Have you ever looked in the mirror and uttered these words under your breath, ‘Why am I still breaking out’? Did you wonder why, even in your adult years, you still have to put up with acne? The idea that acne should be a thing of the past – a teenage problem – can leave adults frustrated not knowing what is causing their skin breakouts. Here are 14 things you should know to help you identify the causes of your flare-ups and ways to prevent them.
#1 Blame it on the hormones
Androgens, like testosterone, are male hormones (present in women too) which are responsible for causing acne. Women undergo sharp hormonal changes more often than men, so women are twice as likely as men to be afflicted with acne during adulthood. Given this fact, it is no wonder why acne can strike anytime in a woman’s life – during puberty, ovulation, menstruation, pregnancy, menopause, and even after menopause. Female acne can also be a symptom of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) which is a disorder caused by hormonal imbalances; however, usually, these individuals are overweight, have fertility issues, do not have regular periods and grow excess hair in unwanted areas, such as the upper lip, chin and chest (more manly distribution of hair). In addition, some people who have thyroid problems may also have trouble with acne. It is also interesting to know that although men are at a lower risk for adult acne, men are more prone than women to have more severe forms of acne because of the higher levels of testosterone naturally circulating within a man’s body.
#2 Quit smoking
Did you ever notice the complexion of a longtime smoker? It is not supple and often looks dry, rough and leathery. Recent studies have discovered a phenomenon labeled as ‘smoker’s acne’; the acne in smoking individuals is non-inflammatory (bumps with no swelling or redness), commonly known as blackheads and whiteheads. Inflammatory acne, on the contrary, is when the spots are red, pus-like and swollen. Research shows that for people who had acne as teens, the probability of suffering from adult acne is four times higher in smokers than non-smokers. According to a British Journal of Dermatology, a study of 1000 women aged 25 to 50 found that 42 per cent of smokers had acne compared to only 10 per cent of non-smokers. It is a good idea to kick the habit, not only for health reasons, but also for the reason that smoking has long been associated with premature aging of the skin, wrinkles and a bad complexion.
#3 Check skin products
Sometimes the products you are applying on your face can trigger breakouts so pay close attention to your cosmetics, shaving creams, cleansers, moisturizers and makeup. Steer away from products with an oil-base which can block pores resulting in acne. Allow your skin to breathe and only put oil-free (noncomedogenic) products on your skin.
#4 Side effects of drugs
Since hormones are the main cause of acne and most acne cases are not drug-related, do not stop using your medications. However, bear in mind that some medications can cause acne breakouts. Phenobarbital (medication used for seizures), steroids (prescribed and illegal use in bodybuilding), lithium (medication for bipolar disorder), isoniazid and rifampin (medication used in tuberculosis), DHEA supplements (marketed as the extremely controversial anti-aging pill which causes serious side effects and has not been proven to work), hormone therapies and certain birth control treatments can cause or worsen acne. Again, talk to your doctor before discontinuing any medication.
#5 Your skin is what you eat
Although skepticism still exists in the dermatology community linking diet with acne, some people swear that certain foods cause them to break out. Until more solid evidence is out, the link between certain foods causing acne remains to be controversial. With that said, if you notice something you eat causes you to break out in pimples, avoid the food; by the same token, there is no guarantee that avoidance will necessarily cure your acne, but it is worth a try.
-Nuts: Although nuts are healthy snacks that calm our hunger pangs quickly because they are satiating, they can provoke acne in some individuals.
-Dairy: Recent studies have shown that milk and dairy products may trigger acne. It is not recommended to stop dairy as a means to improve your skin until more studies are conducted. Calcium is abundant in dairy products and is crucial for osteoporosis prevention. If your dairy intake is low, make sure to take dietary supplements to keep your bones strong.
-Chocolate: Some people experience pimples when they eat chocolate while it may not even faze others. It is not proven that chocolate causes acne and some claims have gone as far as saying ‘a bar a day keeps the spots away’ suggesting that chocolate can even cure acne!
-High glycemic foods: There is some evidence that foods with high-glycemic indices (sugared drinks, sweets, white bread and carbohydrate-rich foods) produce a quick spike in blood sugar which may aggravate acne. Although debate still exists in the scientific community around the notion that greasy and fatty foods worsen acne, many still carry the belief that it is definitely a contributor to acne. It has also been proposed that switching to a plant-based, low-fat, high-fiber diet can reduce acne flare-ups since vegetables and fruits are natural anti-oxidants and have anti-inflammatory properties. Eating more fish may also pave the way for clearer skin as they are rich in omega 3-oils which is known to reduce inflammation.
-Acne-fighting foods: Essential fatty acids (flax seeds, fish), Vitamin A (carrots, green leafy vegetables, sweet potatoes), zinc (whole grains, spinach), Vitamin E (green leafy vegetables), Vitamin C (citrus fruits, green peppers) Vitamin B-complex (brown rice, bananas), chromium (whole wheat breads, broccoli) and selenium (fish, lean meat, garlic, barley) are a sample list of foods that are rich in acne-suppressing vitamins and minerals. It is best to get these nutrients by eating enriched foods; do not take supplements without consulting a medical professional as overdosing can occur.
#6 Stay regular
Constipation can trigger acne by keeping toxins in your body. Eating a diet rich in fiber, drinking water and maintaining an active lifestyle will help prevent constipation and may be just what you need to clear up your skin.
Stress-induced acne has been a highly debated topic and, recently, numerous studies have proven that stress does, in fact, worsen acne. Stress causes acne by lowering our immune system’s ability to heal and causing androgens and cortisol to be activated which are acne promoting hormones.
#8 It is in the genes
Your genes may control your skin type. Adults with oilier skin are more prone to acne breakouts; also if acne runs in your family, chances are you will develop acne in your adult years. People who have the ‘perfect-skin gene’ should really know how lucky they are.
Does the weather affect acne? It is not hard to believe that hot and humid weather may cause more break-outs due to excess sweating; however, sweating alone does not clog pores, rather the mix of sweat with exposure to oils and polluted air provides a better environment for acne to erupt. It is also important not to use the sun to dry out your acne as over-exposure will prematurely age the skin, darkens spots and may flare up acne, let alone the cancerous effects of the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. How about the cold weather? Winter tends to worsen acne since cold weather causes the skin to dry out and the pores to shrink, leading to more clogging of pores. It is essential to moisturize, year-around, to help keep acne from worsening. Just because the weather is cold, does not mean you should skip the sunscreen since the sun’s rays are still strong and can penetrate even on a cloudy day or through the windshield while driving. Sunscreens should, not only be used in the summer, but also in the winter.
#10 Pressure and Friction
Adult acne can be caused by certain types of constant physical pressure to the skin, such as tucking a phone under the chin, or the friction from the straps of a backpack or purse. Tight clothing and undergarments, such as tight bra straps, and even excessive phone use can contribute to acne.
Not only does too much sun exposure and cold weather worsen acne by drying out the skin, but dehydration from lack of fluid intake can also cause breakouts. Hydrating the skin by hydrating the inside of your body will help prevent clogging of pores. Any caffeinated drinks, such as soda, tea and coffee, are dehydrating because they have diuretic properties (increase urination) so limit their intake. Water is the best fluid for your skin.
Clogged pores cause acne. Acne strikes when bacteria, excess oils and clogged pores are present. Although, dirt itself does not cause acne, it is essential to maintain a daily hygienic skin regimen in order to remove dead cells, dirt and excess oils to prevent blockage of pores. Avoid touching your face because your fingers have oils that can exacerbate acne. Dirty, oily hair touching your skin can also clog pores.
#13 Work out
There is strong evidence suggesting that exercise may clear up skin by lowering stress levels. Sweating is a normal bodily function and does not directly cause acne; nonetheless, it is still recommended to pull your hair away from your face during exercise to avoid oils from your hair touching your face and wash away or towel off sweat when you finish working out.
#14 Get good sleep
Not getting enough sleep increases stress which can lead to acne. In addition, studies have shown that sleep deprivation increases inflammation, thus exacerbating acne.
Sometimes, more than one factor may be causing your acne and it is not always easy to figure it out. Achieving clear skin may be as simple as switching your facial cream to a complex problem that requires a specialist. You might be surprised that just by lowering your stress, your complexion might improve. Remember sometimes, you might feel worse than your face actually looks and, without a doubt, you are your own worst enemy. Keep in mind that a natural glow comes from within, not just from an absence of pimples.
Dr Sandy Zabaneh is a US board-certified Doctor in Pharmacy who holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology, as well as a Bachelor of Science degree in Physiology from University of California, Davis. She is the Health Editor of U Magazine, clinical pharmacy consultant and life coach. Dr Sandy likes to follow the motto set forth by the World Health Organization in 1948: Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. Check out her blog at http://www.sandyzabanehblog.com
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