When you’re an adult, nothing is more terrifying than acne that won’t quit. It’s like a flashback to your teenage years! Yet, adult acne is very real, giving you an unfortunate walk down memory lane. But why does it happen? And are there ways to stop it?
For a surprising number of women, these are questions constantly spinning in their heads. Adult acne affects 45% of women aged between 21 and 30, 26% of those aged between 31 and 40, and 12% of women aged between 41 and 50. Inflammatory breakouts are more common in younger women, while comedonal acne affects older ones and develops when hair follicles clog up.1 Regardless of your age, adult acne is still a pain.
What Causes Adult Acne?
In most cases, hormonal imbalances are to blame. Compared to men, women experience more frequent fluctuations, especially around that time of the month. Family history may also play a part.
Did you break out after trying a new beauty product or medication? Stop using it immediately and your skin is likely to clear up.2
If your acne can’t be traced back to a product, the following approaches will help.
How To Manage Adult Acne
1. Avoid Dairy Products
If you’re lactose intolerant or a vegan, dairy products might already be off the list of foods you can eat. But if you eat milk products, give it another thought. According to a 2015 study, dairy products increase the levels of hormones that promote acne.
You already know that milk helps baby mammals grow. It activates growth-promoting proteins that enhance the signaling of insulin-like growth factor 1, or IGF-1, which also happens to be the major growth hormone of puberty. The main job of this hormone is to increase cell activity, especially in sebaceous glands. The result is more sebum, or oil, which in turn triggers pimples. Even the amino acids in milk encourage the process.3
It’s not a bad idea to avoid or limit dairy products to prevent adult acne. Consider fortified milk made of almonds or oats and opt for non-dairy products like cashew cheese or coconut yogurt.
2. Avoid Refined Grains
While the occasional pastry or white bread won’t cause acne, a diet full of refined grains certainly won’t help. The high glycemic load reduces the binding proteins that typically control IGF-1. In turn, IGF-1 levels increase, causing sex hormones to throw a party. The result is bigger sebaceous glands and therefore more sebum.4 A 2012 Korean study even found that low glycemic diets shrink sebaceous glands.5 So, clearly, it’s worth ditching the junk.
Swap refined grains for whole grains like brown rice, barley, and oats. These “good” carbs will lower the risk not only for type 2 diabetes and weight gain but also acne.
3. Ditch Fried Food
Fried food isn’t the best idea for your waistline, heart, or even your skin for that matter. When food is deep-fried, nutrients are destroyed and calories are added. Unsaturated fats also break down, creating trans fats in the process. Frying food spells trouble for saturated fat, too.6
Unfortunately, both trans and saturated fat bring on IGF-1 activity. Even the inflammatory response in the skin follicles increases, making breakouts more likely.7
When possible, skip fried foods like chicken nuggets and onion rings. Eat baked, steamed, and poached foods instead.
4. Control Stress
Stress is a normal part of life but it can do a number on your body. And your skin is no exception. When stress builds up, it increases the levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This allows inflammation to increase and flourish, making it easy for existing skin problems to worsen.8 If stress builds up, you’ll also be more likely to eat more junk like refined grains and fried food. Emotional eating, after all, is very real.9 Make stress relief a priority, and your skin will thank you.
5. Quit Smoking
Smoking is known for reducing the body’s antioxidant reserve. This can actually alter sebum composition and not in a good way, creating an ideal environment for post-adolescent acne. Furthermore, skin circulation and collagen synthesis decline. Smoking also increases inflammation in the central and peripheral nervous systems, which then affects immune cells. This, in turn, causes wound healing to slow down and skin aging to speed up.10
If none of these work, visit your doctor at the earliest to rule out the possibility of an underlying disease like polycystic ovary syndrome.
|↑1||Perkins, Alexis C., Jessica Maglione, Greg G. Hillebrand, Kukizo Miyamoto, and Alexa B. Kimball. “Acne vulgaris in women: prevalence across the life span.” Journal of Women’s Health 21, no. 2 (2012): 223-230.|
|↑2||Adult Acne. American Academy of Dermatology | Association.|
|↑3, ↑4, ↑7||Melnik, Bodo C. “Linking diet to acne metabolomics, inflammation, and comedogenesis: an update.” Clinical, cosmetic and investigational dermatology 8 (2015): 371.|
|↑5||Kwon, Hyuck Hoon, Ji Young Yoon, Jong Soo HONg, Jaeyoon Jung, Mi Sun Park, and Dae Hun Suh. “Clinical and histological effect of a low glycaemic load diet in treatment of acne vulgaris in Korean patients: a randomized, controlled trial.” Acta dermato-venereologica 92, no. 3 (2012): 241-246.|
|↑6||Guallar-Castillón, Pilar, Fernando Rodríguez-Artalejo, Esther Lopez-Garcia, Luz M. León-Muñoz, Pilar Amiano, Eva Ardanaz, Larraitz Arriola et al. “Consumption of fried foods and risk of coronary heart disease: Spanish cohort of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition study.” BMJ 344 (2012): e363.|
|↑8||Cohen, Sheldon, Denise Janicki-Deverts, William J. Doyle, Gregory E. Miller, Ellen Frank, Bruce S. Rabin, and Ronald B. Turner. “Chronic stress, glucocorticoid receptor resistance, inflammation, and disease risk.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109, no. 16 (2012): 5995-5999.|
|↑9||Fullerton, Donald T., Carl J. Getto, William J. Swift, and Ian H. Carlson. “Sugar, opioids and binge eating.” Brain Research Bulletin 14, no. 6 (1985): 673-680.|
|↑10||Capitanio, Bruno, Jo Linda Sinagra, Monica Ottaviani, V. Bordignon, A. Amantea, and Mauro Picardo. “Acne and smoking.” Dermato-endocrinology 1, no. 3 (2009): 129-135.|
|↑11||Cao, Huijuan, G. Yang, Y. Wang, J. P. Liu, C. A. Smith, H. Luo, and Y. Liu. “Complementary therapies for acne vulgaris.” The Cochrane database of systematic reviews 1 (2011).|
|↑12||Moy, Ronald L., Corey Levenson, Jeffrey J. So, and James A. Rock. “Single-center, open-label study of a proprietary topical 0.5% salicylic acid-based treatment regimen containing sandalwood oil in adolescents and adults with mild to moderate acne.” Journal of drugs in dermatology: JDD 11, no. 12 (2012): 1403-1408.|
|↑13||Julianti, Elin, Kasturi K. Rajah, and Irda Fidrianny. “Antibacterial Activity of Ethanolic Extract of Cinnamon Bark, Honey, and Their Combination Effects against Acne-Causing Bacteria.” Scientia Pharmaceutica 85, no. 2 (2017): 19.|