In your thirties and forties your teenage years are a distant memory – you’ve left some of the awkwardness of your youth behind, and with it the angst of acne. But then you start to develop those tell-tale pimples and pustules, and a condition you thought you’d never see again rears its ugly head.
Around 8% of people in the UK struggle with adult acne – although over 80% of us will experience it at some point in our lives. It’s becoming more prevalent for a number of reasons – various aspects of modern lifestyles have an influence.
The bad news is there’s no one trick that will relieve your adult acne woes, whatever social media will have you believe. The good news is there are plenty of ways we can treat and alleviate adult acne – and with a targeted, consistent approach it’s possible to alleviate and even eliminate adult acne altogether.
Many factors can irritate acne, but the underlying issue is usually hormones. Acne occurs when a surplus of sebum becomes blocked in our hair follicles, causing inflammation which creates an environment for bacteria to thrive. Our sebaceous glands are particularly sensitive to hormonal fluctuations and can easily become inflamed – which is why women find they suffer from acne during and after pregnancy, through menopause and when taking hormonal contraceptives.
The prevalence of adult acne is aggravated by a number of aspects, one being the huge number of hormone disrupting chemicals which are abundant in modern lifestyles. Artificial fragrances, phthalates and parabens are amongst common endocrine-disrupting ingredients in beauty and cleaning products – they’re even found plastic bottles, pesticides on food and hormones in meat.
Fortunately through balancing our hormones and taking a holistic, targeted approach to skin health we can alleviate adult acne.
Absolutely! Diet can have a major influence on our skin in so many ways – but when it comes to adult acne, there are certain foods to avoid and certain foods to include to help ease symptoms and minimise flare-ups.
I see a lot of advice on nutrition for adult acne focusing on dairy, but it’s important to mention that a blanket ban on dairy won’t be a ‘magic’ solution for everyone. It’s actually lactose, the type of sugar found in dairy, that’s thought to impact upon the development and severity of adult acne. It’s best to avoid consuming too much dairy for a variety of reasons, but lactose-free variations could be fine, and for some lactose won’t make any difference at all.
(This list is actually key for anyone suffering from acne, at any age)
*Refined carbs: Refined carbs including white bread, pasta, rice and starchy foods (more on this below) can be inflammatory and cause a surge of insulin production in the body which leads to an increase in male hormones.
*Sugar: Regulating blood sugar is key to maintaining healthy skin – so avoid sugary treats and drinks that will cause it to spike and crash. Sugary foods also impair our immune system, making it harder for our bodies to fight acne-causing bacteria.
*Dairy: As above, cutting out dairy completely may not be necessary depending on how your body responds to it. The link between dairy and acne is lactose – the sugar found in high quantities in cow’s milk products. Ditching dairy is best for skin health overall. You might like to cut out dairy altogether, or opt for lower lactose products like sheep or goat milks and cheeses. There are plenty of delicious plant-based alternatives to choose from, too!
*Leafy greens: Leafy greens including spinach, kale, spirulina and broccoli are abundant in vitamins and minerals that support health skin.
*Omega 3: Omega 3 is a skin nutrition essential – fatty acids help us to maintain higher levels of collagen and elastin. Good sources of omega 3 include oily fish, avocado, nuts and seeds.
*Optimised macronutrients: Whole foods rich in macronutrients are vital for skin health overall, but can help tackle deficiencies and imbalances that can contribute to the worsening of adult acne.
Lifestyle factors also have a significant role to play when it comes to the development and triggering of adult acne. There are a number of things you can do to help your skin to heal and prevent or lessen the severity of flare-ups.
Stress: You guessed it – stress is a major contributing factor to adult acne, along with an array of other skin conditions. Work on combatting stress with strategies that work for you – yoga, journaling, meditation and therapy can all be helpful.
Get enough sun: Safely, of course! Getting enough vitamin D is key to combatting adult acne. Be sure to wear a non-comedogenic SPF to protect your skin during sun exposure.
Eat well: Although I’ve highlighted specific foods to include and avoid above, it’s important to note that eating well general is key. Lots of women especially who follow fad diets find that their skin suffers – usually because fluctuating energy levels can wreak havoc with our delicate hormone balance. When your blood sugar gets too low due to skipping meals or not eating enough at regular intervals, cortisol levels spike and hormone balance is disrupted.
There are a number of key ingredients I recommend for adult acne sufferers to look out for when shopping for skincare. These ingredients each have properties that soothe and support the skin, so when used in conjunction with one anther they can target some of the key symptoms of adult acne.
Salicylic acid: Salicylic acid is antibacterial and anti-inflammatory, a great way to safely and quickly bring down angry spots.
Retinoids: These speed cell turnover, bringing things up and out quicker
AHA: Great for exfoliating
With the right approach you can alleviate adult acne! Make small manageable changes and you should start to see a difference. Where your case is severe or has been a problem for a long period of time, don’t be disheartened. Professional support might be needed if you find making lifestyle changes and using the right products isn’t making a difference.