You wake up and look in the mirror—gasp! A big red pimple is positioned smack-dab in the middle of your forehead. That might sound like a nightmare from teenagerhood, but for many adults, zits are a frustrating reality. “Adult acne can be persistent and challenging, and for some, it’s worse than having it as a teen because it stands out more,” says dermatologist John Barbieri, M.D., a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. Acne flares when oil, protein, dead skin cells, and bacteria combine to clog or inflame pores, triggering blackheads, whiteheads, or bulbous lesions that may cause scarring. Hormonal fluctuations can also trigger an eruption, which is why some women have acne flares that coincide with their menstrual cycles and some experience acne for the first time during pregnancy or menopause. Stubborn marks can lead to poor self-image, depression, and anxiety, so try these tips to get or keep a clear complexion.
PREVENT IT EAT RIGHT
Studies have linked acne with eating high-glycemic-index foods like refined grains and sugary foods and drinks, which can raise blood sugar and cause inflammation. “Instead, eat a diet rich in whole grains and high-fiber fruits and vegetables,” says Julie Harper, M.D., clinical associate professor of dermatology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Stress causes the body to pump out hormones that stimulate oil glands, which can trigger acne outbreaks. Try stress-relief tactics like meditation, yoga, taking a quiet walk, or unwinding in a relaxing hot bath.
Wash your face in the morning, in the evening, and after strenuous activity like yard work or a hard workout—this
helps remove dirt, debris, and makeup that may clog pores. “Look for cleansers that have ‘gentle,’ ‘moisturizing,’ or ‘noncomedogenic’ on the label,” Dr. Barbieri says. Rub lightly and don’t scrub, since this can irritate acne and make it worse.
TREAT IT TRY A TOPICAL
Over-the-counter acne products containing benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid can help clear clogged pores and reduce acne-causing bacteria on the skin. Topical retinoids such as adapalene (Differin) and prescription tretinoin (Retin-A, Renova) are another option; they reduce inflammation and prevent clogging of pores. Talk to a dermatologist about which product to choose and how to use it properly.
If OTC treatments aren’t cutting it, a dermatologist can prescribe a topical antibiotic. For acne that is deeper or resistant to topicals, she can recommend oral antibiotics or other meds such as spironolactone (Aldactone) or isotretinoin (Accutane) to help deal with the issue.
MANAGE YOUR MEDS
“A lot of medications, especially oral corticosteroids used to treat inflammatory conditions, can cause acne as a side effect,” says Ronda Farah, M.D., assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School. “Talk to your doctor or dermatologist about dosage or an alternative.” Some oral contraceptives can also help.