The Skin You're In

Debunking ugly acne myths.

Although acne is typically associated with adolescence, it can have an adverse emotional impact on individuals throughout life. Teens with acne never imagine it could persist well into their 40s and 50s. However, statistics reveal that nearly half of dermatologists’ acne patients are adults. Two-thirds of dermatologists see more adult acne patients than they did one year ago. In fact, acne is the most common skin disorder, affecting more than 17 million Americans.

Many adult acne patients seek dermatological care for the sometimes painful breakouts and unsightly eruptions that can yield physical discomfort and self-esteem issues. For many women, the acne they once feared would flare up before prom as a teenager resurfaces into their adult years. And some women did not have acne problems as a teen, but suffer from adult acne. Whatever the scenario, it can spur anxiety for important occasions like weddings and job interviews. Just recently, I had one patient in tears about an interview for an executive position. She feared she would not be considered for the job because of her acne and resulting lack of confidence. People with adult acne have also been known to refrain from asking for or accepting a date, cancel social plans and get passed over for a promotion or raise— all of which dramatically affect their lives.

What causes adult acne?

Nearly everybody thinks that acne surfaces from poor hygiene. It does not. Adult acne is caused by sebum, an oily substance produced by the skin’s sebaceous glands. Sebum clogs pores, and when it does, it attracts bacteria and becomes inflamed. For most adults, breakouts are a result of hypersensitivity to androgens (male hormones). But an imbalance in both male and female hormones (estrogen) can also cause breakouts. For women, this can happen during pregnancy, perimenopause and menopause. Some medications, such as corticosteroids, and cosmetics also trigger breakouts.

Most adult patients wonder, “How can I have acne and wrinkles at the same time?” Although it is frustrating dealing with aging skin that is prone to breakouts, there are some simple solutions. See a board-certified dermatologist who may prescribe a treatment plan similar to this:

  1. Use a non-soap cleanser, preferably one with glycolic and salicylic acid, such as Vivite’s Daily Facial Cleanser.
  2. Apply a topical antibacterial lotion or products with benzoyl peroxide and/or retinol creams such as Skin Medica’s Retinol Complex.
  3. If you have persistent acne, ask a dermatologist about oral antibiotics. Also consider Accutane, another safe and effective treatment for resistant cases. Blood tests are required for the typical five-month course of Accutane therapy. The use of Accutane is prohibited for pregnant women.

Every case of acne is unique. See your dermatologist for the most effective results. Dermatologists often have samples for you to try. People can spend a fortune on over-the-counter medicines. There might be one single prescription drug or product that could solve the problem.

Debunking Common Acne Myths

Myth: Tanning or sun exposure can cure acne.
Fact: Getting a tan or mere exposure to the sunlight may cause the skin to become darker, thus temporarily concealing the redness of acne. But once the tan disappears, the acne is still there. Also, tanning or sunbathing may cause dryness and irritation to the skin. And worse, it can increase the risk of premature aging and cancer of the skin. Instead, use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 that will not clog pores. Such sunscreen is referred to as non-acnegenic or non-comedogenic.

Myth: Eating fried, oily and fatty foods can cause acne.
Fact: There is no scientific basis on the belief that a greasy diet, including eating French fries, pizza or chocolate, causes acne. Certain foods can worsen but not cause acne. Such foods include those that have high a calcium content, like milk, or high iodine content, such as seafood.

Myth: Acne is brought about by poor hygiene.
Fact: Skin infections may be related to acne in some ways. But poor hygiene is actually not the cause for the outbreaks of acne. Oil combines with dead cells and produces acne. This occurs beneath the surface of the skin where it is impossible to reach and clean away.

Myth: You have to let acne run its course.
Fact: Acne can be cleared up. If over-the-counter acne products haven’t worked for you, consider seeing a board-certified dermatologist. With the treatments available today, there is no reason why someone should endure acne or get acne scars.