Going Below the Surface to Prevent Adult Acne

January 23, 2017 Blanca Bisuna, MD


Puberty may be a distant blur in the rear-view mirror, but it doesn't mean you won't get a pimple. Adult acne is common--studies have found that up to 64 percent of American men and women in their 20s, and 43 percent in their 30s, have dealt with adult acne. For some people, breakouts can occur even into their 40s and 50s.

"Just as acne is distressing for teens, it takes a toll on adults," says Blanca Bisuna, MD, a board-certified family medicine physician at Mission Heritage Medical Group. "Adult acne can be an annoyance when a pimple pops up before a big work meeting or social function, and it can be devastating in more severe instances. In one 2014 study, one-third of women with chronic cases of adult acne reported feelings of anxiety or depression."

Because adult acne is so common, and because it can disrupt a person's daily life, it's no surprise that there is an abundance of topical treatments and skin-care regimens designed to stop breakouts. But when it comes to adult acne, prevention is more than skin deep. "There are things you can do that go beyond just using soap, lotions and creams to help control adult acne," Dr. Bisuna says. Among them:

  • Know your hormone levels. "Hormone imbalances are the main cause of adult acne," Dr. Bisuna says. "Women are more susceptible to adult acne than men, and it's likely due to hormone fluctuations women experience during menstruation, pregnancy, perimenopause and menopause. If you are experiencing persistent or chronic adult acne, you may want to get your hormone levels checked by your physician. If there is a problem, the physician may prescribe medication, such as antibiotics or birth control pills. Your doctor may also look for a medical condition that could be causing the hormonal issues, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome."
  • Manage stress. "Stress produces hormones that trigger oil glands, which can lead to adult acne," Dr. Bisuna says. "While it's hard to avoid stress, it can be managed. Deep breathing, meditation and other relaxation techniques can help you let go of stress, reducing the chance of breakouts. Exercise is helpful, as well, whether it's an intense cardio workout or something more mindful, such as yoga." Finally, get enough sleep, ideally seven to eight hours a night. "Lack of sleep and stress feed each other--the less sleep you get, the more likely you are to get stressed out, which in turn can make you lose sleep," Dr. Bisuna says.
  • Stop smoking. A study in the journal Dermato-Endocrinology found a correlation between smoking and cases of adult acne. "In fact, the study authors said severe cases could be called 'smoker's acne'," Dr. Bisuna says. "Smoking is bad for your health, and it's bad for your skin."
  • Look at your medications. "Breakouts can be a side effect of some medications, such as some steroids or anti-seizure drugs," Dr. Bisuna says. "You should never stop taking a prescribed medication. But if you feel it could be causing your adult acne, set up an appointment with your doctor to discuss possible ways to alleviate the problem, such as changing the medication."
  • Watch what you eat. "While there are differing schools of thought on how much of a role diet plays in adult acne, you should aim to eat healthy meals with a lot of fresh produce," Dr. Bisuna says. "A poor diet may make adult acne worse for people who are already prone to it because of hormonal problems." 

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.



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