ACNE: Does it ever end?
There is a common misconception that people outgrow their acne once they cross the magical threshold into adulthood. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, adult acne is a common problem for females between the ages of 20 and 40 (even beyond) — one in five women in this age group suffers from adult acne. Men also experience acne breakouts well beyond the teenage years. So why do you have adult acne? Well, the answer isn’t cut and dry. There are many factors that contribute to it, but thankfully there are just as many ways to treat it.
What causes Adult Acne?
One of the several causes of acne is sebum, which is an oily substance produced by the skin’s sebaceous (oil) glands. Sebum clogs pores by attracting bacteria and forming a pimple. Another cause for acne could be changes in/or imbalances of hormone levels—more specifically, an overproduction of androgens (male hormones). Hormones cause the sebaceous glands to over produce oil, which leads to breakouts. For women, such changes in hormones can occur from use of oral contraceptive pills with androgen in them or during pregnancy, perimenopause, and menopause. Other factors that can contribute to the development of adult acne, include stress, certain medications, and cosmetics. Stress causes oil glands to over produce. People who take steroids, mood stabilizers, anxiety, seizure, and thyroid meds are also more prone to developing acne. Cosmetics containing oil can lead to clogged pores. It’s important to choose the right makeup for your skin type, as well as to have good “cosmetic hygiene.”
Can it be treated?
Treating adult acne is easier than you think. The most important factor is to determine its cause. This is where a Dermatology Provider excels. We know skin. We know the different “stages” skin goes through, depending on your age. Most teenagers have a more oily skin type. However, adults more commonly have a drier skin type. So treatments need to be sensitive to your skin type. As Dr. Carney says, “No two patients are alike.”
An effective treatment plan requires a trial-and-error approach, and it needs to be catered to your specific skin needs. Once the right plan is developed and adopted, you are on your way to clear skin. However, even with the right treatment plan, treating acne takes time. This can be incredibly frustrating because you want your skin to be clear…yesterday. However, skin has a “cycle” and it can take 8-12 weeks to see results. So be patient, stick with your anti-acne skin care plan, and expect to see results.
So the acne is gone now, but what is this dark spot?
When severe acne is not treated appropriately it can leave behind permanent scars. Even after acne clears, areas of discoloration are often left behind. These marks can be pink, red, purple, brown, or black, depending on your skin tone. Discoloration occurs because there has been injury to the skin from an inflammatory acne lesion and it needs to heal, much like a wound. This is called Post Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation or “PIH” and the more inflamed a breakout, the larger and darker the PIH area tends to be. Picking or popping a pimple increases the chance of developing PIH and even puts one at a higher risk for permanent scarring—DON’T PICK. PIH is very common among acne sufferers and occurs in all skin types, affecting both men and women equally. Fortunately, PIH is not true scarring.
How do I get rid of PIH?
Post inflammatory hyperpigmentation will fade over time, even without treatment. The key word here is time. Hyperpigmentation can take months to fully resolve. The time it takes for PIH to fade depends on the darkness of the discoloration compared to your skin tone. There are treatment options available to help fade PIH, however, acne should be under control, before beginning treatment. We strongly recommended the use a broad-spectrum sunscreen daily as the sun may darken PIH and increase the time it takes to fade.