First, a little background. Throughout high school, my face was nearly 100% clear nearly 100% of the time. Sure, I got the occasional zit here or there, but I was never self conscious about my skin. My college years followed suit–a pimple every now and then, but nothing major. Now, out of college, my skin has taken a drastic turn for the worse! Because I take such good care of my skin (you can read more on that here and here), I decided it was high time for me to put my researcher’s cap on and find out why I am starting to break out now…as an adult!
…are a little alarming! One study shows that over 50% of adult women are dealing with acne, many of whom did not have breakouts in their earlier years. So, the first message is: you’re not in this alone! Half of all women are trying to figure this thing out!
What if you’re unsure whether you’re dealing with adolescent acne or adult acne? First, keep your age in mind. Women over 21 or 22 years of age are typically dealing with adult acne, while teenagers usually experience the adolescent type. Another way to tell is to look at where the acne is on your face (more on that later!). If it’s on the upper portion, it’s probably adolescent; the lower portion, adult.
The Reasons Why
Like most things body-related, the “why” of adult acne can be addressed with a myriad of responses. This is especially true when talking about the skin. Each person’s skin is so different to begin with, throwing in factors like lifestyle, environment, and diet only further complicates the situation–it’s no wonder addressing acne can be so challenging! What works for one probably won’t work for many.
That being said, there are some definite contributors. Here’s are the main 6 causes of adult acne in women that I found:
- Hormone Changes. Typically beginning in a woman’s mid-to-late twenties and persisting into adulthood, many women experience hormone-caused acne. This acne can be attributed to androgens, which are the hormones responsible for stimulating the oil glands and hair follicles in the skin. When this hormone overstimulates, a woman’s facial acne can flare up. Dermatologist Diane Berson says, “When adult women experience acne outbreaks, hormones are usually the primary culprit.” (I have a sneaking suspicion this is the issue for me!)
- High Stress Levels. Those darn androgens! They also overproduce during times of stress, overstimulating oil production and causing breakouts for women. Many dermatologists believe that women who are able to get their stress under control may also be able to clear up their complexion.
- Medications. Certain types of medication can trigger breakout in women; chemicals like anticonvulsants, corticosteroids, sobriety drugs, and even some birth control pills can make skin worse. Have a conversation with your doctor about the medication you’re on and find out if there’s a more skin-friendly alternative.
- Diet. Although once widely disputed, most dermatologists now agree that diet plays a relatively significant role in a person’s complexion. Some swear that milk and dairy are to blame, while others believe that excess sugar triggers breakouts. Keep a food journal during an acne flare-up and try to find a potential cause.
- Products and Cosmetics. Pay close attention to not only what you put on your face, but also what you put near it! Hair styling gels, sprays, and other products can clog pores and cause breakouts. If you have bangs, try pinning them back for a few weeks and see if your skin clears up. Try changing your makeup regime to something more natural if you feel that your cosmetics could be causing your acne.
- Environmental Factors. Humidity, pollution, and weather can all contribute to acne. But there are some things that I hadn’t thought about as well. For example, if you’re talking on your cell phone a lot, you may experience more frequent breakouts. Your screen is not clean, and the bacteria it gathers can negatively affect your skin.
Now that we’ve covered some of the causes of adult acne, I’m sure you’re wondering how to know what’s causing your skin to flare up? Read on, my friend.
Where Your Acne Is & What’s Causing It
Luckily for us, where our acne presents itself can say a lot about its root cause. (I don’t know about you, but this makes me sing praises! Ain’t nobody got time to guess what’s causing breakouts!)
Here’s what you need to do (it’s simple, I promise): look at the face map below and identify which color zone correlates to your worst problem areas. Then, read what the cause for acne in that area is. Hopefully this face map can help you to self-diagnose and (fingers crossed!) correct your acne problem areas.
Royal Blue Zones (forehead): Digestive System and Bladder. In order to improve acne in this area, you may need to consider a diet change or an increase in your intake of water. Consider cutting back processed foods–that can really help clear up this area.
Hot Pink Zone (in between eyebrows): Liver. To eradicate in-between-eyebrow pimples, consider a detox of sorts. Cut down on your alcohol consumption, eat lighter foods, and consider any foods you may have developed an allergy to (such as dairy)–this area is where an allergy traditionally manifests itself.
Forest Green Zones (outside of eyes): Kidneys. This is a quick fix: cut down on coffee, soda, and other sugary beverages, and drink some good ‘ol H20 instead. Hydrate your body and you should see a significant decrease in acne around your eyes. Acne on your ears relates to the kidneys as well.
White Zone (nose): Heart. Acne on your nose could mean high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Try cutting back on red meat and increase your intake of foods with Omega 3’s like avocado and fish. Additionally, because your nose is so porous, make sure that your makeup isn’t expired.
Purple Zones (cheeks): Respiratory System. Acne in this area usually points to allergies or smoking. In the case that neither allergies nor smoking are the culprit, consider keeping your body at a neutral temperature rather than allowing it to overheat–avoid spicy foods and add more green veggies to your diet. You should also ensure that the items that touch your face the most (your cell phone, pillowcase, and hands) are squeaky clean.
Teal Zones (outside, corners of mouth): Hormones. Personally, this is my problem. This zone is difficult to eradicate because hormones by nature are somewhat out of our control. However, getting enough zzz’s at night, keeping skin clean and moisturized, and a balanced diet can help. Which side of the face this acne presents itself is also indicative of which side a woman is ovulating…how interesting…now get off of my face! If you’re willing to go on birth control, some pills can help clear up skin if hormones are the cause.
Looking for a more natural approach than birth control? According to Wellness Mama, a woman experiencing hormone imbalance should cut out polyunsaturated fats (like vegetable oil), caffeine, and household toxins. She also suggests getting plenty of sleep and supplementing with vitamins such as maca and magnesium, which have been shown to help balance hormones. Her post on balancing hormones is very interesting, read more here.
Yellow Zone (chin): Stomach. Because this area is associated with the stomach, increasing the amount of fiber in your diet, drinking more water, and generally detoxing your body may help clear up this area.
These zones and the organs they correlate to can be very useful in self-diagnosing your acne woes and addressing them. Really, you’re fighting your acne from the inside out! If your issue is truly internal, no amount of creams and cleansers will clear up your face anyway….I know, I know, I feel your frustration! But a quick fix won’t work. Clearing up adult acne takes some dedication and lifestyle changes.
For other natural ways to fight acne, check out my post here.
What Should I Be Washing My Face With?
This is the toughie. As I mentioned earlier, what works for one probably won’t work for many. Each woman has a different skin type and therefore will react differently to cleansers, toners, moisturizers, and spot treatments. That being said, here are a few recommendations I’ve stumbled upon through my research:
Consider the Oil Cleansing Method (it really worked for me!), creamy cleansers like Cetaphil, and spot treatments with low percentages of medication (i.e. 2.5% Benzoyl Peroxide instead of 10%)…it’s been proven that a higher percentage doesn’t mean a more effective treatment and more potent medicine dries skin out faster, irritating it, and making it more likely for a woman to break out!
Another excellent, natural option is using Bentonite Clay for face masks. Bentonite Clay is awesome when used as a face mask…it literally vacuums out your pores! It’s half amazing and half strange when you feel it pulsate on your face as it sucks out oil, toxins, and impurities…well, make that three-quarters amazing. Read more about Bentonite Clay here.
Update July 2013: I received an email from a reader (hi Margaret!) who has some great suggestions for women dealing with hormonal adult acne. She recommends washing with Nelson’s Pure & Clear Acne Wash and treating with Nelson’s Pure & Clear Acne Treatment Gel. She also recommends supplementing your diet with Rainbow Light’s Active Teen all-natural vitamins with a Derma-Complex skin-clearing blend, and also taking Evening Primrose Oil capsules, Vitex capsules, and 5-HTP tablets daily to help balance hormones. Apparently the Vitex capsules are the real kicker! I look forward to trying these out.
Update January 2015: My skin is finally clear again! Here’s my schedule written out, as prescribed by my dermatologist…
In the morning:
- Wash face with AcneFree Oil-Free Acne Cleanser (buy it here) or CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser (buy it here), depending on whether my skin is feeling oily or dry
- Apply CeraVe Moisturizing Facial Lotion, PM (buy it here)–I use PM because AM has sunscreen in it, and I hate the way sunscreen smells! If you want the AM version, buy it here.
- Apply makeup! (See what I use here)
In the evening:
- Wash face with AcneFree Oil-Free Acne Cleanser (buy it here)
- Apply pea-sized amount of Ziana (RX only) all over face
- Apply CeraVe Moisturizing Facial Lotion, PM (buy it here)
For more information on where I am on my clear skin journey now, read this post.
So, there you have it. Everything you ever wanted to know about women’s adult acne…it only took me four and a half hours and almost 1,600 words! This research process has truly helped me to self-diagnose and begin to implement necessary changes; I hope this information proves valuable to you, too!
Please comment below with your skin story…challenges and triumphs alike! Are you experiencing adult acne? What have you found works? (If you’ve found a cure for your adult acne and would like to share it, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!) Like my Facebook Page for more acne tips and information!
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