Acne is not just for teenagers: Need-to-know information about adult acne
Find out the causes of this annoying skin condition and what you can do to treat and prevent it...
There are many things in life that seem to be intrinsically teenage-related - puppy love, braces, and acne are just a few of these. While most of these things generally disappear upon adulthood, some of them, like acne, unfortunately linger on.
Acne vulgaris, or acne, is definitely not just for teenagers. Many adults are plagued with this irritating skin condition too and are desperate to be rid of it.
What is acne?
There are small, oil-producing glands just under the surface of the skin. Small pores in the skin allow the sebum (oil), which is needed to keep skin supple and smooth, to emerge.
However, some people naturally produce more sebum than others. There are also certain triggers such as hormonal changes and environmental factors that may cause a person to produce more of it.
Dr. Karen Soh, who is the Medical Director of Privé Clinic in Singapore, says that acne often results from the inflammation of pores that may be clogged by an overproduction of sebum, dead skin cells, and bacterial infection.
According to the Health Promotion Board of Singapore (HPB), there are various types of acne pimples. For example:
- Comedones: These occur as a result of hair follicles being clogged with sebum, dead skin cells and sometimes bacteria. When comedones are open, they are called blackheads and when they are closed, they are known as whiteheads.
- Papules and pustules: These are caused by inflammation in the hair follicles and emerge as small, red bumps.
- Nodules: The build-up of secretions deep within the hair follicles causes these large, painful bumps.
- Cysts: These are painful, pus-filled lumps beneath the skin and may cause scars.
Causes of adult acne
Dr. Soh explains that in most cases, adult acne is related to hormonal fluctuations and changes particularly among women in their 20s and 30s.
She elaborates that adult acne may also be caused by:
- Increased sweating and oil build-up caused by Singapore’s hot and humid climate.
- Increased levels of hormones caused by stress, which in turn over-stimulate the oil glands.
- Other changes to your hormone levels caused by, for example, menopause or switching or stopping oral contraceptive pills.
- Some medications, including lithium, anti-seizure drugs and corticosteroids.
- Stress. In response to stress, your body might produce more of a type of hormone called androgens, which stimulate the oil glands and hair follicles in the skin, sometimes leading to acne.
- Family history. Some people may have a genetic predisposition for adult acne.
Treating acne the natural way
You only have to Google ‘natural ways of treating acne’ to be bombarded with hundreds of suggestions.
However, medical experts advice that not all alternative or natural acne treatment are effective. More alarming, though, is that some may even be harmful to your health.
However, there are a few natural remedies for acne that health professionals agree to be safe and may be effective for acne treatment. These are:
With its significant anti-bacterial and wound-healing properties that have been proven by numerous studies, active Manuka honey is an alternative treatment that is supposedly good for getting rid of acne.
If you are affected by adult acne and would like to try this remedy, then applying a thin layer of Manuka honey over the affected area is all that you need to do.
Tea Tree Oil
This is an essential oil extracted from the leaves of a tree found in Australia and has long been believed to be a safe and effective alternative treatment for acne.
A study found that 124 acne patients treated with 5% tea tree oil in a water-based gel had a notable reduction in acne lesions over a three-month period.
What’s more, study participants also reported a significantly lower incidence of side effects such as dryness, irritation and burning.
Do keep in mind that tea tree oil should never be taken orally as it can cause a range of toxic reactions. However, topical acne treatments that contain tea tree oil are considered to be safe for adults.
Topical ointments containing fruit acids such as citric, gluconic, gluconolactone, glycolic malic and tartaric are suggested by health experts as gentle and effective alternative treatments for acne.
This is a whole-fruit extract commonly used for treating pre-menstrual acne. It is though to act on hormones that stimulate hair follicles, causing them to produce more sebum, which in turn may contribute to acne outbreaks.
However, pregnant and nursing women should avoid taking vitex.
What to do when alternative treatments don’t work
Sometimes acne may be serious or persistent enough to warrant a visit to a dermatologist for treatment and advice.
Dr. Soh recommends topical ointments like retinoids or salicylic acid as effective treatments for acne. Oral prescriptions such as Oratane or antibiotics may be given when needed.
Dr. Soh elaborates that superficial acne can often be successfully treated with mild Chemical Peels or IPL while deeper scars respond better to laser treatment such as CO2.
However, keloidal scars (i.e. scars caused by excessive tissue repair due to trauma or surgical incision) often require injections into the lumpy areas to flatten and soften them.
At a clinic like Privé Clinic, sophisticated light technology using Blue Light is used to kill acne-causing bacteria on the skin.
There are also many things you can do at home to prevent the incidence and recurrence of acne.
- Dr. Soh recommends gentle face-washing twice a day. Washing more than twice a day may worsen acne, though.
- Skin-care products containing retinoic acid (a form of Vitamin A) are the latest breakthrough in acne-treatment products, and may help with treating and preventing acne.
- When choosing make-up, look for products with one or more of these labels: "non-comedogenic", "non-acnegenic", "oil-free", "won’t clog pores".
- Always remember to cleanse your face thoroughly of all make-up before you go to bed.
- The HPB recommends taking a shower after exercising or doing vigorous work in order to wash off excess oil and grime from the skin.
- Medical professionals, including those at the HPB, agree that picking or squeezing pimples should be avoided at all costs. Doing this can only cause further infection and scarring.
While adult acne can certainly be distressing, with a bit of time and patience it certainly can be resolved and hopefully banished for good!
theAsianparent would like to thank Dr. Karen Soh for her contribution to this article.
Have you ever suffered from adult acne? What did you do to help control acne outbreaks? Let us know by leaving a comment below.