By Kyle Van De Graaff, M.D.
You would think that being an adult comes with a clear complexion. However, teenagers aren’t the only ones to experience acne breakouts. Adults get acne, too. Nearly all adults get an occasional blackhead or pimple. Read further for my breakdown on breakouts.
Why do we get acne?
Despite what your mother may have told you, eating the wrong foods does not trigger acne. In general, acne worsens in response to high-stress levels. But there are other triggers.
Blackheads and whiteheads often form when the residue of hair care products finds its way onto the face. Friction on the face can cause acne, such as wearing a chinstrap or a mask.
Hormonal acne is very common, occurring in about 25 percent of adult women. It shows up as tender bumps beneath the skin that take a long time to resolve and hardly ever rise to the skin surface. These lesions usually occur on the lower face or upper neck near the jawline. They don’t often scar, provided you don’t pick at them. However, they do leave a dark discoloration that can take months to fade.
Hormonal acne can have a sudden onset after discontinuing birth control pills, which normally suppress hormonal acne.
How can breakouts be prevented?
Prevention is the name of the game with acne. Despite what television commercials would have you believe, there is no helping a pimple once it has appeared. All acne treatments are preventive measures.
Over-the-counter acne products are based on salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. They come as washes that are rinsed off and as creams that are left in contact with the skin. In general, creams are more effective than washes because they have longer contact time with the skin. This comes at the expense of increased dryness. Salicylic acid tends to be the best non-prescription choice for preventing plugs, while benzoyl peroxide is best for preventing the inflamed pimples.
What causes acne on the body?
Oily parts of the body including the face, neck, scalp, chest, back, and shoulders are all prone to acne. Acne begins when excess oil mixes with dead skin cells to form a plug at the entrance of the oil gland.
For women, body acne is not common. So if you are a woman and get acne on the body, consider the possibility that it might be something else entirely.
When should adults see their doctor or specialist for acne and what medical treatment is available?
If over-the-counter products haven’t produced the desired effect after 3–4 months, it’s time to see a doctor. Treating acne is a slow process, usually 6–8 weeks before progress is visible.
For women, hormonal acne responds best to estrogen-containing contraceptives, such as birth control pills, and to a drug called spironolactone.
There are very good prescription medications for acne, and most cases of acne can be controlled with today’s treatments.
Dr. Van De Graaff is a dermatologist at The Corvallis Clinic. To schedule an appointment, call 541-754-1252.