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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Adult acne: an insight

When I was a teenager my skin was never squeeky clean, had many occasional breakouts, but nothing irregular or similar to acne.

All of a sudden, though, when I was 21 and  at my second year in university something strange happened to my skin. Spots and blemishes started to appear in a place where they had never previously appeared: my cheeks, near the sides of my mouth.

Month after month, the situation only worsed, no matter which cleaners, toners, moisturizers and masks I tried. It came to a point when I realized I needed extra help because my period was rather irregular, and strangely enough, the spots would diminish when the period was ongoing.

Yes, I realized I had adult acne. And now, I have it again. I quit being on the pill back in august, and came the end of september, acne stroke me once again. And this time, I’m not even a student anymore, I am a teacher and a researcher, and somewhat feel like it is inappropriate to show up at work like this, and fear I might lose credibility. I know it sounds crazy, but acne hits you that way.

Now, acne is never something you want to underestimate: apart from the pain and scarring, it can also lead to physcological side effects, due to a lack of self-esteem (especially in adolescents). Not only that, but being a lesion caused by changes in the pilosebaceous units that require androgen (therefore, hormonal) stimulation, which can also assume an inflammatory form, acne is an actual skin disease.

Through this post I am going to give you an insight on acne in general and adult acne, but you will have to bear in mind that I am not a dermatologist, or a gynecologist, therefore all I will write is just what I know about it, after doing some research, and of course my own personal experience. I strongly recommend, if you suffer from acne (be it regular or adult), that you seek the help of a doctor in case your acne is hormonal. This is what I did, and it is the only thing that helped me a bit.

Anyway, on to the medical bit:


There are different causes for acne (just as well there are different forms of it), but the main one is definitely hormonal.

In fact, menstrual activity, puberty, steroids, and several androgen hormones (testosterone and DHEAS, to name a few – so yes, blame it on the males, they’re the ones who perpetuate the pain) can be linked with acne.

In later years, acne can be underlying some other conditions such as a polycystic ovary syndrome, or even menopause.

In my case, it most definitely is a polycystic ovary syndrome. In fact, when I was only 28 days young, one of my ovaries has been removed due to a cyst that was putting my life in danger.

Acne can also have a psychological cause to be found in stress. If you have hormonal disorders and you are stressed, you can be a really easy target for acne.

A high glycemic load diet can also be a cause (it is, especially in countries like the US, Canada and the UK – sorry!), although some recent studies have underlined that there is no evidence supporting associations of acne with chocolate or salt. Beware of your oil and butter, though.

What is more acne can be infectous. A bacteria affecting pores can cause it.

Finally adult acne can be caused by *drum rolls*…COSMETICS! Yes, darlings, you should learn how to read those labels and always get samples of foundations and primers. Especially primers, as they are a bullet loaded with silicones, which is mostly what causes cosmetic adult acne. Thank God I hate primers!


As well as many types of acne there are many types of remedies. If your acne is not hormonal, you can try one of the following: benzoyl peroxide, antibiotics, retinoids, glycolic acid, salicydic acid, antiseborrehic medications. Remember antibiotics need a prescription, and they are reserved for severe cases.

However, if you notice that none of the pharmacy products work, and that your period acts funny sometimes….then you have hormonal acne.

In that case, only birth-control pill will help you, because you need hormonal manipulation that only that type of treatment can provide.

In my experience, not only did I notice that my face was loading up with zits, but also that my period was even 7 –10 days late. In time, the blemishes would become big and red and more of them assumed the shape of a ball, and the hideous form of a whitehead (yes, huge whiteheads), plus all of them hurt in a way I cannot explain. What’s more, whenever my period is ongoing my blemishes tend to ease a bit (as opposed to anybody else’s), so that probably means I am producing too many hormones, and expelling some of the in-excess ones with the cycle.

I only use foundations and skincare that are non-comedogenic, I never use face primers, exfoliate, hydrate, tone, and I apply clay masks every week. Nothing works with my acne.

Clearly, it is hormonal. The first time this happened to me I used a birth control pill called Yasmin, which has helped my skin significantly. However, I suspended Yasmin this summer because it was not working properly for me anymore. I have now started a pill called Belara, which is known for its skin clearing properties, however I cannot comment on this yet. My acne is still there, so is the pain.

Even with hormonal treatment, you have to be patient. Results start appearing after the first month of treatment.

As some pills are made to heal other types of diseases linked to hormones, you should always see your gynecologist and get the right prescription for them first.

When facing adult acne, almost all cases are hormonal, so if you realize you are suffering with acne, go straight to a doctor. Iseen many a friend going to dermatologists who made them spend milions in creams, lotions, cleansers and exfoliants, plus serums and made them use all of those things for months, without having visible results.

You do realize your acne is hormonal, and you do not need to be a doctor: if your period is not punctual; if your blemishes are located on the side on your cheeks, near the sides of your mouth; if your blemishes are of the inflammatory type; if you have past history of hormonal disorders; if your diet is based on food coming from hormones altered animals, then it’s most definitely hormonal.

Never be afraid of birth-control pills. If anything, they only make your life a lot easier. If your acne is not severe, then they will prescribe something that is very light and will clean your skin without turning you into a fatty.

They will make your period regular, they will clear your skin, they will make your hair be clean for one or two extra day, nothing to worry about.

Things like Pro-Active or Avène’s Diacnéal are very good products, but will only complement hormonal treatment in patients suffering with adult hormonal acne. Therefore, do not waste your money and energy, go see a doctor first thing.

I hope this has been useful to you, and if you have any question please write that in the comment box below the post. I will be happy to reply and include anything I didn’t cover here.


  1. Grazie per questo post Lidia!
    Sai che è successa la stessa cosa anche a me? Dai 23/24 anni sono spariti dalla fronte e sono comparsi sulle guance.
    Effettivamente la causa di imperfezioni/brufoli sul viso sono davvero tante. Nel mio caso è di tipo allergico e per fortuna è una situazione soft, ne spuntano pochi, sono in alcuni periodi dell'anno (anche se poi restano lì x 2 mesi!) e non dolorosi.
    Stress e cattiva alimentazione fanno la loro parte comunque!
    Da quando uso prodotti completamente naturali per la detersione/idratazione la situazione è notevolmente migliorata, il mio cruccio maggiore sono i segni rossi/marroncini/violacei che mi sono rimasti sul viso, la crema al glicolico un pò aiuta, ma è un processo lentissimo...ed è per questo che ho speso tutti quei soldi per il fondo Vichy :(
    Lavoro con altre 300 persone e capisco benissimo quando dici "feel like it is inappropriate to show up at work like this, and fear I might lose credibility".

  2. Bel articolo e molto completo... Trovo importante il riferimento che hai fatto ai risvolti psicologici che puo avere l'acne, che spesso sono sottovalutati così come negli adolescenti come negli adulti... E non saprei quale dei due casi la vive in maniera più drammatica...

  3. fortunatamente io non ho avuto acne fino ad adesso :),però ultimamente ho molto sofferto per dermatiti varie dovute a cosmetici :(

  4. I've tagged you for the versatile blogger award as your blog is a new one I like and have started following xx


  5. fraNKlin: As I mentioned in the post, not every acne breakouts is caused by food. By the time my acne appeared again, I was following a very good diet and you can rest assured I was strickly obeying to every rule. Unfortunately, though some people just have other problems that may give rise to it, in my case a polycystic ovary syndrome.

    THere is also absolutely no link (and it is a scientific fact now) between acne and chocolate, so whoever prohibits you to eat chocolate if you have acne is ridiculously behind in the history of science.
    However, i would say your advice is good as a general rule of thumb to prevent ANY disease through nutrition, because I am a firm believer of that.

    My acne will not go away if I don't take pills. In fact, it is starting to diminish now that I've been on the pill for 3 months. Nature just isn't enough sometimes.

    Oh, and by the way, through my study I could see that the percentage of acne caused by food is incredibly higher in the States, UK, Ireland. That's something that makes me ponder a lot.