Never Mind Your T-Zone, Let Us Introduce You To Your U-Zone

Valerie Loftus has all the facts.

Adult acne is a strange, somewhat unknowable beast. You could have been one of the lucky people who never experienced any skin issues as a teenager, who sailed through life not thinking very much about skincare at all, and then boom: Breakouts. Or you could have been the one who endured your days as a spotty school-goer with the assertion it would sort itself out once you hit your twenties, but nope – the zits persist.

I was the former. I really didn’t have many spots to worry about as a teen, but from the ages of 23 to 28, I was plagued with recurring cystic acne, which appeared as swollen bumps underneath the skin of my chin and jawline. It was painful and left marks that remained for months, but I spend five years convincing myself that because it wasn’t all over my face, it wasn’t actually ‘acne’.

This is probably what stumps most adult women dealing with ‘a few spots’. We mostly associate acne with the T-zone, AKA the forehead, nose and chin – and yes, the T-zone is the part of your face with the most oil-secreting glands, and the site of many teenage spots. But acne that occurs in adulthood behaves quite differently, and in women, mostly appears around the chin and jawline, and area that is known to dermatologists as the ‘U-zone’.

First of all, what is the U-zone?

“The term ‘U-zone’ is used to describe primarily adult-onset female acne, whereby the female lesions are located on the mandibular region (jawline), the perioral region (around the mouth) and the chin, which is essentially a U-shape,” explains Dr Niki Ralph, consultant dermatologist for La Roche Posay. “This may also include extension onto the front of the neck.”

You can expect to find all sorts of lovely friends popping up on the U-zone, from inflammatory papules or pustules (AKA spots that come to a head) to closed comedones (blocked pores). While acne in the T-zone is mostly down to excess oil production. U-zone acne can be associated with genetics and hormones.

“Acne in this area tends to occur in adult females over 25 years of age, rather than the pattern seen in teenagers,” Dr Niki adds. In addition, the skin may be more sensitive than that of adolescents, with less tolerance for treatment with topical medications.”

So while you might have been able to throw the kitchen sink at your spots as a teen, your adult skin needs a little more TLC.

Annoyingly, the U-zone happens to be the exact area where you face mask now sits, so if you’re already prone to acne around there, you’ll have to tiptoe extra-gently to avoid the dreaded maskne. However, with proper care and attention, you can get U-zone acne under control.

How does one treat this kind of acne?

You have to ensure that you’re cleansing correctly, and that means double-cleansing. If you’re not already on the double cleanse train, it involves first going in with a micellar water or cleansing balm to remove makeup, SPF and various other types of grim, then following up with a cleanser to really clean the skin. Dr Niki recommends “a cream-based cleanser for those with sensitive skin, or a foaming gel cleanser for those with excessively oily skin.”

This extra step is going to be annoying for those of us who currently prefer to swipe a makeup wipe over our faces and fall into bed, but I promise you, it’s worth it (and also a nice little self-care ritual to get into).

Next, you’ll want to employ a product that targets spots directly. Here, you’re looking for ingredients like salicylic acid, which clears the pores, and niacinamide, which helps to reduce redness and inflammation. Dr Niki naturally recommends the La Roche-Posay Effaclar range – the new Effaclar Ultra Concentrated Serum contains both salicylic acid and niacinamide and is designed to fight spots while exfoliating the skin. Cult favourite Effaclar Duo, meanwhile, is a light gel moisturiser that works at reducing spots as you go about your day.

Dr Niki also suggests introducing a retinoid into your routine, which will reduce oil production and encourage cell turnover, stopping the formation of comedones. Just make sure you’re using SPF every day to protect your brand new skin from the sun’s rays (you should be doing this anyway, but especially after using any exfoliating products).

At what point is it necessary to seek medical advice about adult acne?

If your acne is driving you around the bend, it’s important to remember that you are not alone. Around 40 percent of women between the ages of 20 and 40 suffer from adult acne, even though we tend to downplay it as merely ‘spots’ or ‘breakouts’. But if these breakouts are persistent, you have every right to do something about them.

“If you feel like your acne is resulting in scar formation, then you should immediately seek further medical advice to prevent further scarring,” advises Dr Niki. “If you have a very good skincare routine yet continue to have persistent breakouts despite using topical therapies, then you may consider discussing further treatment options with your doctor. You may require systemic therapies with anti-androgens [hormonal treatments] such as the contraceptive pill, spironolactone, or possibly isotretinoin [Acutane], if your acne is scarring you.”

It can be hard, especially if you consider your acne to be ‘mild’, to seek outside help. I definitely shrugged off my own acne as ‘just a few spots’ – but those ‘few spots’ were causing me to pile on the makeup, hide my chin and jawline in photos, and avoiding looking at myself in the mirror. My skincare routine was immaculate, and I tried every spot-fighting product on the market, but nothing worked. Eventually, I got the courage to speak to a doctor, who prescribed me a contraceptive pill for acne. A year on, my skin is the best it’s ever been (with the odd spot here and there, but they’re easily managed).

My message to you is: If your acne is getting you down, you should absolutely talk to your doctor about it.

“At any point, if someone feels their acne is impacting on their equality of life, they should seek medical advice,” Dr Niki continues. “Studies have shown that having chronic acne or regular breakouts is associated with low mood, depression and anxiety. No one should have to suffer from years of acne when there are lots of treatments that can improve your skin.”

Images via Twenty20