The Leading Causes of Adult Acne and How to Treat It

Dealing with acne as a teen is almost a rite of passage. While it’s no fun and can be quite embarrassing, it’s unfortunately an expected part of growing up. However, for some of us, leaving those teenage years behind doesn’t always mean we’ll leave the acne behind, too. Ugh! As if adulthood isn’t hard enough, breakouts are just one more annoyance to deal with. Not only can acne spots cause lower self-esteem, but most of the time they’re just plain painful and unattractive. So instead of constantly Googling ways to get rid of acne, I spoke with Dr. Payman Kosari from Dermatology, Laser, & Vein Specialists of the Carolinas to get all the details on what exactly causes acne and ways to treat it. Plus, ways to deal with the scaring that so often comes along with it.

The Causes:

One of the major misconceptions about acne is that it’s caused by having dirty skin, turns out that while having a good skincare routine is important, dirty skin isn’t typically the cause of acne. The most common cause for adult acne is surprise, surprise, HORMONES. Dr. Kosari says that genetics are also a big component. Which sadly means if you had acne in your teens, you’re more than likely to suffer from it as an adult as well.

Working out is another factor that may be causing those annoying zits. So although going to the gym may help slim down your figure, it can actually wreak havoc on your skin, because of all the excess sweat your body is producing. To avoid any extra blemishes, Dr. Kosari suggests that you throw some gentle face wipes into your gym bag. Something simple like Cetaphil wipes will do the trick. Just be sure to wipe your face as soon as you’re done working out. Don’t wait until you get home and shower, because just in the short amount of time it takes you to get home the sweat can build up and put you at a higher risk of breaking out.

Though dairy and chocolate are typically blamed as likely offenders when it comes to causing acne, they may have a bad rap for no reason. Dr. Kosari says there’s no definitive proof that food causes acne, although, he does suggest that if you notice a certain type of food triggers flare-ups, then you should avoid it as much as you can.

Ways To Treat Acne:

The good news is with today’s technology and medicine there’s no reason anyone should have to suffer from acne. The best way to get your skin cleared up is to get an appointment with a dermatologist to find out exactly what type of acne you’re dealing with and what the root cause of the problem is. From there, the doctor can determine the treatment method that is right for you. One size certainly does not fit all when it comes to blemishes. Treatments can range from taking medications like birth control and spironolactone to chemical peels, facials, and laser treatments. For extra stubborn acne Dr. Kosari says that Isotretinoin (formally known by the brand name Accutane) is a powerful tool to use to effectively get rid of acne long-term. And, while patients can expect some dry skin, he says the overall benefits of the medicine far outweigh the side effects.

Results of a patient using Isotretinoin.

In the meantime, while you’re waiting to get an appointment, if you already have a few spots, Dr. Kosari says DO NOT PICK. Though it’s almost become a cliche, because we’ve all heard it so many times, it’s so important not to pick. Picking puts you at more risk of scarring and hyperpigmentation. Instead place a warm compress on the offending spot until it comes to a head. But, if you’re like me and just can’t resist picking, he says to take a Q-tip and gently roll over the spot to try and get some of the stuff out of it. Too much squeezing can prolong the healing process as opposed to making it better. If you’ve got an active blemish that’s deep, painful, and taking a long time to go away, you can get in with a dermatologist and have them inject a little bit of a steroid solution directly into the spot. The solution will make it go away a lot quicker than if you tried to squeeze it yourself. The shot is a quick procedure with minimal discomfort, so most dermatology offices can easily get you in and out quickly if you go this route.

You can also help prevent future blemishes and get rid of current ones by using a salicylic acid wash and/or a topical with salicylic acid and benzyl peroxide on a regular basis. Dr. Kosari mentioned that Differn Gel is a great option that can be found over the counter.

Scarring & Discoloration:

Unfortunately, sometimes unattractive blemishes aren’t the only problem that comes along with acne — scaring is also a major concern. Dr. Kosari notes that there’s not one specific approach that works for every patient. Acne scar treatment has to be personalized. So, the best thing to do is go to a dermatologist to find out what kind of acne scarring you actually have. There are three main types: box, ice pick, and rolling scars. Once the doctor has determined what type or types you suffer from, a treatment plan can be created to deliver the best results for your skin.

Popular treatment options for true acne scars include laser and radio frequency treatments, as well as a newer technique known as subcision, which has changed the game as far as acne scarring goes. In the simplest of terms, during subcision a doctor uses a small, sharp instrument to get underneath the scar and free up the band that may be holding the scar down. Once the band is released the divot (scar) in the skin can raise back up.

Results from multiple scarring treatments.

Discoloration and hyperpigmentation from old acne spots are technically not scars. They’re just pigmentary changes that are temporary and with the appropriate medication, creams, or laser treatment can completely go away.

Results after a laser treatment to combat hyperpigmentation.

The most important thing to keep in mind if you’re dealing with acne scaring or discoloration, is to have realistic expectations when it comes to results. While patients may sometimes see slight improvements immediately after a treatment, Dr. Kosari says don’t expect a huge amount of change overnight. It can take a matter of months and several treatments to truly see a difference and to expect to have two to four treatments before seeing a huge change.





Amy Trainum
Amy Trainum is a freelance writer who resides in Charlotte, but travels as much as she can. Follow her travels at SouthernDeparture.