Although acne remains largely a curse of adolescence, about 20% of all cases occur in adults. Acne commonly starts during puberty between the ages of 10 and 13 and tends to be worse in people with oily skin. Teenage acne usually lasts for five to 10 years, normally going away during the early 20s. It occurs in both sexes, although teenage boys tend to have the most severe cases. Women are more likely than men to have mild to moderate forms into their 30s and beyond.
As mentioned above, genetics are thought to play a major role in your susceptibility to acne. However, using the best acne products and taking good care of your skin can help you prevent worsening acne and scars later in life. Check out these other known acne causes and aggravators and see how to prevent acne by cutting some of these out of your life:
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Avoid touching or rubbing your face, since that can make acne worse. Try to keep your cell phone from touching your face, too. Use earbuds instead of having the phone against your skin. Also, don't lean your face on your hands, which may carry oils and germs that can irritate blemishes. Sweat can also make acne worse. Sweaty after exercise? Wash up.
Caused by a bacteria that lives on our skin, acne comes to life at any age when our hormones cue our body to produce excess oil, essentially throwing fuel on the fire. “Our skins’ oils are a wonderful environment for acne bacteria to thrive in, unfortunately,” says Dr. Robert Anolik, clinical assistant professor of dermatology at the NYU School of Medicine. Add dead skin cells, dirt, stress, irritation from everything from diet to skin products, and a breakout is going to result unless you (constantly) work to prevent it.
If you have body acne, taking a shower as soon as possible after working out is also key. It turns out that standing around in tight, sweaty workout clothes puts you at the greatest risk for body acne and rashes. “The whole idea is that the bacteria that live on the skin can get trapped in the hair follicles and cause inflammation,” says dermatologist Dr. Elizabeth Hale. “The more you work out in the heat the more likely this is.” Dr. Levin agrees that showering right after a workout is your best defense against body acne. But in a pinch, body wipes like the Yuni Shower Sheets will do the trick.
Do a Google search for “how to get rid of acne fast" and you'll see plenty of websites telling you to eat better for clear skin. But are there really foods that cause acne, or is that an old wives' tale? Dermatologist Hilary Baldwin, MD, of the Acne Treatment and Research Centre in Morristown, New Jersey, says the answer isn't really simple at all. "The simple answer is, we don't know. So far studies have suggested that high-glycemic index diets (those with lots of white foods like potatoes, pasta, bread, rice and sweets), as well as diets high in skim-milk dairy products and whey protein supplements might be associated with worsening of existing acne but are less likely to cause acne," Baldwin says.
Like microneedling, fractionated skin resurfacing sends skin a signal to respond to damage. Specifically, microscopic columns of injury are created causing minute perforations in the treatment area, while leaving healthy surrounding tissue intact and untouched. "The specific zones of injury trigger the patient's natural neocollagenesis (collagen rebuilding process)," explains Engelman, who characterizes the treatment as both revolutionary and non-invasive. This new collagen rejuvenates the skin and improves its appearance. "Improvements continue over time (up to six months post-procedure) as new collagen continues to rebuild," she says.
Coconut oil is all the rage, with uses ranging from hair conditioning to cooking. But some swear by it as a natural acne treatment. To use coconut oil as an acne treatment, you can include it as part of a healthy diet. The fatty acids like lauric acid caprylic acid are metabolized into antibacterial agents in the body. Or, you can apply a very small amount and rub directly onto your skin after cleansing for an extra hydrating boost.
Alcohol-based toners have been an anti-acne step since forever, but are so harsh and drying on skin that they can cause skin to produce even more oil, and they can irritate; as with benzoyl peroxide or any other irritant, they can further inflame a case of acne. But dabbing skin with witch hazel or non-alcohol toner (we love S.W. Basics’ toner with witch hazel and raw apple cider vinegar, $9.99, swbasicsofbk.com) can serve as a mild exfoliant, to unclog pores and deposit ingredients like tea tree oil or salicylic acid. Tea Tree Oil Facial Cleansing pads from Desert Essence ($7.99, desertessence.com) are particularly brilliant, combining both ingredients.
You’re a typical hormonal-acne patient if, well past puberty, you’re breaking out around your period, usually in the jawline area, says Anolik. A consistent routine is key—as is enduring a waiting period of two to three months for said routine to work, he continues: “Even powerful prescription treatments can take a few months to really clear things up, and that’s our biggest challenge. People who get frustrated and don’t stick to their treatments get stuck in a cycle of trying and quitting too early, and feeling like nothing works.”
Diet. Studies indicate that certain dietary factors, including skim milk and carbohydrate-rich foods — such as bread, bagels and chips — may worsen acne. Chocolate has long been suspected of making acne worse. A small study of 14 men with acne showed that eating chocolate was related to a worsening of symptoms. Further study is needed to examine why this happens and whether people with acne would benefit from following specific dietary restrictions.
However, if you have a scar, you’re dealing with permanent skin damage that needs treatment in order to disappear. An acne scar changes the texture of the skin. If acne has left indentations, or raised spots, the damage has occurred at a deeper level in the skin. This “cobblestoning” effect indicates scarring that needs more than a surface-level treatment.
Over-the-counter retinol or vitamin A can also help. Anolik says retinols can be incredibly effective, especially higher-strength prescription retinoids: “They’re the gold standard in acne and aging treatments.” The prescription versions, from Tazorac to Differin, are usually covered by insurance in the case of acne. Vitamin C can also treat pores and exfoliate; Tammy Fender’s System ($165, tammyfender.com) comes with a vitamin C toner.
Drugs: Some medications may cause or worsen acne, such as those containing iodides, bromides, or oral or injected steroids (either the medically prescribed prednisone [Deltasone, Orasone, Prednicen-M, Liquid Pred] or the steroids that bodybuilders or athletes sometimes take). Other drugs that can cause or aggravate acne are anticonvulsant medications and lithium (Eskalith, Lithobid). Most cases of acne, however, are not drug related.