Adult Acne: What Causes it?

adult acne

Lynnie's post about the Zeno for adult acne yesterday reminded me about a feature I wrote for the Sunday Tribune magazine way back in the summer. As she so correctly pointed out, there's been a huge rise in the amount of women in their 30s with the condition, and I know in my case, I've never stopped getting the occasional spot.

So what's causing it, and what can we do about it? Here's what I wrote:

Poll most 30-something women these days and you'll probably find that quite a lot of them are still plagued by outbreaks of spots, which, in some cases, have persisted since they were teenagers.

Acne is a hormone-lead condition, but once you're past the madly topsy-turvy stage of puberty, skin should calm down. That's the theory anyway, but according to Vicki Redfern, National Training Manager for the MD Formulations skincare brand in the UK, things have changed. "Women over 25 are now incredibly prone to adult acne and it's down to a combination of factors, including stress.

Stress levels affect testosterone  levels. That works to increase the sebaceous gland size and also increases oil production", she says. The contraceptive pill is another point of blame. "Women often come off the pill in their late 20s and early 30s, and as their hormones have been suppressed, their skin flares up when they stop taking it", Redfern advises.

Acne can rear its ugly head all of a sudden too, and in that case, she suggests you take a good look at your lifestyle. "While 50% of people still think that acne is diet-related, that's not true. It is hormone-related, and sometimes genetic", she reveals. "Instead, look at what's been happening recently: have you taken a course of antibiotics or steroids? Have you been under unusual stress, getting less sleep than usual, or have you recently switched skincare products?"

So, what to do? Unless you are suffering from upwards of 20 hard, deeply infected nodules, which will require antibiotics to treat, a good therapist who specialises in acne treatments should be able to help  mild and moderate cases without drug intervention.

Do seek help, Redfern urges, as "the older you are, the more likely it is that your skin will suffer from scarring".  She also points out that, "people need to understand that there is no quick fix. If you have acne, then lifelong treatment is needed, and it can get worse initially. This is what's known as a 'healing crisis'".


Typically, a therapist will assess your lifestyle as well as what your skin needs. Oil-free, anti-ageing products are a feature  of the MD Formulations acne line, a suite of products that provide results for troubled skin. Gentle exfoliation using AHA-based skincare, blackhead removal and home care products will form the core of your routine, and Redfern also points out that complementary therapies can help too. "Natural remedies are very good for hormone imbalances, in particular Evening Primrose oil and Vitamin B complex".

Dos and Don'ts
DO seek treatment. Only 3% of sufferers typically approach a therapist  for help.
DO treat skin kindly, and don't use harsh alcohol-based products and gritty exfoliators.
DO use oil-free moisturisers.
DO give new specialised skincare up to three months to work.
DO try Blue Light therapy (see below), which helps to safely kill bacteria in the skin.

DON'T self-medicate. Most supermarket and pharmacy brands are far too harsh for acned skin. They will strip the skin of excess oil, which can cause it to produce even more.
DON'T pick at spots. Yes, it can be hard to resist, but you'll end up with further infection and even scarring.
DON'T use sunbeds.  While you might see an immediate reduction in spots, the UV rays they emit destroy cells needed for your immune system, and can cause acne to come back 20 times more severely once you stop using them.

Light therapy is a really effective form of treatment for problem skins, and in particular, blue light can help to reduce the symptoms of acne. Different from the harsh glare emitted by sunbeds in that there are no UV rays involved, this treatment is backed by the US Food and Drug Administration and the American Society of Dermatologic Surgery -  plus, even NASA rates it.  Blue light helps to control the levels of bacteria on the skin, thus inhibiting the growth and spread of acne, and typically you'll need a course of treatments to really see results. Initially you'll typically have two 40 minute treatments per week for 6 weeks, and one treatment per month thereafter to maintain results.

Blue light therapy is available from €150 per session from Carter Beauty and Acne Clinic, 46A Patrick St, Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin, 01 280 8880.

The market abounds with treatments for problem skin, some better than others. We highlight five worth splashing out on.

It's not just our faces that suffer: acne has a horrible habit of migrating to neck, chest and back too, and those hard-to-reach areas often pose extra problems. Available in department stores and chemists, Clinique's Anti-Blemish Solutions line includes a clever Body Spray, €21.50, that's designed to address precisely this problem. Oil-free, it targets and clears breakouts, and it'll even spray upside down.

The Environ range is a whizz at treating skin complaints,  as it includes Vitamin A, a known sebum regulator. The anti-ageing component provided by the vitamin will help to maintain the youthfulness of your complexion too. Cleansing with Sebuwash, €17.30, morning and evening will help to regulate oil production and keep skin clear. Call 0044 208 450 2020 to find your nearest stockist.


Plant extracts and hard-working botanicals form the core of the new Purifying Duo, €27 each, from Darphin.   Blemish Clearing Gel can be applied directly to spots to help calm and heal; Overnight Refining Lotion should be used on the T-zone once or twice a week to help reduce oil output. Available from Arnotts and salons nationwide, 0044 870 034 2566.


French salon brand Matis add to their RÈponse PuretÈ line with a brand new Peel Off Masque, €22.50. Designed to control oil production and purify skin without irritating, the masque is an ideal once or twice a week treatment to supplement your skincare routine. Buy from Matis salons nationwide, 01 460 5055.


MD Formulations Vit-A-Plus Night Recovery, €60, is your best defence before bed. Vitamin A and salicylic and glycolic acids help to clear blemishes and resurface problem skin as you sleep - the savvy way to approach the problem. Available at spas and salons nationwide, including The Bodyclinic, 24a Wicklow Street, Dublin 2,  01 633 9900.

NOTE: Since this feature was written, salon brand Dermalogica have launched their latest range, MediBac Clearing. A fully-featured range designed specifically to target and treat adult acne, the 7-strong suite is designed to treat all levels of blemishes, and you can layer several products, or use one or two, depending on your needs. Skin treatments are available at Dermalogica salons nationwide. For one in your area, call 1800 556 785

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