Zits at a ‘Certain Age’


While many women yearn for younger looking skin, others spend time wishing for just the opposite. Today more adult women are living with acne than ever before, with 26 percent of women ages 31-40 and 12 percent ages 41-50 reporting problems with acne.

What’s the cause of adult acne? Don’t expect much consensus among Chicago dermatologists. Some name sugar, hormones in factory-farmed dairy or Chicago’s extreme weather as the root cause. But, there’s one culprit everyone identifies as a contributing factor – stress.

“Simply put, stress increases the hormone aldosterone levels, which then drives oil production,” says Carolyn Jacob, MD, Chicago Cosmetic Surgery and Dermatology. “And it’s no wonder women are stressed. They’re juggling so much. They’re working jobs that are more demanding in this economy, putting food on the table and raising children. It’s a stressful time for everyone right now, especially women.”

In order to understand and effectively treat acne, think about which of the following scenarios applies to you. “Your acne is: continuous, which means you’ve had consistent breakouts since adolescence; relapsing, meaning acne cleared up for years only to return in adulthood; adult-onset, or acne that only begins in adulthood,” says Kevin Pinski, MD, Pinski Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery. Once you understand your skin, you can begin to treat the acne.

Desperate to quickly clear up a spotty complexion, some women dry their skin with powerful agents that are wrong for mature skin, observes Jerome Garden, MD, Physicians Laser & Dermatology. “Over-cleaning the skin with abrasive topical agents is tempting, but this worsens aging skin,” explains Dr. Garden. “Gentle alternatives are more effective once skin becomes less resilient.”

Instead of irritating the skin with moisture-stripping practices, dermatologists across the board recommend products – like Vitamin A creams or retinoids – that encourage cell turnover. For example, Retin-A, perhaps the most popular prescription retinoid, keeps dead skin and oil from clogging pores, leaving acne-causing bacteria nothing on which to feed. In combination with exfoliation using chemical peals or microdermabrasion, these creams and gels help improve temperamental skin.

Another issue that could make a blotchy complexion worse is avoiding moisturizers. “Even though it may seem counter productive, it’s important to moisturize even when experiencing a break out,” advises Julius Few, MD, The Few Institute for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. “Otherwise, skin over-produces oil, which leads to more acne.” Women should use non-comedogenic moisturizers, free from irritating paraben chemicals. The drugstore versions young girls use won’t do, either, affirms Dr. Few. “Invest in a good moisturizer and your skin will thank you,” he advises.

And, of course, that age-old rule your mother warned you about when you had your first blemish still applies today, perhaps more than ever: Don’t pick! Picking at a pimple can cause scarring, further infection and a longer healing process. This is especially true for ethnic skin, as tan women are prone to skin discoloration and can easily scar themselves.

Finally, although physicians admit the jury is still out on the relationship between a healthy diet and clear skin, they still advise giving it a shot. “After all,” says Dr. Jacob, “there weren’t many cases of acne in east Asia, whose people lived on fish and vegetables, until McDonalds got there.”

Written by Sarah Daoud


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