Skin, Lip and Body Care

Adult Acne Increasing—How to Get Control of Your Breakouts

+ Pamela Friedman

According to the International Dermal Institute, adult acne is affecting more adults every day.

It’s the most common skin condition in the U.S., affecting up to 50 million Americans annually. Data presented at the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) annual meeting in 2012 showed that acne affected more than 50 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 29 and more than 25 percent of women between the ages of 40 and 49.

It’s frustrating and discouraging when you are doing everything you think you should be doing to take care of your skin, and yet those pimples show up to mar your appearance. You feel out of control of your own body, and you may start to blame yourself, feeling you must have done something wrong for your skin to be acting like it is.

Part of the problem is that acne can show up for a variety of reasons, and sometimes it’s near impossible to pinpoint the cause. More recently, we’ve added additional factors into the mix, including mask-wearing (which can increase acne breakouts) and high levels of stress tied to the COVID-19 pandemic and the accompanying economic fallout.

If you’re struggling with adult acne and you’ve run out of options, we have some more tips for you below that may help. Meanwhile, let’s review some of the main causes of this difficult skin condition.

5 Reasons Why Acne is On the Rise in Adults

1. We’re More Stressed

Studies have discovered that stress is a powerful factor when it comes to acne. In a 2017 study, researchers found that an increase in stress severity strongly correlated with an increase in acne severity. An earlier study found that stress also made existing acne worse.

As to why this is, scientists believe there are several factors involved. When we’re under stress, the body releases hormones that can bind to receptors in the skin’s sebaceous glands, driving up oil production.

The sebaceous glands also function as immune organs, so they can create inflammation when under stress. Combine excess oil and inflammation and you have the perfect environment for acne development.

When people are stressed, scientists know that the nerves increase the signaling that causes itch, which can cause people to pick or scratch at their skin. This transfers oils, dirt, and bacteria from the fingers to the face or other areas, which is another reason why acne may develop.

Finally, chronic stress—the kind that sticks around for months at a time, and which many people are experiencing since the COVID-19 pandemic began—can affect the immune system in such a way that slows healing, so that pimples stick around longer.

2. We’re Wearing Masks

As mask-wearing becomes more ubiquitous throughout society, more people are suffering from acne. This makes complete sense to dermatologists because masks retain heat and humidity from recirculating breath and trap it against the skin. Combine these with the bacteria we exhale from our mouths, and you have again, the perfect recipe for acne and other skin conditions, including dermatitis and rosacea.

3. We Still Have Hormones to Deal With

More women suffer from adult acne than men, which seems to be because of hormone fluctuations and stress. If you regularly get acne at that time of the month, you know what we’re talking about. Hormone changes connected to the menstrual cycle are believed to play a role in acne flares, as according to research, up to 85 percent of adult women report a worsening of their acne in the days before their menstruation.

Acne also tends to flare up in women going through perimenopause, when levels of estrogen drop, stimulating the sebaceous glands to produce excess oil.

4. We’re Not Getting Enough Vitamin D

You’re doing what you’re supposed to do—you’re avoiding the sun, and you’re wearing sunscreen when you go out. That’s great for reducing your risk of skin cancer—but it may not be exactly the right approach for reducing your risk of acne breakouts.

Recently, studies have suggested that acne could be tied to low levels of vitamin D. In 2016, researchers reported that when comparing patients with acne against healthy controls, 48.8 percent of those with acne were deficient in vitamin D, compared with only 22.5 percent of the healthy controls. The lower the level of vitamin D, the more severe the acne.

In a follow-up trial, researchers found that vitamin D supplements helped improve inflammatory lesions in nearly half of those patients with acne.

Other studies have found similar results, and considering that many Americans are not getting enough vitamin D—three-quarters of us, according to one study—this is likely another factor in the increasing prevalence of acne.

5. We Don’t Always Eat Right

When we’re stressed, the body drives us to reach for comfort foods, and most of the time, these foods aren’t good for us. They’re full of fat, sugar, and salt, and while they may make us feel better in the short term, they can wreak havoc on our skin in the long term.

Several studies have linked diet with acne. In 2016, researchers reported that according to the evidence, there is a compelling link between high-glycemic loads and acne, in particular. Switching to a low-glycemic diet improved symptoms of acne in another study.

Fast food has also been linked to acne, particularly because it’s known to promote inflammation.

How to Reduce Acne Breakouts Now

To help reduce your acne breakouts, follow these recommendations.

1. Practice a Daily Stress-Relieving Activity

We can’t erase the stress from our lives, but we can learn how to release it more often and more effectively so that it doesn’t affect our skin so much.

Make sure you’re doing something that helps you release stress every day—optimally, several times a day. Some ideas include:

  • Meditate for 10 minutes
  • Spend time with friends and loved ones
  • Go for a walk in the park or other green space
  • Go to a yoga or tai chi class
  • Grow a garden
  • Keep a gratitude journal
  • Care for a pet
  • Engage in a hobby like knitting or woodworking
  • Play an instrument
  • Exercise
  • Keep a journal

2. Cut Out Unnecessary Stressful Activities

In addition to regularly relieving stress, try to eliminate unnecessary stress from your life. Perusing your Facebook feed, for example, can be stressful, particularly if you’re exposed to negative images and messages, or if you feel like others are living better lives than you are.

Studies show that the more time you spend on social media, the more depressed you may be, so make a point to limit how often and how long you interact on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the like. Try too to limit how much time you spend per day on email checking. Create spaces in your day where you can just breathe, relax, go outside, and nurture yourself.

3. Eat a Healthy Diet

As noted above, a poor diet can make acne worse, so do your best to eat healthy foods most of the time. If you’re feeling stressed, don’t fix it with food—go for a walk, write in your journal, spend some time with a pet, or call a friend. Then do your best to avoid high-fat, high-sugar food items that can trigger acne. To get an idea of the glycemic index for a variety of foods, check out Harvard Health’s list.

4. Get 7-8 Hours of Sleep Per Night

Sleep deprivation affects the skin in many ways. It slows wound healing, increases inflammation, boosts stress hormones, reduces immune function, breaks down the skin barrier, and degrades collagen. These effects can increase the risk of acne breakouts, so do your best to get 7-8 hours of sleep every night. Make sure you keep all technological gadgets out of the bedroom—their blue light triggers changes in the brain that negatively affect sleep.

5. Wash Your Mask Often

If you’re wearing a mask regularly, try to wash it every day if you can. Your best approach is to have 2-3 masks that you can rotate out, washing each one and allowing it to dry while wearing the clean mask. Masks can harbor skin oils and bacteria, so every day that you wear one without washing it, the greater your risk of developing acne.

6. Stick to a Consistent Skincare Regimen

This may be the most important of all these steps, particularly if you’re feeling extra stress right now and you’re regularly wearing a mask. Washing, toning, and moisturizing every morning and night is critical to getting the bacteria, sweat, oil, and other debris off your skin and keeping it hydrated and healthy.

It’s also important to choose skincare products that will work with your skin to keep it strong and resistant to all the factors that cause acne. Reducing inflammation, for example, is one of the main things you want your skincare products to do. CV Skinlabs’ formulas are made to reduce inflammation and contain turmeric, chamomile, calendula, and more natural extracts to perform that job.

You also want to keep bacteria away, so use a gentle cleanser and choose toners and moisturizers that reduce irritation so you won’t be picking and scratching your skin. Our formulas contain bisabolol, a botanically-derived active ingredient that helps fight acne, reduces inflammation and irritation and helps skin heal.

Finally, make sure your moisturizer has some healing potential. Aloe vera is a good ingredient to look for, and it’s in all of our products. It helps keep skin moisturized without clogging your pores and has antibacterial properties as well.

7. Use Healthy Skin Masks

If you’re noticing your acne increasing lately, step up your skin masking practice. Choose oil-absorbing masks for one day per week, for example, and moisturizing masks for another day. Alternate frequently to help your skin cope. When skin is under extra stress, it needs extra care, and masks can be a good way to provide the skin with the tools it needs to recover.

If, after following these recommendations, you’re still struggling with acne, talk to your dermatologist. He or she will likely have other solutions you can try.

Have you noticed your acne increasing lately?

AAD. “Skin Conditions by the Numbers.” American Academy of Dermatology. Accessed June 23, 2020.

Chiu, Annie, Susan Y. Chon, and Alexa B. Kimball. “The Response of Skin Disease to Stress.” Archives of Dermatology 139, no. 7 (2003). doi:10.1001/archderm.139.7.897.

Ginde, Adit A., Mark C. Liu, and Carlos A. Camargo. “Demographic Differences and Trends of Vitamin D Insufficiency in the US Population, 1988-2004.” Archives of Internal Medicine 169, no. 6 (2009), 626. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2008.604.

Howard, Diana. “The International Dermal Institute.” The International Dermal Institute. Last modified April 15, 2019.

Krause, Rachel. “Adult Acne Is On The Rise — & It Goes Way Beyond Surface Level.” Refinery29. Last modified July 23, 2019.

Kucharska, Alicja, Agnieszka Szmurło, and Beata Sińska. “Significance of diet in treated and untreated acne vulgaris.” Advances in Dermatology and Allergology 2 (2016), 81-86. doi:10.5114/ada.2016.59146.

Smith, Robyn N., Neil J. Mann, Anna Braue, Henna Mäkeläinen, and George A. Varigos. “A low-glycemic-load diet improves symptoms in acne vulgaris patients: a randomized controlled trial.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 86, no. 1 (2007), 107-115. doi:10.1093/ajcn/86.1.107.

Zari, Shadi, and Dana Alrahmani. “The association between stress and acne among female medical students in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.” Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology Volume 10 (2017), 503-506. doi:10.2147/ccid.s148499.

Zeichner, Joshua A. “Emerging Issues in Adult Female Acne.” J Clin Aesthet Dermatol 19, no. 1 (January 2017), 36-46.

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