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Managing Adult Acne

You're not a teenager anymore, so why is your skin breaking out after all these years? Could it be adult acne?

Hormones can lead to acne in adults, just as they do in teenagers. This is because they make your sebaceous glands produce too much sebum, an oily substance that lubricates your skin, says the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). When this occurs, the hair follicles connected to these glands can become clogged with sebum, dead skin cells and bacteria. The skin becomes inflamed, and whiteheads, blackheads, pimples, nodules, or cysts can form.

Shifting hormone levels make women prone to breakouts. This is especially true if you have ovarian cysts, are pregnant or are starting or stopping birth control pills. It's also why you may have blemishes about a week before menstruation begins.

It's a myth that eating chocolate or greasy foods causes breakouts, the AAD says. Stress, dirt and poor hygiene aren't the problem, either.

But, a family history of acne may mean that you're more likely to develop it. Some medications also may cause breakouts. Whatever the reason, you can do something about it.

Tips for self-care

  • Don't pick or squeeze pimples. It may seem like the best thing to do, but picking or squeezing a pimple may spread bacteria and cause more acne. Your skin will become more irritated, and you run the risk of scarring.

  • Use noncomedogenic, oil-free cosmetics and other products. They won't clog your pores. Avoid astringents and alcohol-based cleansers, because they may irritate your skin.

  • Wash your face gently with your hands. Use a mild cleanser with warm water, and rinse well. Abrasive soaps, masks, exfoliating products or coarse cloths may worsen acne.

  • Protect skin from the sun. Acne may be less noticeable with a tan, but it's still there. Too much sun raises your risk of more serious problems, such as skin cancer. So, wear noncomedogenic sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15.

Acne treatment

Your treatment depends on the severity of your acne and what's causing it, the AAD says. Medicine may help heal current blemishes and prevent future outbreaks, although it may take a couple of months before you see results. Over-the-counter or prescription creams and lotions with benzoyl peroxide, resorcinol, salicylic acid, or sulfur may help reduce oil and unblock pores. Your health care provider may prescribe topical medications, such as tretinoin, adapalene or tazarotene, topical antibiotics, or higher concentrations of benzoyl peroxide. In more resistant cases, you doctor may prescribe oral antibiotics.

Some prescription medications, especially isotretinoin (such as Accutane), hormonal therapy and oral tetracyclines, can cause birth defects. Never use acne medications without talking with your provider first if you are pregnant, could become pregnant or are breast-feeding.

Remember to follow your provider's instructions exactly, and be patient. If you don't see improvement in a couple of months, or if you have side effects, tell your provider. Another treatment may work for you.