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Adult acne: What to do when your skin still thinks you’re a teen

Lisa Fogarty

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Lisa Fogarty

Lisa Fogarty has written numerous articles for USA Today, The Stir, Opposing Views and other publications. She has covered everything from red carpet events to the discovery of toxic PCBs on school windows. She lives on Long Island, N.Y....

The story behind adult acne and what the heck you can do about it

The only good thing about getting acne in your 30s is that you won't have to worry about looking good for the school dance.

Your successful career, beautiful family and stellar self-confidence, which you would have killed to have when you were 16 and battling acne, doesn't make it any easier to wake up the morning before you have a big meeting and confront the fact that your skin was waging war with itself while you slept.

If anything, it can make you even more bitter and confused. Fine lines? Fine. Totally understandable. Dry skin and melasma associated with pregnancy? Annoying, but you learn to accept these realities as necessary evils. But pimples and blackheads and whiteheads? No, no, and no.

Dr. Marina l. Peredo, an associate clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, said that adult acne begins to make its unwelcome appearance in the late 20s and that, unlike teen acne, which is comprised of blackheads and whiteheads, adult acne tends to be cystic. If you've ever had a cystic pimple, you know they are no joke. They're like the big bullies of the acne world; They occur deeper in the skin when a clogged pore becomes infected with bacteria and, aside from looking like hell on your face, can be painful and itchy.

If you're one of a gazillion women who breaks out in pimples around that time of the month, run to the pharmacy, grab a benzoyl peroxide treatment, and consider yourself fortunate. Peredo says adult acne, with all its gorgeous cystic breakouts, doesn't respond to over-the-counter treatments and needs to be treated by a dermatologist.

"Adult acne is generally triggered by hormones and shows up on the lower half of the face," Peredo said. "Some forms of birth control, pregnancy, peri-menopause and stress are all triggers."

So, now that we all know what adult acne is, here's an even more important question: How the heck do we ensure we never get it? Peredo says the first step isn't one you haven't heard before: Keep your skin clean! Wash off all of your makeup every night and don't neglect the power of eating a well-balanced diet rich in vitamins and as few preservatives as you can find. And, since you're an adult now and racked with anxieties, exercise and consider learning relaxation techniques to relieve your stress.

Since cystic acne is difficult to treat, Peredo suggests using topical prescription-strength tertian, micro-resurfacing and chemical peels that contain salicylic acid. If you find yourself with an incredibly painful cyst, you new BFF — your dermatologist — can inject corticosteroid straight into that sucker.

So, yeah, yeah, you plan on visiting your doctor every month and are practicing your OMs and eating broccoli. Let's talk products, specifically, acne products that won't dry out your skin and aggravate fine lines — which weren't a concern back when you were 15 and willing to coat your face with toothpaste.

First and foremost, Peredo reminds us to wear sunscreen because ingredients like tretinoin are extremely drying. Her recommendations include Neocutis Journee Bio-restorative Day Cream, Colorscience Sunforgettable and Elta MD.

Now, maybe you're reading this and thinking: That sounds great. But what are some natural ways to combat adult acne?

Aimee Raupp, author, acupuncturist, herbalist and founder of Aimee Raupp Beauty, says she always looks at environmental factors first when treating acne and that she prefers working with patients to change their diet, improve their sleep, manage their stress and stop using over-the-counter "acne fighting" cleansers that she says strip the skin of necessary oils.

"The key is to balance the skin from the inside out and then to properly hydrate the skin topically, usually with oil-based products," Raupp said.

As far as products go, Raupp says she loves coconut oil and sesame oil for acne-prone aging skin and recommends a product she makes called "Organic Balancing Oil," that contains ingredients like coconut oil, sweet almond oil, argan oil and other ingredients that she says fight acne, but keep skin hydrated.

It's never easy to deal with acne, regardless of our age. But with information at our disposal and a few good tips, we’ll feel more in control of our skin and more beautiful.

More about acne

How to get rid of blackheads without popping them
Yes, pee cures pimples
Adult acne: A new epidemic

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