Most of us associate acne with being a teenager and something that mysteriously vanishes overnight once we become adults.
However, adult acne is more common than you might think. A study last year of 92 private dermatology clinics last found a 200 per cent rise in the number of adults seeking treatment for acne.
Sunil Chopra of The London Dermatology Centre says, ‘I see 20-30 new cases of adult acne each week, ranging from those in their 20s up to those in their 50s.’
But the condition is more than skin deep, with research showing a high level of depression, social phobias and anxiety disorders in those who have the condition. One study published by the British Journal of Dermatology revealed that acne patients had higher levels of anxiety and depression than people suffering with cancer.
One sufferer, Becky Field shares her experience: ‘I was so worried about the acne on my back, chest and shoulders that I’d spend all summer in roll-neck jumpers. When my husband took the family on holiday to Crete, I searched high and low to find high-necked dresses with sleeves – and swimming was a definite no-no!’
What causes adult acne?
Acne is caused by too much oil on the skin, known as ‘sebum’. The more sebum you produce, the greasier your skin gets and the worse the acne is likely to be. This sebum then gets trapped under pores.
Hormones are often at the root of acne, according to Dr Rob Hicks: ‘Medical conditions such as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) can cause acne, as can the use of progesterone-containing contraceptive pills.’
One of the features of PCOS is increased levels of testosterone and sufferers may experience weight gain, excessive hair growth, irregular periods and acne as a result.
1 in 10 women have PCOS making it one of the most common hormonal disorders, so if you’re concerned, it’s worth taking a blood test.
Other factors that can make acne worse include diet, makeup and stress. However, there are ways to reduce and manage symptoms.
How to get rid of adult acne
Although there is no miracle cure for acne, these natural and home remedies can help improve the condition of your skin. From wearing banana skin to wearing loose clothes, here are some of the best tips around.
Natural treatments for adult acne
1. Banana skin
It may sound strange, but bear with us – apparently rubbing banana peel on your face can help rid your face of unwanted acne. Beauty blogger Habiba shared the life hack on Instagram, and it’s taken the beauty world by storm.
Habiba says all you have to do is cut off a small piece of peel (the riper the better) and rub the white inside part onto your face. It’s probably best to try this in the evening, as you must leave the peel on your face for two hours – until the banana skin has turned dark. Rub the now-black peel on the area again before taking it off. Leave the residue on your face overnight (try not to get it on your pillow!) before washing it off in the morning. Try this every day until the acne has cleared.
So why does it work? Lisa Borg, skin expert and nutritionist at Pulse Light Clinic explains that banana skins are loaded with skin and hair boosting nutrients like vitamins A, C, E, and B9 (Folate), plus minerals like potassium, calcium, magnesium, selenium and zinc.
‘Banana skins can be used externally to hydrate hair and skin and are surprisingly helpful for oil control. Due to their nutritional content and especially their high phytosterol content, a banana skin mask can repair dry damaged skin because phytosterols reduce fluid loss and act as a moisturiser,’ she says.
2. Tea Tree Oil
Lisa explains that tea tree oil has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, which can help with acne breakouts and spots on your face.
‘Tea tree essential oil can also fight viruses, moulds and fungi and has been shown benefit to those suffering acne, eczema, psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis.’
She adds: ‘It can also be used to treat skin wounds and helps to promote faster healing. It soothes insect bites, sunburn and sore skin and has potent effects against jock itch, athletes foot and fungal nails. In 2008 a case study tea tree oil was used to treat warts successfully. Tea Tree Oil has also been used effectively to treat strep throat and respiratory infections, so this is an all-rounder and definitely one for the natural medicine cupboard!’
Try mixing a few drops of the essential oil with 20-40 drops of witch hazel (both available at most health stores) and apply it to the face with a cotton swab. It’s best not to do this more than twice a day as using these products too often could dry your skin and make the acne worse.
3. Make a cinnamon and honey mask
According to the health blog everydayroots, a honey and cinnamon mask can help tackle the bacterium that leads to acne. Honey is a natural antibiotic while cinnamon has antimicrobial properties, so it’s a double whammy of skin-fixing goodness. Just mix 2 tbsp of honey with 1tsp cinnamon together to make a paste, apply it to your face and leave for 15 minutes.
4. Try a make-up detox
It might sounds scary but it could help boost your skin health.
Lis says: ‘Commonly, a makeup detox is avoiding use of makeup and going ‘all-natural’ while following a skin care regime. However, to gain full benefits, it should also include thorough cleaning or replacement of all makeup tools such as brushes, combs, sponges and other applicators and the makeup bag itself. Going makeup free promotes skin cell turnover, but it is the internal detox which brings about healthy new skin cells.
‘Manipulating the diet alongside a makeup free 5-10 days will nourish the deeper levels of skin which will soon come to the surface and that revelas the result of your efforts. It is also a good time for a makeup review! Ditch the fragrant products and opt for all natural, organic, non-toxic ones. Consider a makeup detox when you break out often, or the skin is itchy, flaky, patchy or dull.’
5. Have a change of wardrobe
Tight-fitting clothes make acne worse by increasing the amount of sweat, sebum and dead skin cells trapped on the skin. Snug clothing, bra-straps, collars and wearing backpacks can also rub spots, which irritate and stop them from healing – try a floaty top next time you’re having an outbreak and it may help it clear.
6. Leave those spots alone
It sounds a bit gross, but constantly touching affected areas and picking at spots makes the skin oilier and blocks pores. It also stops the blemishes from healing properly, which can result in scarring. For those with mild acne, most cases clear up on their own, and over-cleansing and fiddling with your skin will only make the problem worse. Be gentle and give up your picking habit.
7. Talk to your doctor
If you are worried, your doctor may be able to prescribe a topical lotion or a course of mild antibiotics. The pill may be an option, with brands such as Dianette formed especially for women with acne, although you should expect to wait for up to two months before you see results. At the other end of the spectrum, your current medication could also be what’s making your acne worse. Some types of medication can aggravate bad skin, including steroids, anti-epileptic drugs and lotions for eczema. If you’re worried that your prescribed medicine is irritating your skin, see your GP.
8. Don’t stress
Although stress doesn’t actually cause acne, recent studies have shown that it can make any acne that already exists a lot worse. Finding some time to relax each day will ease stress and anxiety – management strategies are different for each person, but try not to overload your schedule, and take some ‘me-time’ every day.
Lisa explains that stress is the body’s response to a perceived threat to survival in some way.
‘The best analogy to understand it is to think of being chased by a sabre toothed tiger; all non-essential functions are switched off or down-regulated. The immediate need is for energy to sustain a fight or flight from/with that tiger.’
She adds: ‘Digestion is essentially switched off and the blood flows to the muscles; stored sugar is released to provide the fuel for muscles, and blood flow to the skin is decreased to avoid excess blood loss in the event of injury. Additionally the response involves hormones, and as hormones communicate with each other, prolonged stress would therefore have a significant effect on the skin. This is because acne is directly affected by the health of the gut, imbalances in the blood glucose regulation system, hormones go out of kilter, nutrients would not be sufficiently supplied to the skin, while toxins would not be adequately removed. Chronic stress would therefore have a huge negative consequential effect on skin.’
9. Last resort
If you’ve tried everything without success, dermatologist Sunil Chopra by isotretinoin capsules: ‘Of the patients that try it, 80%-90% find they are completely cured of acne, for good. It has just come off patent and costs around £60 per month, with the treatment usually lasting for 4½ to 5 months.’
As there are known side-effects with this treatment you can only get this through a skin specialist, so speak to an expert before beginning your course.
10. Light Treatments
Lisa explains that at Pulse Light Clinic, where she works, DermaLux LED therapy assists in addressing acne because the blue light is effective at reducing the activity of the sebaceous glands, which are over-active in the condition producing excess oil which block the pores and attracts dirt and bacteria.
‘The blue light also has antibacterial effects. For those with skin types suitable for Intense Pulse Light Therapy, this can also have a significant impact on Acne and acne scarring.’