Skincare: Here’s How To Handle Adult Acne

Elle Gordon finds out what to do when hiding your face isn't an option.

girl looking at skin in mirror

They say love the skin you’re in but that can be hard when the skin you’ve been lumped with is red  inflamed and er….lumpy! Elle Gordon finds out what to do when acne rears it’s ugly head in adulthood (and hiding your face isn’t an option)

Why so spotty? These words of distress I usually find myself bellowing the day of a big event, or god forbid a wedding, because spots are sound like that. My skin and I have battled each other for years. I lob on some new product whose packaging yells all the best buzzwords, ‘overnight, healing, pores diminished, GLOW!’. My skin will retaliate, a mastermind of war. ‘You can have clear chin but we will be invading jawline before dawn.’ Aargh!

“By Friday I’m frantically ringing beauticians who might fit me in last-minute.”

Constant skin battles are upsetting. Breakouts can be extremely painful, and angry bumps visible under makeup downright disheartening. In my case, it can happen at lightning speed. Midweek, I might think, ‘Oh great my skin is clear and I have that event on Saturday.’ By Friday I am frantically ringing beauticians who might fit me in last-minute.

I drink more water than your average dolphin and have completely cut out dairy. I’m the girl convincing anyone who will listen that porridge made with water is just as nice. I have been known to spend extortionate amount of money on products. I make a point of booking myself in for regular facials. Frustratingly, spots continue their ascent.

“85 per cent of the population have some form of oily skin.”

So what is there to be done? I spoke to dermatologist Anna Gunning of the Laser and Skin Clinic. I wanted to sort through the deluge of  information I have been given over the years and see if there is a clear-skin answer out there. “What I try to explain to my clients is, you are born with perfect skin and you develop your skin type in your teenage years. 85 per cent of the population have some form of oily skin. If your oil production is not controlled properly, that’s when things get out of hand.”

Anna explains, “If oil gets trapped, it can get infected and you will experience redness and swelling around the area. If you don’t interrupt the excess oil build up you are never going to get on top of your breakouts.” She says, “We need to ask ourselves why did the bacteria happen in the first place?”

Immediately, I think of hormones and wonder whether propensity to lots-of-spots has anything to do with them getting out of whack. Anna surmises, “Our hormones change from our teenage years right through to menopause. All this influences our skin and our oil production and you produce more at certain times of the month. The more oil you produce the higher the risk that the oil will become blocked on the way to the surface of the skin.”

The Pill is often prescribed by GPs to balance and clear the skin. I myself, have taken this route, opting for a skin focused pill like Dianette but I found it affected my mood so I stopped. Anna assures me that if The Pill is not for you all is not lost.

“Your focus is prevention and controlling and balancing your skin. You want to prevent the build up of oil and dead skin in the epidermis and the pores. Keep the skin clean and you can control the sebaceous glands from actually producing the excess oil. You should do this using products first.”

Are regular peels enough to kickstart the skin to the land of clear?  Anna says, “It’s not manageable or realistic to come in to a clinic and have a peel every six weeks and expect that to solve everything. You will have an improvement in the congestion and the oil, but it is what you are doing at home that is so important.” With a strong emphasis on home care it seems to me my bank balance will still be the one who takes the hit. If we are going to invest in a medical grade skin care product – known as cosmeceuticals – how can we manage the cost?

“You need to forget about brands for a minute… look at what the ingredients are.”

“You need to forget about brands for a minute,” Anna says. “You need to keep your skin routine simple and you need to look at what the ingredients are.  Look out for salicylic acid, it is a gentle acid. It binds with oil and acts as a gentle exfoliator. It’s anti inflammatory so it calms the skin as well. Use an active salicylic cleanser a few times a week and if you use a toner, use one with salicylic.”

With this advice I am starting to realise that like so many others, I have allowed the brand name and the packaging, even the smell, to influence why I might buy a product. I have rarely, if ever, looked on the back of a bottle to see the breakdown of what exactly I am putting on my skin.  This has led to a bathroom shelf that is groaning with products, while I look in the mirror groaning with spots.

“If you’re using a sunblock make sure it’s oil free.”

What’s more, looking at ingredients does not only extend to your cleanser.  Anna elaborates, “If you are going to use a serum or moisturiser; it has to be oil free and very light in texture. There shouldn’t be any  hidden oils or primers. If you’re using a sunblock make sure it’s oil free. It’s about keeping everything very light on the skin. You want your skin to be hydrated but avoid anything heavy. That’s the thing to keep an eye out for with cosmetic brands. You can actually clog up your skin with the moisturiser and cause more problems than good.”

Anna concludes that once you have a suitable at-home routine, regular peels are a good way to continue on your journey to clear skin. Yet, what about those, that like myself, find the thought of putting anything with the word ’peel’ on their face a daunting prospect?

Anna  says, “It’s a controlled percentage [of acids] in a way that it is safe to use. We have to involve mild acids from different places like glycol acid from sugarcane and lactic acid from milk. Used in the right hands they are safe. With active ingredients you will feel some sensation on the skin, but that’s what you’re hoping for.  It allows healthy new skin cells to come up to the surface quicker.”

Having found myself overwhelmed by the ups and downs of my skin. I feel as though I can see clearly, (and will soon see clearer skin). Anna’s ‘less is more’ approach of simplifying our skin routines has put a light at the end of my spot busting tunnel and yours to I hope.


Spa facials

A lot of the products used in spas can be full of oils and are too rich. Layer after layer of product is not good if you have a problem with acne. Opt for peels instead.

Exfoliate like crazy to clear out the skin?

A lot of exfoliators can be made from ground down nuts or plastic nasties, and rubbing those jagged edges on skin can cause more oil production. Exfoliate differently, with medical-grade crystals or a good face salicylic face wash.

Quality is key 

Invest in a high quality cosmeceutical retinol or Vitamin A product and you will see positive changes for your skin. This can include a decrease in oil production, a deeper exfoliation and even collagen production.

This story first appeared in the January issue of STELLAR Magazine. Our February issue is on shelves now.

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