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
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.
WHO SUFFERS FROM ACNE?
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.
WHAT IS ACNE?
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.
TEENAGE VS ADULT ACNE
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 MYTHS DEBUNKED
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.