Adult Acne: What you can do to stop and control acne

Beauty Corner: Acne? At My Age?

When women leave behind their teenage years for adulthood, they generally leave behind acne, as well. However, for some women, their acne does not clear up and continues to be problematic well into their adult years.

In fact, I've had patients in their 40s and 50s come to me desperate for acne solutions, so I know this condition can be as devastating for women at the age of 45 as it is for teenage girls.

So, today, I want to give you real solutions for acne so that you can put your best and most beautiful face forward, no matter what your age.

The Origins of Acne

About half of all adults in Western societies have some degree of acne—and it's four times more prevalent in women than in men. Acne develops when the following three conditions occur simultaneously:

1. The skin cells that line the pores, which normally replace themselves by reproducing on a relatively steady schedule, start reproducing too fast and end up clogging the pores.

2. Too much of the "male hormone" androgen stimulates oil glands in the pores to overproduce.

3. Bacteria, which are normally present in a small amount in the pores, start thriving because of the excess dead cells and oil. This bacterial population boom increases the skin's inflammatory reaction. But those aren't the only factors that lead to acne.

There are many lifestyle issues that can contribute to the development of acne. Interestingly, in indigenous, non-westernized people, such as islanders in Papua New Guinea, acne is practically nonexistent (Archives of Dermatology).

The same used to be true of Canadian Eskimos when they were still living their traditional lifestyles, but once they became more westernized, acne became as prevalent in them as it is in the U.S. today.

What makes Americans different from native Papua New Guineans—and therefore makes Americans more prone to acne?

A big factor is our high-glycemic westernized diet, which causes an increase in circulating insulin levels and contributes to overly fast cell reproduction and greater androgen production (Fertility and Sterility).

The diets of the indigenous societies, on the other hand, are dominated by fresh vegetables, wild fish, and small amounts of wild meat—and no refined, high-glycemic carbohydrates. Another factor that leads to acne is stress.

Most Americans are virtually marinating in it, and researchers are finding that it is a significant factor in the increasing number of women in high-pressure jobs who are developing acne (International Journal of Cosmetic Science).

Absolute Acne Solutions

What all this means is that while acne-fighting cleansers and lotions can help, they don't get to the root cause of the problem. To truly achieve acne-free skin, you have to address all of the contributing factors, including diet, lifestyle, clogged pores, excess oil, bacteria, and inflammation.

Because all of these factors are interwoven, I recommend that you address them with all of the following steps:

► Cleanse gently. Even young and healthy skin is delicate, but when it's inflamed by acne, it's even more delicate and easily damaged, which prolongs the problem and increases your risk of developing scars. When cleansing, you need to be sure to clean not only the surface of your skin, but also clear out the debris, oil plugs, and thriving bacteria that are deep inside the pores.

♦ Cleanse twice a day with a natural cleanser. Aloe vera is a gentle, effective anti-inflammatory, as well as a skin regenerator. I like Devita's Aloe Vera Moisture Cleanser.

♦ Use an exfoliant, which can pull out waxy plugs of oil and cellular debris so that they're more easily flushed from the pores. A good anti-inflammatory exfoliant is salicylic acid. Look for it in skin care products that are alcohol-free and designed for sensitive skin, such as Devita's Acne Solution Pads.

♦ After washing, place one drop of Australian tea tree oil (from Amazon) directly on blemishes. Read the product label carefully to be sure the oil contains 50 to 60 percent terpenes and no more than 15 percent cineole. You can find tea tree oil at most health food stores or on Amazon which have a few options.

► Go low-glycemic. Eliminate sugar and other refined carbohydrates, as well as other foods that have a high glycemic index. (The Web site www. is a good guide.) This will help reverse increased androgen levels, slow the rate of skin cell reproduction, and turn down the oil output of accelerated sebaceous glands.

Patients with acne who make this diet switch enjoy dramatic improvement in their skin (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition).

► Use supplements known to dampen inflammation and support healthy skin. In one study, acne patients enjoyed a significant reduction in the number and severity of acne lesions after two months of taking the following supplements: 1,000 mg of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), 200 mg of EGCG, 15 mg of zinc gluconate, 200 mcg of selenium, and 200 mcg of chromium (October 2008, Lipids in Health and Disease).

An easy way to get these nutrients is to take Perfect Skin by Genuine Health (available at

► Take extra vitamin A, which many skin specialists consider to be the most important vitamin for acne treatment. For acne, take 15,000-25,000 IU daily of beta carotene. One study found that 90 percent of the people who took this dosage enjoyed clearing of even the severest cases of acne.

► Use phototherapy. Studies show that red-blue light and far-infrared light therapy are safe and effective in treating acne, speeding healing, and preventing scars (British Journal of Dermatology). My favorite phototherapy device is a multi-color device that has many uses. It uses different light color for various issues so it is economical and has targeted uses.

► Finally, make it a point to reduce stress in your life by using whatever stress-reduction techniques suit you and your personality. You can try the grounding or decharging techniques I discuss here, as well as deep breathing, yoga, meditation, aerobic exercise, or just going for a quiet walk. 

By following these steps, I am confident that your acne will improve and your skin will look clear and rejuvenated, no matter what your age.

I hope your summer is off to a beautiful start!

Dr Susan

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