Adult Acne: When Your Skin Just Won't Grow Up

13/04/2016 11:59 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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beautiful young women with problematic skin

adult acne

"This can’t be happening." "This isn't fair.” “I should be over this now.”

Here are just some of the complaints Dr Jo-Ann See, a spokeswoman for the Australasian College of Dermatologists, hears pretty much every day. The cause? Adult acne.

"Adult acne is acne that is occurring post-adolescence. There are two ways it can start. You can have acne as a teen, only to have it continue into your 20s, 30s and 40s, or you can get it starting in your 20s," See told The Huffington Post Australia.

"What we are actually seeing is a worldwide increase [of adult acne] in women. We've looked at the type and age of people who get pimples, worldwide, and we are seeing more and more people developing this adult acne. The question, of course, is why."

According to See, there are a number of reasons, including stress, hormones, health and genetics, as well as the growing trend for women to have children later in life.

"Generations ago, you had your children when you were 18, 20, 22... in other words, much earlier than is typical of today," See said.

"Nowadays women are putting off having children because they are working or undergoing training and, as a result, children are happening later. Maybe there is a hormonal issue there. Maybe it's the fact they are working more and therefore are more stressed. We aren't sure.

"We do know some of the causes of adult acne are associated with health conditions such as polycystic ovaries or metabolic syndrome.

"The other one is perhaps what you inherit genetically. If you have a family history of female hormonal acne, you are more likely to get it. So if mum has it, often times daughters will have it, sisters will have it.

"These are the purported causes. The later onset of having kids, lifestyle, hormones, stress and obesity."

While adult acne looks like any kind of acne -- adolescent or otherwise -- See says there is one particular subgroup that clinically looks different.

"Women who get a premenstrual flare," See said. "So the week before your period, you'll see the skin get a lot worse, then when the period comes, the skin settles. When you're next due for your period the whole cycle starts again.

"Many of these women will already have a history there, and they will also have a history of deeper, more painful pimples.

"These pimples tend to occur in the lower third of the face, so your lower cheek, jawline, chin, neck. The type of pimple tends to be deeper and sorer. It might be that it just goes away only to come back in the same spot."

Painful and annoying as this seems, See says many women will at least find the pill to be of assistance.

"Women with a tendency toward a premenstrual flare often improve on the oral contraceptive," she said.

As for the other types of adult acne and what you can do in terms of treatment, the options are many, and See says it really comes down to the individual.

"Over-the-counter prescription products may prove effective, and as we discussed before, oral contraception can also be helpful," See told HuffPost Australia.

"If that doesn't work, there are anti-androgen therapies which can further enhance the slowing down of the oil gland to get decreased sebum.

"Those would be the main things -- the pill, anti-androgens -- and then some women do well with very low dose of isotretinoin, which you might know better as roaccutane.

"Cosmetic treatments or cosmeceuticals can work as well. Things like a chemical peel.

"What I will say is, from a beauty therapy point of view, everyone has a cure. It’s a disaster. Your hear all the time that product x is going to get you better in no time, or that so-and-so has a beautician who can treat you within six treatments.

"While there are interesting new treatments coming through, unfortunately, it's not that simple."

Some of the treatments mentioned in this article, such as roaccutane, may have side effects. If concerned about your skin, the best advice is to consult your dermatologist or doctor.

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