How to Treat Adult Acne
Adult acne is different from teen acne.
More than half of women in their twenties experience breakouts. But instead of popping up in the oily T-zone area, as it did in high school, acne, which is caused by monthly surges in the hormones estrogen and progesterone, now appears as pink pimples on the lower part of the face in a V shape from the chin up the sides of your jaw. "If you are prone to hormonal breakouts, avoid spot treating," says Diane Berson, MD, president of the Women's Dermatologic Society. Instead, wash your face with a salicylic acid cleanser — we like Olay Acne Control Face Wash ($7, drugstores) — followed by a salicylic acid toner in oilier areas. Finally, treat those same zones with a gel that has benzoyl peroxide, like DDF Benzoyl Peroxide Gel 5% with Tea Tree Oil ($28, sephora.com).
Two acne fighters are better than one.
Salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide have been recommended separately by derms for decades. But according to a study from Harvard Medical School, when used in tandem the two OTC ingredients are just as effective as benzoyl peroxide plus the prescription antibiotic clindamycin. "Salicylic acid unclogs pores so that benzoyl peroxide, which treats the breakouts, can penetrate better," Dr. Berson says. A good combo: Neutrogena Rapid Clear Foaming Scrub ($7, drugstores) and La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo Dual Action Acne Treatment ($36, cvs.com).
Wash your face every night, even if you don't wear makeup.
Your skin collects pore-clogging oil during the day. And that's only half the story. According to a study in the American Journal of Epidemiology, there's also a link between air pollution and skin bumps. Researchers found that in the days after pollution levels increased, more people booked derm appointments. Keep oil-free face wipes, such as Clearasil Ultra Rapid Action Pads ($8, drugstores), on your night table for times you're just too exhausted to wash before bed.
Hidden Causes of Adult Acne
Your smartphone can give you pimples.
According to a recent study, 95 percent of health-care workers' phones contained germs, some of which are known to cause infections. And bacteria plus friction can make you break out. When your phone rubs against your jawline, it can irritate pores, creating inflammation, a cause of acne. Clean your phone with a disinfecting wipe a few times a week. "Better yet, use an adapter or earpiece if you plan on chatting for a while," suggests Francesca Fusco, MD, a dermatologist in New York City.
Your hair products may be causing zits.
Acne along the hairline can pop up when heavy ingredients settle into the skin on your forehead. "Hair products are created to coat strands, so on your face they can clog pores and cause nasty breakouts," says Ranella Hirsch, MD, a dermatologist in Boston. Always rinse your face after washing out conditioner, and if you are breakout prone, apply a thin barrier of skin moisturizer along your forehead before styling your tresses.
Gaining weight can make you break out.
Your family medical history can have a huge impact on your chances of being plagued with adult acne, but it's not the only contributing factor, Dr. Fusco says. Losing or gaining weight can throw off your levels of hormones, like cortisol and androgen, triggering pimples. "When one hormone increases or decreases, other hormone levels will also change, leading to increased oil production," she explains.
Sweat doesn't cause acne.
Working out is actually good for your skin. Exercise boosts your circulation, which can calm skin inflammation. "It's a myth that sweat itself causes acne, but it can create a bacteria buildup that can lead to breakouts," says Howard Sobel, MD, a dermatologist in New York City. To prevent this, remove all makeup before exercising and, if you're prone to body acne, wear cotton rather than lycra or nylon, which can trap blemish-triggering moisture, Dr. Sobel says. Within 30 minutes of finishing a workout, shower with a wash containing hydrating lipids, such as St. Ives Triple Butters Creamy Coconut Hydrating Body Wash ($3, drugstores), which will clean skin without stripping it.
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, May 2011.