Adult acne - how to cope

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Most commonly associated with the teenage years, acne isn't just a problem during puberty. For some, this skin condition can last well into adulthood, while others are hit with the sudden onset of the problem in their 20s, 30s or even 40s.

What is acne?
The problem occurs when the glands next to hair follicles produce larger amounts of sebum, or oil, than normal. Linked to change in hormone levels, the condition often causes a blockage of the pores, while the extra sebum causes a usually harmless skin bacterium to become aggressive, leading to inflammation and pus. The result is blackheads, whiteheads and pus-laden spots, typically on the face, neck, back and chest.

What causes it?
Changes in hormone levels are often to blame, which is why it usually affects teenagers whose hormones are in a state of flux. But it can also occur in adults, particularly women, in adulthood, and an outbreak could be linked to the menstrual cycle, pregnancy or possibly polycystic ovary syndrome.

A family history of adult acne means it is quite likely that you will develop it, and a reaction to certain medications, such as steroids or lithium, or to some cosmetics, could also trigger a flare-up.

For many sufferers, a simple over-the-counter topical treatment containing salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide can work wonders, but if the pharmacy isn't providing the answer, it is worth paying your GP a visit. For women, oral contraceptives can often be effective, since some can balance out the testosterone that could be causing the problem. However, polycystic ovary syndrome should first be ruled out.

Topical or oral antibiotic treatments, and retinoid creams may also be prescribed, but if the situation still does not improve, you may be referred to a dermatologist. Where prescribed medication, either topical or oral, have proved ineffective, the much stronger isotretinoin may be prescribed, though it is unsuitable for pregnant women as it significantly increases the risk of serious birth defects.

Self help
Though acne is not caused by poor hygiene, washing the face twice daily with a gentle, unperfumed cleanser can help to reduce the symptoms by removing dead cells from the skin's surface, thereby reducing the risk of follicles becoming blocked. Use a lukewarm water, and don't try to squeeze spots or blackheads, as this can lead to permanent scarring. Do not, however, wash more than twice a day, as you could end up irritating the skin and exacerbating the symptoms.

It is also advisable to avoid touching your face too much - the NHS advises washing your hands before touching your face to prevent the spread of bacteria and to remove make-up before going to bed.

Research suggests certain food items could also trigger a flare-up, so try keeping a food diary to help you work out what might be making the symptoms worse.

Most of all, do not be afraid to seek help. Aside from the symptoms themselves, acne can lead to a serious lack of self-esteem and stress. Speak to your doctor for advice on how to gain control of the condition.

Do you suffer with adult acne? Tell us about your experience below...
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