Everything You Need To Know About Adult Acne 

Everything You Need To Know About Adult Acne 

With a recent 200% rise in the number of adult sufferers, acne is one of the most common skincare concerns. To discover how to minimise its appearance, as well as the right products and treatments to tackle it head on, we went to the experts for their advice on beating blemishes once and for all… 

Firstly, There Is No Single Cause

“There are four contributing factors to acne: excess oil production, sluggish cell turnover, acne bacteria and inflammation,” says clinical facialist Kate Kerr. “If your cell turnover isn’t working effectively, excess oil and skin cells become trapped in the pore alongside the bacteria. This leads to inflammation and the onset of breakouts. The key cause of this is an incorrect use of skincare products, which leads to the skin’s function becoming impaired.” 

Dr Tiina Meder, dermatologist and founder of Meder Beauty, agrees: “There are also additional health and lifestyle factors that may make you more prone to adult acne. Physical stress from illness, dehydration or exposure to environmental contaminants can also trigger hormonal changes, weakened immunity and inflammation. Excess oil can clog pores, and a rapid turnover of skin cells can lead to backed-up hair follicles. In both cases, the result is usually acne.”

Stick To Non-Comedogenic Formulas Where Possible

“I’ve done a YouTube series called #AcneSolved recently,” says skincare specialist Dr Sam Bunting. “It’s a big deal for so many people and I’m keen to give people a framework for taking charge of this blight on so many lives. For starters, you need a non-comedogenic [non-pore clogging] support system of cleanser, moisturiser and SPF, like my Perfected Basics. Other good brands include CeraVe, La Roche-Posay and Heliocare for brilliant SPF options. Then you should look to an anti-inflammatory for active spots like niacinamide, benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid. Finally, it’s worth including a ‘preventor’ in your regime, which is either a retinoid or azelaic acid.” 

Hormones Aren’t Always To Blame 

“Acne isn’t always hormonal. Sure, it can be that your hormones are out of sync because of stress, diet or coming off the contraceptive pill, but it can also be from incorrect product choice or even working out too much,” advises Kate. “Lifting a lot of weights increases muscle mass, and muscle mass increases testosterone and endogenous, which can create oilier skin. Hence you often see bodybuilders have the occasional breakout – that’s not to say we should all down tools and stop working out immediately, but it’s worth considering how much oil you’re producing when you work out because acne isn’t a dirty skin condition. It’s an overproduction of oil.” 

Not All Make-Up Is Bad

“In my opinion, make-up is the friend of any acne sufferer, providing you make smart choices,” says Sam. “Most patients I see already suspect that long-wear foundation isn’t doing them any favours. They are almost as bad as indelible marker pens to remove. This has consequences for acne: we know now from studies that the more aggressively you cleanse, the more wound-up acne gets. A disrupted barrier and skin microbiome can cause acne to flare. The good news is: not all make-up is bad. Through my years of practice, I’ve come to rely on a handful of products that I’ve found to be suitable for acne-prone skin. NARS Radiant Tinted Moisturiser is a major favourite and a ‘good skin day’ base, as it offers very sheer but flattering coverage. Armani Luminous Silk offers a little more coverage while still delivering that ‘real skin but better’ finish and it lasts well. As for those days when you just need more, Vichy Dermablend Liquid Foundation offers a real security blanket. If their shades aren’t an exact match (it is a bit limited) custom-blend a little into your Armani for a better match with better concealing power.”

Be Aware Of Synthetic Ingredients

“I recommend you check labels that indicate ‘fragrance’, ‘perfume’, or ‘parfum’,” says Tiina. “The essentials oils found in natural or holistic remedies aren’t the friend of anyone suffering with adult acne. This is because they can irritate already inflamed skin. Oils with a prevalence of saturated fatty acids should be avoided too: these include coconut, cocoa, shea, mango and cupuacu oil. I also recommend avoiding any products that include sodium lauryl sulphate, which is commonly found in cleansers. All of these can damage the skin’s protective barrier, resulting in worsened irritation.” 

Remember That Skin Prefers Simplicity

“It likes consistency and it behaves like every other organ in our body,” advises GP and skin specialist Dr Anita Sturnham. “What happens if we take away our food supply or go on a starvation diet? We would be tired, malnourished and prone to infection. We all know how our body feels when we overfeed it with junk food: tired, sluggish and unhealthy. Think of your skincare like your breakfast, lunch and dinner for your skin. If you feed it with the right nutrients, it will be healthy. If you underfeed it (face wipes, soap and water, girls) or you overfeed it (multiple products AM and PM, you know who you are) your skin will rebel against you. Mixing and matching lots of different products from different brands can result in products that weren’t designed to go together clashing, interacting or destabilising one another. I recommend sticking to one or two brands max, so you can eliminate this risk.” 

Try Acne Patches, But Don’t Rely On Them

“The new acne patches are certainly another fun import from the Asian market, but they shouldn’t be relied on,” explains Tiina. “They do, however, act locally, providing an anti-bacterial or healing effect on the spot. They’re a good SOS treatment when you need to make one spot fade but patches can’t make your skin healthy, regulate the sebum production or restore the skin’s natural protection barrier. Use them as a complementary product, but don’t count on them to play a starring role in any acne-fighting regime.”

Avoid Vitamin C When Treating Acne 

“AHAs are often to be avoided. They are water-soluble, so won’t penetrate into the oily sebaceous glands,” says Sam. “Vitamin C is a key one that has no real place in acne management and, in a few individuals, actually seems to aggravate blemish-prone skin. Facial oils, scrubs, cloths and cleansing brushes should be on your no-go list too: friction aggravates acne, it’s as simple as that. And you won’t solve acne through mask use – despite any marketing spiel.” 

Never Ever Pick Your Spots

“Dr Pimple Popper has a lot to answer for these days,” says Tiina. “When performed properly, extractions can clear certain types of spots. However, bad technique combined with attempts to pick non-pickable pimples can be a recipe for disaster. When you pop a spot, you’re forcefully pushing the contents – bacteria, oil and debris – off the acne bump out, tearing the skin and leaving it more vulnerable to infection and bacteria. Scarring is also a huge risk for people that pick. These scars are difficult to treat once they’ve occurred. Finally, even if you think you’re a squeezing pro, as you get older, your skin cell renewal rate naturally slows, meaning any resulting hyperpigmentation or redness will take much longer to fade.” 

Take Note Of The Difference Between Scarring & Discolouration

“Often people get these mixed up and it’s worth knowing the difference,” says Kate. “Scarring is when you have pitting in the skin. You can have boxcar scarring or ice pick scarring and these are often a textural issue. Whereas discolouration is post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, which you get from the inflammation caused by a breakout, and that causes a melanocyte which produces pigment. You can also get post-inflammatory erythema – post-breakout redness – which can last quite a while as well, but both of those can be treated and don’t last too long. Textural scarring is a little more difficult, but not impossible to treat.”

Don’t Underestimate Prebiotics 

“Prebiotics are one of the most overlooked ingredients when it comes to tackling acne, oily and problem skin,” adds Tiina. “Unlike probiotics (the live bacteria found in yogurt), prebiotics provide nourishment for the skin’s eco flora while being toxic to pathogenic bacteria that causes acne. Dermatologists refer to them as ‘microbiome-friendly’. I recommend starting with a prebiotic cleanser such as Net Apax Prebiotic Cleanser and using a gentle prebiotic moisturiser such as Equa-Derm Cream, which suppresses the activity of 5-alpha-reductase and reduces sebum production by 30% in the first few weeks of use. It also helps decrease hormone-related skin sensitivity, tightens pores, and reduces redness and swelling.”

Seek The Right Treatments 

“There are a whole host of in-clinic treatments available to address all types of adult acne, but if the problem is persistent and causing real distress, then speak to your GP who may recommend a prescription,” advises Anita. “More advanced acne treatments can be found at specialist clinics, but always seek advice out before trying one. Chemical peels, microdermabrasion and laser treatments can all improve the appearance of your skin and help to clear acne spots. However, to get the best results, it is important to get the acne under control before tackling the scarring. Blue-light laser therapy programmes can help. These use intense blue wavelengths of light to destroy  the bacteria linked to acne.”

Ignore The Common Misconceptions

“There are so many myths that surround adult acne,” explains Sam. “For starters, no, toothpaste is not good for spots. It’s an irritant and actually very counterproductive. Secondly, people often assume bad hygiene causes spots. This isn’t true. Acne is a skin disease caused by overactive oil glands and has little to do with what happens on the surface. In fact, over-cleansing can be harmful. One final myth I’d like to burst is that using face oil regulates oily skin types – definitely not. There is no feedback loop between the skin surface and the oil glands located deep in the skin’s dermis so, where possible, ignore this statement.”

Shop our favourite products to help bust adult acne…

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