Spot check Clear­ing up some myths about acne

With so many mixed mes­sages sur­round­ing acne – from what causes it to how to treat it – know­ing where to start is cause enough for a stress-in­duced spot. Erin Ber­ry­man asks the ex­perts to clear up some long-stand­ing myths

Good Health Choices - - Contents -

Never mind age­ing, it turns out that as adult women, we’re not only hav­ing to deal with fine lines and wrin­kles, but acne too. It may be syn­ony­mous with back­packs and braces, but acne is all too com­mon for women in their 20s, 30s and be­yond.


Acne is the lead­ing skin com­plaint der­ma­tol­o­gists ob­serve in New Zealand. It af­fects many of us at some stage in our lives, par­tic­u­larly dur­ing ado­les­cence but fre­quently well into adult­hood. The acne spec­trum is vast, vary­ing in scale from mild to se­vere and dis­tin­guish­able by the types of pim­ples present, from spo­radic pus­tu­lar break­outs to re­cur­rent and painful cys­tic le­sions that re­quire more in­ten­sive treat­ment. How­ever, it ex­tends far be­yond physical symp­toms, with suf­fer­ers some­times en­dur­ing pro­found so­cial and psy­cho­log­i­cal dis­tress for years af­ter­wards.


Acne is a com­mon skin dis­ease caused by over-stim­u­la­tion and in­flam­ma­tion of the pi­lose­baceus

[hair fol­li­cles and oil-pro­duc­ing gland]. “It of­ten be­gins dur­ing pu­berty when there is a change in hor­mone lev­els that leads to en­large­ment and in­creased ac­tiv­ity of the pi­lose­baceus unit and in turn in­creased pro­duc­tion of se­bum [oil],” ex­plains der­ma­tol­o­gist Dr Eleni Yi­asemides.

This oil then clogs pores, lead­ing to white­heads, black­heads and cys­tic acne – deep lumps and in­fected pus­tules. Un­for­tu­nately, the joys don’t end there – de­pend­ing on sever­ity it of­ten leaves a mark, from hy­per-pig­men­ta­tion and red spots, to deep craters.


Feel like your face is hav­ing a high school reunion? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. In fact, 40 per cent of women will suf­fer from some form of acne in their adult lives. So, what’s the dif­fer­ence be­tween teenage and adult acne? Lo­ca­tion, lo­ca­tion, lo­ca­tion. Although the process of adult acne is es­sen­tially the same, it gen­er­ally pops up in dif­fer­ent places to its younger coun­ter­part.

“The pat­tern usu­ally changes be­tween pu­berty and adult­hood, ap­pear­ing in dif­fer­ent ar­eas of the face, de­pend­ing on var­i­ous or­gans in the body,” says Mar­i­anna Glu­cina, founder of skin clinic About Face. Glu­cina adopts an east­ern ap­proach to di­ag­no­sis, be­liev­ing that where a break­out oc­curs is a re­flec­tion of what’s go­ing on in­side – a tech­nique of­ten em­ployed by skin ther­a­pists to pre­scribe a tai­lored ser­vice known as ‘face map­ping’. In teenagers, acne is usu­ally on the fore­head and cheeks, while in adults it tends to be along the jaw­line and neck.


Acne is a re­flec­tion of diet and poor hy­giene False – Acne is largely con­sid­ered to be a ge­netic dis­or­der, says Dr Yi­asemides. “While many stud­ies have looked at life­style and diet, there is no study that has con­clu­sively found a link be­tween th­ese and acne devel­op­ment.”

Dr Cather­ine Stone of The Face Place warns that over-wash­ing can ac­tu­ally fur­ther ag­gra­vate the con­di­tion, strip­ping nec­es­sary oils that are then over­com­pen­sated for by the glands.

“It has not been shown to im­prove acne and may ac­tu­ally ex­ac­er­bate it by dis­rupt­ing the pro­tec­tive layer of se­bum and skin cells,” she cau­tions.

Break­outs can be at­trib­uted to stress

True – The stress hor­mone cor­ti­sol causes the skin to pro­duce ex­cess oils, of­ten trig­ger­ing a break­out or ex­ac­er­bat­ing ex­ist­ing acne. “Re­search has shown that adult acne is more preva­lent in women who work in high-pres­sure, pro­fes­sional roles,” says Dr Yi­asemides, who also ob­serves a sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment in skin once the stress has de­fused. While oc­ca­sional acute stress can bring on the odd break­out, it’s im­por­tant to mon­i­tor con­tin­ual stress as this can lead to a hor­mone im­bal­ance that will likely show in your skin.

Smok­ing im­pacts your skin health

True – Skin is very sen­si­tive to ni­co­tine. It in­creases se­bum re­ten­tion within the fol­li­cles, form­ing come­dones (black­heads and white­heads).

Acne gets worse when your pe­riod is due

True – If blem­ishes are pop­ping up at the same time each month, it’s prob­a­bly not a co­in­ci­dence. “About 70 per cent of women com­plain of flare-ups be­fore their pe­ri­ods,” says Dr Yi­asemides. They usu­ally emerge seven to 10 days prior to your pe­riod, due to a sud­den drop in es­tro­gen and pro­ges­terone lev­els.

Makeup can cause or fuel ex­ist­ing acne

True – While makeup won’t cause acne, it can def­i­nitely ir­ri­tate it. “Sweat-proof,

‘Re­search has shown that adult acne is more preva­lent in women who work in high-pres­sure, pro­fes­sional roles’

smudge-proof and long-wear­ing makeup is best avoided as it can con­tain plas­tics that block your skin and cause break­outs,” ex­plains Caro­line Parker, head of ed­u­ca­tion for Der­ma­log­ica New Zealand. “It’s best to use a min­eral makeup that will not block or con­gest your skin,” she adds.

Parker also strongly ad­vises dou­ble cleans­ing – the process of cleans­ing your face twice in the evening in or­der to thor­oughly rid your skin of daily build-up and en­sure max­i­mum ab­sorp­tion of serums and mois­turis­ers.

TRY: 1. Der­ma­log­ica Pre­cleanse Balm, $75.

Tooth­paste clears up pim­ples

False – While it may seem like a good idea as an emer­gency spot fix, tooth­paste con­tains harsh in­gre­di­ents like bak­ing soda, al­co­hol, hy­dro­gen per­ox­ide and methanol. Th­ese dry out the skin and are likely to cause ir­ri­ta­tion and in­flam­ma­tion, par­tic­u­larly to acne suf­fer­ers who have sen­si­tive skin.

Don’t mois­turise; it will make it worse

False – Skip­ping mois­turiser will cause your skin to over­com­pen­sate with more oil. In fact, if you’re avoid­ing mois­turiser com­pletely, it could be the rea­son for your break­outs. If your skin is on the oily side, look for an oil-free gel for­mula.

TRY: 2. Ul­traceu­ti­cals Ul­tra UV Pro­tec­tive Daily Mois­turiser Mat­ti­fy­ing SPF 50+, $84. 3. Avène Cleanance Ex­pert Mois­turiser, $37.60.

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