The Grown-Up’s Guide to Clear Skin

Beauty/Skincare, Featured Article
on March 2, 2010
guide to clear skin

About this time last year, Julie Bouziotis was stressed. If you’re searching for sympathy for the 39-year-old from Long Island, New York, we don’t blame you; we’re all stressed. But Bouziotis was finishing up an MBA degree while preparing for an overseas business trip.

By the time her plane landed, her skin was a teenager’s prom-night horror story: Pimples covered her chin. Self-consciousness quickly set in, as Bouziotis was scheduled to speak in front of the heads of several companies during her stay abroad. “It seemed like everyone was staring directly at my chin. All I could think was ‘I’m too old for this!'”

Bouziotis was suffering from adult acne. Yes, just when you think wrinkles will be the biggest skin worries of your adult years, you may find yourself breaking out like you did in high school. An estimated 20 percent of women over age 25 are affected by the problem. Think you’re one of them? Understanding how the condition differs from the adolescent version is your first step to clear skin.

While breakouts and blemishes may look the same in adulthood, they’re more likely to be caused by stress, medications like birth control, hormone surges and hair and skincare product allergies than the over-active oil glands of adolescent acne. Another important difference: “Adult breakouts tend to resolve more slowly due to the relatively slow speed of skin cell turnover,” says New York dermatologist Dr. Macrene Alexiades.

Before you scrub your face raw, swear off chocolate and sop up every drop of oil on your skin, you should know that you can’t zap adult zits the same way you did as a teen. Here’s a grown-up’s guide to keeping acne from messing with your complexion.

FYI: Eating greasy foods or chocolate does NOT cause acne.

Prevent It:

  • Limit stress. Easier said than done, we know, but reducing stressors that send acne-triggering hormone levels through the roof can reduce your breakout risk.
  • Wash your face before you work out. Schultz says it’s important to remove pimple-producing dirt, oil and makeup from your face before exercise to keep from rubbing it in when you wipe away sweat.
  • Update your skincare for the season. Because skin becomes drier with age, even those who are prone to acne should use heavier, oil-based moisturizing creams during winter months, says New York dermatologist Dr. Neal Schultz. The season’s dry, cool air worsens acne symptoms like redness and irritation. During warmer periods, switch to lighter products.

Treat It:

  • Use acne products tailored to adult skin. Benzoyl peroxide — the teenager’s choice for eradicating acne — can be irritating and dissolve too much oil for those with already dry complexions. Instead, reach for cleansers and creams that contain sulfur or azelaic acid. Exfoliants like glycolic, salicylic and fruit acids can also help.
  • Ask about prescription anti-acne medications. There are several options for oral or topical medications, each of which addresses the different factors that could be causing your case of acne, so more than one may be used to control the condition. Indeed, Bouziotis credits a combination of Rx drugs for keeping her acne under control.
  • Try new in-office treatments. With photodynamic therapy, a cream is applied to the skin followed by a blue light that activates the ingredients in the cream to reportedly shrink oil glands, kill bacteria and promote skin cell turnover. Another option is Isolaz, which combines a vacuum to extract dirt and excess oil with a painless laser that kills breakout-causing bacteria.