We think that our skin will be blemish free once we leave behind our teenage years and embark on adulthood. But for many of us, this is far from true, adult acne is increasingly common.
Acne is a skin condition and a disorder of the pilosebaceous unit of the skin (the hair follicle and its companion sebaceous gland). When the unit becomes blocked, we get acne.
Why do some people get acne later in life?
It’s not clear why some people get acne as they age, and others don’t. It is known that if you suffered from acne as a teenager you are more likely to develop it as an adult, you also have a higher chance of acne development if someone in your immediate family has or has had acne. We also know that it is more common for women to develop later life acne most likely because of hormonal changes. We also know, however, that some people will develop late-onset acne after the age of 25 for no apparent reason.
As we age our skin becomes less resilient to the reliable (often fairly harsh) anti-acne chemicals that we used in our youth without issue and they can leave our skin sensitive, irritated, red, dry and flaky.
Is it environmental?
There are known acne aggravators which can contribute to worsening symptoms including poor diet, smoking, pollution, over-cleansing, and stress.
What about food
First, diet. Eating well does not mean that you are immune from acne. However, there are a number of studies that suggest a link between diet and acne and in particular acne and a high glycemic load diet. Moreover, eating a low sugar, nutrient dense diet filled with dark, leafy greens, healthy fats and vitamin and mineral rich foods will lessen inflammation in the body and positively impact your health.
Some research suggests that smoking may be a cause of acne. Whether it is or not, smoking does terrible things to the skin. Enough said.
Pollution is tricky because for many people it is almost impossible to escape. Pollution is considered a major contributor to skin conditions. Pollutants contain free radicals along with other aggressors that may contribute to acne, dull complexion, dark spots, and even premature ageing. It is very important to cleanse the skin properly at night to remove pollution. Nightly use of Velettà’s Cleansing Oil will ensure your skin is free from all the day's detritus. We also suggest assisting the skin by topically applying antioxidants through good natural, plant-based skincare like Veletta Rejuvenating Oil and Nourishing Moisturiser which are packed with antioxidants like Marula, Avocado and Meadowfoam Seed Oils that absorb deeply and give continued protection.
Too much of a good thing?
Perhaps counter-intuitively, over-cleansing can cause acne. Our skin naturally produces oil as a barrier against the outside world. When people have oily or acne prone skin they tend to be overzealous at ridding their skin of oil usually thoroughly cleansing the skin morning and night while diligently exfoliating. Unfortunately, this routine may not only be clearing away the dead skin cells, dirt, makeup, pollutants, and excess sebum but also stripping the skin of the sebum it needs to function effectively, leaving the skin dehydrated and feeling tight. The skin then produces extra sebum to compensate for its perceived lack of oil thereby causing acne.
To break this cycle, we suggest cleansing just once a day and avoiding cleansers that are too foamy as these are usually harsh on the skin. Oily skin can handle exfoliating more frequently than other skin types but try cutting down to once a week.
Stress is a killer
Stress is a huge culprit in many of our skin woes. Not only can stress trigger the onset of acne but if you are already suffering from acne it can make symptoms worse while contributing to dull skin tone and the formation of fine lines and wrinkles.
In the distant past, stress served us well, alerting us of danger and prompting us to run from life-threatening situations. Your body is hard-wired to react to these stressors, pumping with adrenaline which increases the heart rate and elevates blood pressure. At the same time, cortisol releases glucose into the blood in order to support the fight or flight mechanism within us while curbing non-necessary functions such as digestion.
When the threat passes the body returns to normal. Unfortunately, modern life has seen stress become endemic and some people feel constantly under siege which means that the fight-or-flight response is permanently on and therefore stress hormones are constantly in play. And this isn’t good.
Dr Libby Weaver explains how cortisol affects the body in her book, Beauty From The Inside Out:
“Cortisol is ‘catabolic’, meaning that it breaks protein down into its building blocks, known as amino acids. The catabolism is one of the mechanisms through which cortisol slows your metabolism. Your muscles are made from proteins, and cortisol signals them to break down, as the body’s perception is that fuel is needed.”
Amino acids help to repair skin and stimulate the production of collagen and elastin, meaning that while you have cortisol buzzing around your system your skin will not be healing properly which contributes to the early signs of ageing.
Trying to cut stress from your life can sound unrealistic but you can implement small changes that will benefit not only your skin but also your mental health. Meditation, mindfulness, and gratitude are no longer reserved for mid-life yoga retreats and are now being practised by a wide range of people with the hope of reducing stress and increasing wellbeing. Ariana Huffington’s book Thrive discussed her journey to wellness when she found herself under immense pressure and collapsed in her home office, hitting her head on the way down, breaking her cheekbone and cutting her eye. She talks about how she stripped stress from her life:
“I’ve found that meditation can actually be done in very short windows of time, even while on the move. We think of ourselves as breathing, but, in reality, we are being breathed. At any time we choose, we can take a moment to bring our attention to the rising and falling of our breath without our conscious interference. I know when I have “connected” because I usually take a spontaneous deep breath or release a deep sigh. So, in a sense, the engine of mindfulness to always going. To reap the benefits of it, all we have to do is become present and pay attention.
Our breath also has a sacredness about it. Sometimes when I’m giving a talk, I’ll first ask everyone in the room to focus on the rising and falling of their breath for ten seconds. It’s amazing how the room, which moments before hummed with chaotic energy, will suddenly be filled with a stillness, an attentiveness, a sacredness. It’s something quite palpable.”
What to do?
If your skin is acne prone and nothing you can do seems to work, it is worth seeking out professional help from a dermatologist. They can evaluate your skin thoroughly and figure out what is causing the acne and come up with the best solution to reduce or rid you of it. Even severe acne can be treated, people have had life-changing results from using antibiotics or isotretinoin. In short, seek medical advice.
Acne can be debilitating, and it is enormously frustrating to find yourself still prone to breakouts as an adult. You need not put up with it. Make changes to your environment, diet, and lifestyle. Look after yourself and put yourself in the hands of a good dermatologist.