Many of us are shocked and disappointed to learn that we continue to have acne after puberty. Yes, it is a cruel situation, but it is possible to have pimples and wrinkles at the same time. In fact, 54 percent of women over the age of 25 still experience some acne. That number is expected to rise. Some skincare experts call the increase in outbreaks in adults “an epidemic.”
What is responsible for the increase in adult acne?
We tend to associate acne with the hormonal teenage years. In actuality, many of the factors that contribute to acne in your teens are still present later in your life too. You still have hormones! In particular, stress and hormonal imbalances wreak havoc on your skin. Many of us do continue to experience that nasty combination of hormone changes and work or personal-life stress.
A vicious cycle
Stress and pimples become a vicious cycle. Under stress, your adrenal glands produce more of your stress hormone known as cortisol. They also make small amounts of testosterone. These cause the glands in your skin to produce more oil or sebum. This raises your risk of bacteria or fungal growth on your skin and pimples. Of course then, when we notice outbreaks appearing, we feel even more stressed. Add to that the fact that many people just can’t resist the urge to pick at pimples. This further damages your skin’s surface, making it more susceptible to infection. Voila! You have the perfect formula for ongoing acne outbreaks.
The emotional and financial cost of adult acne
Solving acne problems on your own can feel like a quest for the impossible. Consider this: Americans spend an astonishing $15 billion a year on acne-related products and services. We are bombarded by skincare product marketing that promises to clear up skin problems, leaving skin beautiful and clear of blemishes, providing you with a flawless, youthful glow. But, many of these products actually irritate or dry out your skin, worsening inflammation.
This all adds up to frustration for you, the consumer. It’s no wonder that 95 percent of people with acne say that the skin condition negatively affects their lives. 63 percent of acne sufferers cite lower self-confidence due to acne as a major issue.
How to treat adult acne
Since hormones are the root cause of acne, the simple truth is that treatment has to start at the source. It has to start internally. As much as I hate to be the bearer of bad news, there is no “magic bullet” topical skin product. It is best to start with a bit of self-assessment. For example, try tracking your outbreaks to see if they coincide with your menstrual cycle. See if outbreaks occur along with other symptoms. See if your skin gets worse with eating specific foods, or with stressful periods in your life.
Reduce your stress
What are the ways that you can reduce your stressors? Can you reduce some of your responsibilities or commitments? Yoga and meditation are proven methods to reduce stress. Ayurvedic tradition claims that many yoga poses help with acne.
In addition, don’t underestimate one of the most essential aspects of stress management: prioritize getting enough sleep! To prevent rubbing your face in dirt, oil, and bacteria while you sleep, change your pillowcases regularly.
How Your Diet Affects Your Skin
Much research remains to be done on the impact of diet on acne. Every patient that I have had for acne easily lists the foods that affect their skin. The most commonly reported foods are dairy, sugar, and greasy foods. We know that the quality of the food that we eat is reflected in our overall health as well as on our skin. Ultimately, you are the best test subject for which foods affect your face. Everyone reacts differently to various foods. Even healthy foods may trigger a reaction for you. Keep a food diary and review it with me to help you pick out the patterns.
Research in the British Journal of Dermatology found that IgG2 and IgG3 antibodies were increased in patients with severe acne. Food sensitivity testing can help to identify foods that may be contributing to IgG2 and IgG3 levels.
A sensible approach is to eat a healthy, whole-foods diet rich in vegetables, legumes, fruit, nuts and seeds, unprocessed grains, and healthy protein. Opt for antioxidant-rich foods whenever possible like berries, good dark chocolate, and spices like cinnamon. Antioxidants reduce inflammation and destroy harmful free radicals.
In addition, research proves that the following nutrients have a positive effect on the health of your skin:
Zinc and Acne
The anti-inflammatory properties of zinc relieves the irritation of acne. Studies show that taking a zinc supplement reduces acne scars. Zinc is also used topically, but it isn’t as effective as taking it orally. From your diet, zinc-rich foods include beef and shellfish, especially oysters, and vegetarian sources like hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, beans, nuts, and whole grains.
Not only do these healthy fats soothe your skin thanks to their anti-inflammatory properties, but they also help regulate hormones. Omega-3’s are found in nuts, flax, hemp seeds, and many types of fish. The Omega 3s in fish are much easier for your body to use compared to the ones in nuts and seeds. Fatty, cold-water fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, and sardines are excellent sources of Omega 3’s. Supplements containing fish oil or vegan Omega 3’s are also an excellent way to benefit from their acne-fighting powers of Omega-3. Even though they are healthy fats, Omega 3’s will sometimes make acne worse. Fats, even healthy ones, can interfere with insulin function. That increases insulin which throws off hormone balance. If you find that adding fats or fish oil makes your skin worse, by all means, listen to your body and reduce them.
High fiber foods
Eating food with lots of fiber controls your blood sugar. It does so by slowing down sugar absorption and keeping you feeling full longer. This curbs your breakouts because healthy blood sugar levels make for healthier hormone levels. Aim for plenty of fibrous green veggies with each meal like kale and broccoli!
You may have noticed that your skin loses some luster when you’re dehydrated. It is important to drink plenty of water to keep your skin cells healthy and nourished.
In addition to water, don’t hesitate to pour yourself a cup of green tea. Studies show that green tea decreases some of the excess oil production. Plus, this delicious beverage is high in antioxidants! Green tea also has some estrogen balancing properties.
Topical treatments that work
A more natural approach to moisturizing and nourishing your skin may be helpful. Many people react to chemicals, perfumes, and preservatives in skin creams. This creates more redness and inflammation. Natural oils such as Rosehips oil helps acne-prone skin. It contains a high concentration of vitamin A, omegas, and lycopene. These heal and regenerate your skin. They encourage healthy cell growth and dramatically reduce scarring. Rosehips oil will be kinder to your skin than the very drying benzoic acid.
Talk to me for guidance if you are having difficulty finding the right skincare solution. A number of effective natural acne remedies are available. I can help you find a solution that is right for your particular skin type.
Adult Hormonal Acne
Treating the root cause of adult acne fixes this frustrating problem in a more permanent way. The more persistent cases usually come down to a hormonal imbalance. Whether you are in your 20’s or firmly in perimenopause, working with a naturopathic doctor helps you examine your full hormonal profile. Then together we will find the right plan to bring your hormones, and your skin, back in balance.
If you have done what you can and are ready for professional guidance on skin-friendly treatments, come into the clinic! Together we will thoroughly measure your hormones, and look at your diet, vitamin and mineral levels, coping mechanisms, and other possible contributors. Adult acne can be treated naturally without harsh drugs or chemicals.
By Dr. Pamela Frank, BSc, Naturopathic Doctor