The Dreaded Adult Acne

There are some things we may miss about our teenage years—say, the ability to stay up till all hours and then sleep till noon. One thing that's not on our nostalgia lists? A sprinkling of pimples on our faces. But it turns out that many of us are noticing blemishes at the same time we're encountering wrinkles.

A 2012 study published in the Journal of Women's Health found that acne affects nearly half of all women ages 21 to 30, a quarter of women ages 31 to 40, and 12% of women ages 41 to 50. No matter how old we are, pimples usually form in the same time-honored way: Pores—which contain oil glands—become blocked, letting dirt, bacteria, and cells build up and form a plug.

Why it happens

For most women, hormonal changes, either around the monthly cycle or during a menopausal shift, are the culprit. But dietary imbalances and stress also cause flare-ups. "Acne in adults is like a whistle blow. Often it's a sign that something else not quite right is going on," says Michael Murray, ND, a naturopath and coauthor of The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine.

Here, a range of solutions for sufferers

Eat fewer refined carbs.

Eating chocolate or a lot of junk food doesn't by itself seem to cause acne, but not having a balanced diet and eating too many refined carbs can cause problems. Scientists suspect that raised insulin levels from the carbs may trigger a release of hormones that inflame follicles and increase oil production.

And less dairy, too.

A 2006 Harvard study found that girls who drank two or more glasses of milk daily had about a 20% higher risk of acne than those who had less than a glass a week. Studies published last year and in 2008 suggested that fat-free milk in particular, which is higher in sugar than whole milk, might be a culprit. (Another hypothesis is that hormones in dairy products play a role.) If you regularly drink fat-free, consider switching to 1% milk or a nondairy alternative. Look for something that has fewer than 10 g of sugar per serving.

Try blue light therapy.

These powerful rays penetrate follicles to kill off acne-causing bacteria. For severe cases, photodynamic therapy adds a topical solution called Levulan to blue light therapy. Note that these treatments can cause temporary redness and may not be covered by insurance.

Pick up tea tree oil.

Less irritating than its chemical cousin benzoyl peroxide, tea tree oil has a long history of fighting mild to moderate acne outbreaks. The oil, which comes from the leaves of a tree native to Australia, has antiseptic properties that help reduce acne-causing bacteria on the skin and quell inflammation in skin cells. You can find tea tree oil in a wide variety of soaps, skin washes, and topical solutions. Look for a minimum concentration of 5% of the oil (up to 15% for more severe acne).

Cut back on salt.

Some doctors suspect that sodium has consequences for skin, because the iodine frequently found in table salt and some seafood may worsen acne breakouts. Stick to low-sodium versions of packaged foods, try to keep your overall salt consumption below 1,500 mg a day

Manage your stress.

Researchers haven't established just why stomach-churning anxiety creates skin blemishes, but they point the finger at stress hormones such as cortisol for increasing inflammation levels in the body and stimulating oil glands. In any case, managing stress through exercise, meditation, or whatever method helps calm your nerves may also calm your skin.

Look for salicylic acid.

Among the most popular OTC remedies is salicylic acid, which is incorporated into gels, wipes, creams, and sprays. The acid reduces swelling and redness and unplugs pores. To keep skin from becoming too dry, look for formulas geared to adult women, not teens (aim for 2% salicylic acid to start). Some skin care lines offer salicylic acid products that address acne and wrinkles alike.

Oc Facial Care Center offers a variety geared towards acne. Here are a few of our favorite acne products!

1. OC FACIAL CARE CENTER ACNE CLEARING CLEANSER 5-2

2. DERMAQUEST DERMACLEAR PURITY CLEANSER LEVEL II 6 OZ

3. Obagi CLENZIderm M.D.™ System Pore Therapy