Adult Acne is Frustrating but Treatable

Adult Acne is Frustrating but Treatable

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Acne is common in teenagers, but it can also linger and become a more persistent problem for women in their late 20s, 30s, or 40s or even later. Acne typically occurs when hair follicles (tiny sacs from which hair grows, also called pores) become clogged by oil and dead skin cells. Acne causes pimples, whiteheads, blackheads, or cysts, usually on the:

  • Face
  • Chest
  • Upper back
  • Shoulders

If you’re frustrated and not satisfied with how your skin is looking, a dermatologist can help. Let’s look at what causes adult acne, how it’s treated, and how you can protect your skin.

LISTEN: Dr. Ronkainen discusses adult acne in the Medical Intel podcast.

What Causes Acne?

While bacteria and inflammation are the two main culprits, one or more of the following can lead to the development of acne:

  • Hormones: Changes in hormone levels tend to occur during menstrual periods, pregnancy, perimenopause (the years leading up to menopause), and menopause. They can also result from stopping or starting birth control pills. An imbalance in hormones can lead to acne breakouts.
  • Stress: According to the American Academy of Dermatology, research has shown a connection with stress and acne flareups. When we’re stressed, our bodies produce more hormones, and the hormones trigger our oil glands and hair follicles, which can lead to acne.
  • Family history: Similar to other health issues, some studies say certain people may have a genetic predisposition for acne. People who have this predisposition seem more likely to get adult acne.
  • Hair and skin care products: What you’re putting on your hair or skin can cause acne. First, you need to make sure that the products that you’re using on your skin are not blocking your pores. Use products that are labeled non-acnegenic, non-comedogenic or oil-free.
  • Medications: Acne can be a side effect of certain medicines. If you suspect that a medicine is triggering your acne or making it worse, continue taking the medicine, but talk with the doctor who prescribed it.

Patients often ask if diet can influence the risk of developing acne. There is one study that shows a correlation between skim milk and an increased development of acne. We don’t know exactly why that is, but patients in the study who drank regular or whole-fat milk did not have increased development of acne.

We also see patients with inflammatory bumps or acne-like lesions on the body. Most of the time, these are related to folliculitis, which is an infection of the hair follicles. This infection usually happens on areas of the skin that are covered by clothes, such as the buttocks or the thighs.

Treatment for Acne

If you have moderate or frequent breakouts, you can benefit from consulting with a dermatologist. Acne treatment usually begins by discussing your home skin care regimen. This information helps us know what has or has not worked, and then we can fine-tune your treatment.

There are many over-the-counter treatment options for acne, and there are different ingredients that patients can try. Benzoyl peroxide is a classic treatment for acne that targets the bacteria that grows on the skin. There’s also salicylic acid, which helps prevent pores from becoming clogged. Glycolic acid removes the outside layer of dead skin cells and leaves your skin brighter and fresher. Sulfur also removes dead skin cells and can help remove excess oil. These products can be coupled with prescription products such as topical antibiotics, topical retinoids, or oral medications if necessary. Acne can be frustrating to treat. Patients want quick results, and it can take up to three months to see if a new acne regimen is going to work.

As tempting as it is, patients should not pop their pimples. Breaking the skin can cause more inflammation and scarring in the long run. If patients have a really deep, painful acne bump, they can come into the clinic and have an injection of anti-inflammatory medication to help soothe the area. Trying to pop the pimple yourself tends to be a more frustrating process for patients in the long run.

Acne is common in teenagers, but it can also linger and become a more persistent problem for women in their late 20s, 30s, 40s, or even later, says Dr.  Ronkainen via @MedStarWHC

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The Best Source for Acne Care

At MedStar Washington Hospital Center, we provide evaluation, diagnosis, management, and treatment for a full range of diseases of the skin. Our team of board-certified dermatologists and experienced dermatology nurse practitioners provides head-to-toe care for common skin disorders. We collaborate with colleagues to care for patients whose skin may be affected by HIV, infectious diseases, and malignancies such as cutaneous lymphomas. We see acne patients every day in our clinic, and there’s nothing more satisfying than having a patient come back three months after you started them on a regimen and seeing how well they’re doing.

Adult acne is very common, and it’s important to know you’re not alone. With a dermatologist’s help, you can find a regimen to help heal your skin.

Experiencing acne breakouts? Request an appointment with a dermatologist below or call 202-877-3627.

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