Adult Acne Blues

Story and photos by Alayna Fiel

As people get older, they assume they’re long past the problems that caused teenage acne, right? Well, those random breakouts as an adult might suggest otherwise.

Acne can be very prominent in adults and can occur at any stage of life.

Students like Central Michigan University senior Olivia Carson, has been dealing with acne since puberty, but has seen it follow them into their adult life.

“Stress definitely affects it — I’d attribute that mostly to college,” Carson said with a chuckle.

As young adults go off to college, students often take on new eating habits, experiences, and loads of homework that can become overwhelming. It is easy to feel smothered — and acne doesn’t help.

What really is acne? What causes it?

According to the Mayo Clinic, acne is a skin condition that occurs when your hair follicles become clogged with oil and dead skin cells which can result in whiteheads, blackheads or pimples on the surface of the skin.

Some common sources of acne may include:

Fluctuating hormone levels: An imbalance can lead to breakouts.

Stress: People like junior Maggie Ponda who experience periods of increased stress can develop worsening of acne.

“Every couple months, if I have a bunch of tests coming up then I’ll get stress pimples,” Ponda said.

Researchers have found that in response to stress, our bodies produce more hormones called androgens. These hormones stimulate the oil glands within our skin, which can lead to a build-up of oil in hair follicles, causing acne.

Diet: Studies indicate that depending on the sensitivity of your skin, consuming certain carbohydrate-rich foods may worsen acne. This may include foods like bread, bagels and chips. Further study is needed to examine whether people with acne would benefit from following specific dietary restrictions.

Family history: There is also evidence to suggest that some people may have a genetic predisposition for acne. Individuals who have this predisposition are more likely to get acne as an adult.

Hair and skincare products: Some cosmetics contain harmful chemicals that may cause future breakouts. To avoid these chemicals, read the labels on your skin and hair care products to ensure it includes one of the following terms:

  • Non-comedogenic
  • Non-acnegenic
  • Oil-free
  • Won’t clog pores

CMU junior Amelia Bruni uses natural drugstore treatments to avoid breakouts.

“I have a very dedicated skincare routine — I use a lot of natural products because I have super sensitive skin — like CeraVe,” Bruni said.

Medication side effect: Acne can be a side effect of some prescription medicines. If you suspect that a medicine is triggering your acne or making it worse, talk with the doctor who prescribed it and ask if acne is a possible side effect or if meeting with a dermatologist is the best route.

Undiagnosed medical condition: Acne can sometimes be a sign of an underlying medical condition. Once the medical condition is diagnosed and treated, the acne often clears.

While there are a variety of causes behind adult acne, there are acne myths that need to be debunked.

These factors have little effect on acne:

  • Chocolate and greasy foods — while diet is an important part of the health of our skin, eating chocolate or greasy food has little to no effect on acne.
  • Hygiene — Scrubbing the skin too hard or cleansing with harsh soaps or chemicals can irritate the skin and make acne worse. Acne is not necessarily caused by dirty skin, it’s more about how you take care of it.

Depending on its severity, acne can also cause emotional distress and have a serious impact on mental well-being, confidence and self-worth.

“If it’s bad, honestly I’m insecure, but if my skin is good I’m like OK! Pop off!” Bruni said.

Carson added, “my fiance has really bad cystic acne — he deals with a lot, way more than what I do and I know it really bothers him sometimes.”

Despite the ongoing fight acne gives us in our lives, there are ways to prevent future breakouts.

Treatment can vary from person to person and depends on the type and severity of acne you experience. Overall, simple, non-irritating skincare products are important for anyone who struggles with acne.

For some women, birth control is the best route for managing acne; however, it can cause flare-ups in others.

A common ingredient in most acne treatments is topical tretinoin. Tretinoin aids in cycling skin cell growth to prevent clogged pores and has the added bonus of treating fine wrinkles, evening, and brightening skin tone.

Acne is not just a teenage phase, it is an issue many adults still struggle with and it’s a conversation people shouldn’t be embarrassed to have.