care and make-up products we use for more mature, dry skin to control aging can also acne. Many are formulated to add oil to the skin, not control it and they can clog pores in those with acne prone skin.
How to treat it and prevent it from coming back
Getting rid of adult acne can take a little trial and error. Because your skin is more mature, some of the treatments that worked for you as a teen, may not work for you now.
What not to do:
Do NOT over-scrub the skin, pick at or pop pimples, or overuse acne treatments that can dry skin out. All of which can damage mature skin and make it more susceptible to irritation and acne. The inflammation caused from being overly aggressive with your skin can also break down collagen and eventually lead to more wrinkles.
Re-evaluate your skin care regimen:
If you are experiencing adult acne, make sure your moisturizer, cleanser, sunscreen, and all other products state on the label that they are; Non-comedogenic, Non-acnegenic, Oil-free or Won’t clog pores.
Cleanser – A mild cleanser should be enough for an adult-acne and anti-aging regimen. The daily use of an acne wash may be too drying for mature skin, which could trigger more oil secretion and pimples. To maintain moisture balance, consider supplementing your mild cleanser with a spot treatment where needed to treat flare-ups without irritation.
Moisturizers are still a must when you have adult acne, but you need to avoid heavy creams. Try light formulations like serums, gels, and lotions, and for more intense hydration, stick to oil-free anti-agers designed for acne-prone skin, Look for ingredients such as ceramides to restore the lipid barrier, which holds moisture in skin, or anti-inflammatories, like niacinamide, to calm skin.
Start at home: For singular pimples, you can start with over-the-counter medicated spot treatments with benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid or sulfer. Spot treatments have the highest concentration of active ingredients so only use on the pimple to avoid over drying the rest of your skin.
Entire face: If the problem is more wide spread you can try an over the counter treatment lotion meant to be applied to the entire face with benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid or alpha-hydroxy acid (including glycolic acid, lactic acid, and gluconic acid). These can help treat the current acne while helping to prevent new breakouts that are brewing under the surface. Be careful when combining these with products used to fight wrinkles since using too many products at once can dry out skin (link to less is more articles). The best over-the counter-treatment for both acne and wrinkles would be a lotion with retinol. A derivative of Vitamin A, retinoid is known for of its ability to exfoliate and unclog pores as well as stimulates the production of collagen, which can firm and reduce wrinkles.
See a Dermatologist
It can take time for any acne treatment to show results. If you are still experiencing the problem after 4-6 weeks, it may be best to see your dermatologist. Your doctor can prescribe stronger creams, or other medications that help, such as antibiotics and low-dose birth control pills. Prescription retinoid creams such as Retin-A, Renova, and Avage are still found to be the most effective to treat acne and signs of aging. More powerful than the retinol creams you can get over-the-counter, they stimulate collagen production to smooth out fine lines and wrinkles, exfoliate surface skin, and fade brown spots.
Don’t forget sunscreen
One of the best anti-aging treatments is still prevention so wearing SPF is critical to help prevent wrinkles and sun spots. Those who suffer from acne should still wear SPF because many prescription acne treatments make skin more susceptible to sun damage. If you still need another reason to wear SPF, in some people, UVA exposure can increase the odds that a breakout will leave a dark spot, know as hyperpigmentation even after the pimple is gone. Look for sunscreen that is non-comedigenic.