Understanding adult acne: Why acne scars are more than skin deep

Acne is considered to be a teenage affliction. But for many people the scars – both physical and emotional – last long after they leave their teens behind. 

And not just the scars, acne itself can last or even start after our teenage years. In this article we’ll explore the impact of adult acne and acne scars, and share advice on how you can cope with them and some of the treatment for acne scars options that are available. 

What is adult acne? 

Adult acne, also known as post-adolescent acne, is acne that occurs after the age of 25. The causes of adult acne are very similar to teenage acne: excess oil production, clogged pores, bacteria, and inflammation. It can also be caused by hormones, stress, the menstrual cycle, makeup, hair and skincare products, diet and medications.

Trethowans
Trethowans

You can’t always control whether or not you’ll get adult acne. But you can help to prevent or minimise it as much as possible with some simple steps:

  • Remove makeup before bed
  • Choose skincare and cosmetic products that are “non-comedogenic,” “oil-free,” or “won’t clog pores”
  • Avoid skin and hair products that contain oil

What treatments are available for acne?

The type of treatment that may be suitable for you will depend on the type and severity of your acne. Your doctor will recommend what they believe is the right treatment for you. 

Some options you may be offered, depending on your acne, include topical tretinoin, which helps your skin turn over skin cells more quickly, to prevent clogged pores. Another is isotretinoin (also known as Accutane) which is an oral treatment for severe acne. If your acne is hormonally driven then you may be prescribed spironolactone, which manages your testosterone levels. Birth control pills can also sometimes be used to regulate hormones.

Other treatments include light-based treatments like photodynamic therapy and chemical peels.

Can acne scars be treated?

But what happens once your acne has gone, but the scars remain? Many people remain self-conscious about the visual reminders of the acne they once had. 

The good news is that acne scars can also be treated. As with acne itself, the best way to treat your acne scars is to see a doctor and get expert advice and treatment. Some of the options they may consider include:

  • Alpha hydroxy acids – A mild acid that exfoliates the outer layer of your skin to help remove discoloration and rough skin.
  • Lactic acid – A lactic acid peel conducted by a dermatologist once a fortnight for three months can improve the texture, appearance, and pigmentation of your skin and lighten acne scars.
  • Retinoids – As well as speeding up your cell regeneration and improving your skin texture, retinoids can also help reduce discoloration and make your scars less obvious.
  • Salicylic acid – when applied topically, salicylic acid can clear pores, reduce swelling and redness, and exfoliate your skin.
  • Sunscreen – Wearing sunscreen with SPF 30+ whether it’s sunny or cloudy can stop scars darkening and make them less obvious. 

However you feel about your acne it’s okay

Acne isn’t ‘just’ teenage spots, and it’s absolutely normal to feel upset or angry about it. Studies have discovered that acne significantly affects people who have it, to the same extent as some other chronic diseases, such as diabetes and thyroid disease. 

You’re also far from alone in feeling hopeless or frustrated. Acne is more than simply a skin condition and can impact how you feel about yourself. One study found that 36% of people with post-acne scars were self-conscious of their scars, and 24% felt that their scars was affecting their social activities.

That said, acne doesn’t affect everyone in the same way. Some people who have severe acne aren’t worried about it, while other people can be extremely depressed and embarrassed by mild acne breakouts. Whatever feelings you personally have are valid, and no reaction is ‘wrong’. 

So please don’t minimise or feel ashamed of your feelings. It’s normal to have negative feelings about your acne. And acknowledging these feelings is the first step to managing your emotional wellbeing.

Get treatment for your acne

However you feel about acne, you shouldn’t just need to accept it and deal with it on your own. There are plenty of different treatment options today, including those we listed above. So even if one doesn’t work for you, you still have options. 

It’s also important to remember that you will probably need to try several acne treatments before finding the right one that works best for you. It also takes time for any treatment to work. 

At the start, you’ll probably still experience new breakouts. But don’t be disheartened; this isn’t necessarily a sign that your acne treatment isn’t working. It might just need more time. You should find that your skin will improve slowly, often over a period of several months.

Lots of people find that just beginning an acne treatment plan can help them to feel more hopeful and in control. Studies show that the earlier treatment starts, the less psychological impact it can have. So if you’re not already treating your acne, or worry your current treatment isn’t working for you, call your doctor and ask for help. 

What else can you do to feel better about your acne?

As well as seeking treatment for your acne, there are other ways you can help to manage your emotions and enjoy better general mental wellbeing. 

While your diet doesn’t directly cause acne, eating plenty of fruit, vegetables and whole grains will help you feel better both physically and mentally. As a side effect, it may also help to improve your acne, if you still have it, and make your skin look clearer and better in general. 

A number of studies have found a potential link between the severity of acne and dairy products and foods with a high glycemic index (GI) rating, such as white bread, sugary drinks, biscuits, pasta and cake. You may even notice that some foods seem to act as a trigger for breakouts. But, as always, speak to your doctor before drastically changing your diet or cutting out food groups. 

Exercise is good for your mental and physical health too. Physical activity can help to improve your mood, fitness and confidence. It’s also a great way to lower any feelings of stress, anxiety and depression.

Speaking of stress, several studies have noticed a connection between stress and the severity of acne. That’s not to say that stress is the cause of acne – it isn’t – but it can make your breakouts worse. It also have a negative affect on your mental and physical health. So finding activities you enjoy that help to reduce your feelings of stress is a good idea. 

And finally, many people find that concealing their acne or acne scars can help them feel better and more confident. Just make sure that you use an oil-free brand of makeup that won’t clog your pores, and you cleanse your skin properly every evening. There are even concealing products specially designed for men that blend acne scars.

Take your life back from acne

Whether you have mild or severe acne, or post-acne scars, we hope this article has helped you feel less alone and more empowered. As you can see, there are treatment options and other choices you can make to improve your life and sense of wellbeing. 

You don’t simply need to ‘accept’ acne and live with the scars. You can seek out professional help and get your life back. 

Photo by Megan Bagshaw