Dealing with Adult Acne

Acne: it's not just for kids anymore. In fact, adult acne is more common than you might think

If you're one of the people who believe that only teens are supposed to get zits, I've got two words for you: adult acne. The teen acne myth is so prevalent that when grown-ups do get acne, they may fear that something very serious is wrong with them--that, for example, they've been exposed to a dangerous chemical.

But adult acne, while annoying and embarrassing, is usually benign in origin. So if you endure the occasional breakout into your late twenties or thirties--or even later--don't freak out. It's actually quite common, especially in women.

The Causes

Adult acne, just like teen acne, occurs when accumulations of dead skin cells, excess skin oil, and bacteria block skin pores. This can cause comedones (whiteheads and blackheads) as well as lumps under the skin and pustules; and like all acne, it most often occurs on the face, neck, back, and shoulders.

Hormonal changes are often the root cause of adult acne, which is why it's more common in women. For example, menopause, changes in menstrual cycles, birth control pills, and pregnancy--all of which can cause hormonal shifts--can result in breakouts.

But Wait, There's More

Cosmetics or skin care products can cause acne in some cases, especially if they're difficult to remove easily or if you don't give your skin enough attention. Dermatologists call this cosmetic acne. It can include pomade acne, in which oily hair treatments cause breakouts on the forehead, temples, and neck.

Genetics, some medications, and stress (which can also trigger hormonal changes) get the blame for many cases of adult acne. And then there are medical conditions like tumors, cortisol deficiency (a.k.a. adrenal hypoplasia), and polycystic ovarian syndrome (POS) that can cause unexpected acne.

What To Do About It

If you have no idea why you've developed acne as an adult, see your doctor before you try treating it. That way they can help you pinpoint the cause, and get you started on a treatment plan if you've got one of the aforementioned medical conditions--or put you on the right birth control pill if that's the problem.

They may also be able to ID the acne if one of your medications causes it. And speaking of meds, prescription drugs like Accutane (isotretinoin) and spironolactone can help you knock out some forms of acne that just won't go away with any other treatment.

Wax On, Wax Off

Don't forget the topical treatments if oral drugs don't do it. Clindamycin, erythromycin, retinoids, and good old benzoyl peroxide can all help. Otherwise, take good care of your skin, washing it frequently. Never pop those pimples, and avoid too much sun--sunburns can trigger adult acne breakouts.

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