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How Adults (and Teenagers!) Can Avoid Acne and Pimples

Acne is often thought of as one of the rites of passage of being a teenager -- one that, fortunately, you get to grow out of. Yet, acne does not always disappear once you reach your 20s and beyond.


Having acne as an adult can lead to feelings of embarrassment, shame and lack of self-esteem.

"Despite the fact that adult acne tends to be generally milder than teenage acne, this common medical condition can have a significant impact on a person's overall quality of life -- regardless of when it occurs," said dermatologist Julie C. Harper, MD, FAAD, associate professor of dermatology at the University of Alabama in Birmingham.

Harper and colleagues conducted a study to find out just how common acne is among adults. After surveying over 1,000 people aged 20 years and older, they found that:

  • During their 20s, 51 percent of women and 43 percent of men reported experiencing acne.

  • During their 30s, 35 percent of women and 20 percent of men reported experiencing acne.

  • During their 40s, 26 percent of women and 12 percent of men reported experiencing acne.

  • During their 50s or older, 15 percent of women and 7 percent of men reported experiencing acne.

What Causes Adult Acne?

Acne that doesn't disappear by your 20s is known as persistent acne. This usually results in deep-seated, inflamed pimples and nodules that may not respond to the treatments that worked during your teen years.

Regardless of age, acne occurs when excess sebum (an oil produced by your body to moisturize your skin), skin cells, and bacteria accumulate. In adults, this can be triggered by:

  • Hormones: Particularly during menstruation, pregnancy and menopause.

  • Certain medications: Anticonvulsants, corticosteroids, sobriety drugs and certain birth control pills (those that contain only progestins) may cause acne.

  • Family history of acne

  • Stress: When you're under stress, your body produces more androgens (a type of hormone). These hormones stimulate the oil glands in your skin, which can lead to acne.

  • Personal care products: Oily lotions, sunscreens or hair products can cause acne.


To keep acne at bay, wash your face twice a day using a mild cleanser, but be careful not to rub too hard (this can irritate your skin).

How to Avoid Acne

Acne can seem to take on a will of its own, flaring up when you least expect it (or want it). However, these tips can help to keep acne at bay:

1. Wash your face twice a day, gently with a mild facial cleanser. This will remove excess oil and dead skin cells.

2. Don't scrub your skin vigorously, as this can cause irritation that makes acne worse.

3. Use only natural skin care and hair care products. Look for water-based products labeled "non-comedogenic" or "non-acnegenic."

4. Resist the habit of touching your face. This transfers extra bacteria onto your skin. (Also be careful of objects that touch your face, such as a phone receiver or hat.)

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5. Change your pillowcases often, at least once a week. This helps prevent oils and bacteria from accumulating and rubbing on your skin at night.

6. Women, don't go to sleep with your makeup on, as this can clog your pores and contribute to acne. Also make sure that you clean your cosmetic brushes and applicators regularly with soap and water to avoid spreading bacteria.

7. Shower after exercise or other work that makes you sweat. The sweat can trap bacteria and dirt on your skin.

8. If you already have acne, over-the-counter acne products that contain benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid may help. Products that contain tea tree oil may also help clear up acne.

9. Don't pick or squeeze any existing blemishes, as this can cause infection or scarring.

There are also many rumors out there about foods and acne, such as that chocolate or pizza causes acne. There is still much debate on the topic of whether food can cause acne, but it turns out there may be a link between diet and acne after all. Here is what the research says:

  • In the Nurse's Study II, researchers analyzed teenage diet and acne in tens of thousands of women, and an association between milk intake and acne was found. The researchers suggested that hormones and other bioactive molecules in the milk may be to blame. This means that if you have trouble with acne, you may want to drink only organic milk, which does not have added hormones.

  • Vitamins A and E are important for healthy skin. In one study, people who had lower blood levels of these vitamins had more severe acne.

  • Eating a lot of refined carbs may also lead to acne, because this increases the production of insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1). Too much IGF-1 can lead to the production of too many skin cells called keratinocytes, which is associated with acne.

  • To keep your skin healthy, drinking plenty of water, and making sure you're getting enough omega-3 fatty acids, is also important.

Finally, the importance of keeping stress in your life under control to avoid acne cannot be ignored. Acne is well-known to flare up during times of stress, so learning some simple stress management tools may help your skin to stay healthy.

Recommended Reading

The Top 10 Skin Allergens, Top 8 Respiratory Allergens & Top 8 Digestive Allergens

Why Your Face Ages, and How to Avoid Premature Aging


Science Daily October 20, 2007

The American Academy of Dermatology

The World's Healthiest Foods

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