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Get a handle on adult acne

Living with acne is a reality for many adults. Many people assume breakouts end after high school graduation, but some struggle with acne flare-ups in their 20s, 30s, 40s and beyond.

If you’re dealing with adult acne, know you’re not alone. Americans spend more than $2.2 billion each year on prescriptions and over-the-counter products to combat acne, which is the most common skin disorder in the United States.

What is acne?

So what exactly causes acne? Pimples form when hair follicles become blocked, causing an accumulation of oil under the skin.

Did you know?

  • Between 40 and 55 percent of adults between 20 and 40 are diagnosed with acne.
  • Females are more likely to have adult acne.
  • Males are more likely to experience acne scarring.
  • People in their 80s can get acne.
  • Picking at or squeezing blemishes can lead to more breakouts.
  • Acne is not caused by poor hygiene.

“Believe it or not, cleaning your skin regularly does not have that much of an impact on preventing acne. In fact, I advise patients to apply retinoids directly onto their skin without washing it, even if they have makeup on. This cuts down on the irritation that the medicated ointment may cause,” says Melissa Babcock, M.D., a dermatologist at Piedmont.

Primary causes of adult acne

The most common causes of adult acne are:

  • Genetics. If acne runs in the families of both parents, three out of four children may suffer from breakouts.
  • Hormonal changes. High levels of testosterone may trigger adult acne. Women who experience greater hormonal fluctuations may be more susceptible.
  • Processed foods. While there is not a great deal of substantial data to support this link, Dr. Babcock advises patients to minimize processed foods in their diets.
  • Stress. Stress triggers hormonal changes that can lead to acne.

Treatment options for adult acne

With age, skin becomes more sensitive and acne products marketed to teenagers may be too drying. A dermatologist can help identify the right acne treatment for your skin type. 

  • Retinoids are topical medications that contain vitamin A. Not only do retinoids fight breakouts, they are also used for anti-aging purposes.  
  • Antibiotics work quickly, but should not be taken long-term.
  • Hormones (birth control) are not recommended for long-term use in women over the age of 35 because of the risk for blood clots.
  • Spironolactone is a great option for those who suffer from other hormone-related conditions, such as female pattern hair loss and chin hair growth. It also can help reduce high blood pressure and can be taken long term.
  • Isotretinoin should only be used for severe cases. It dramatically reduces sebum production (sebum is the oily or waxy matter that can clog pores). This medication requires close physician monitoring.

You don’t have to live with adult acne. Talk to your physician about the right treatment options for you. To find a physician, click here

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