While many of us had hoped to kiss goodbye to acne at the end of our teenage years, it seems more people than ever are experiencing the common skin condition well into adulthood. With so many contributing factors ranging from stress, to skincare, to more serious underlying medical conditions, we called upon advanced skincare and laser specialist Debbie Thomas to clear up any confusion as well as to share her top tips on how to treat adult acne.
“Acne as a condition is complicated, frustrating and emotionally distressing,” Debbie says. “To manage acne or indeed any skin concern first you need a basic understating of what it is otherwise you end up going round in circles not understanding why you should or shouldn’t do or use something.
Debbie knows the struggles of adult acne all too well, having experienced it herself all her adult life; “After 20 years of dealing with my own spotty skin as well as helping my clients manage breakouts I have learnt a thing or two.”
But before we get into the most likely triggers, it is important to understand that every case of acne is different. “While following this advice will generally mean you are leading a healthier lifestyle and reducing inflammation, which is beneficial for the overall health of your skin, it may not be the key to reducing your acne,” Debbie explains. “If you are struggling to pinpoint your triggers through elimination, it can be worth investing in food allergy tests to see what your intolerance may be.”
Although the following foods don’t directly cause acne, they can have a cascading unbalancing effect within the body and can cause increased inflammation, which in turn can trigger a breakout.
“The worse culprits in my personal and professional experience are dairy, sugar and nutrient-poor fast and convenience foods also diets high in animal protein and those lacking in fibre,” reveals Debbie. “Dairy contains another animal’s hormones (ones to make baby cows grow, and often
alongside artificial hormones used to stimulate more milk production). These can confuse our own hormones, and disrupt the homeostasis of our skin.” Debbie goes on to explain that many find lactose hard to digest, which can also have an effect. “This results in inflammation within the gut. When the gut is unhappy the body and the skin is quick to follow.”
As well as dairy products, sugar is another problematic ingredient to avoid if you’re having trouble with acne. “Sugar directly impacts our insulin levels and, if consumed regularly, causes insulin to spike (also known as sugar highs, then sugar lows),” Debbie explains. “This causes imbalances and inflammation, all of which eventually shows on your skin.”
While it’s a good idea to cut out dairy and sugar, you may want to up the amount of natural fibre in your diet. “Fibre helps you absorb essential nutrients and antioxidants, and helps improve your overall gut health by supporting the healthy bacteria,” she says. Fibre is found in vegetables, nuts, pulses, fruits and grains.
“Eat organic where you can or at least thoroughly wash and peel non organic foods, significantly reduce meat, dairy and sugar intake and cook fresh whenever possible,” recommends Debbie.
We all know how detrimental stress is to our energy levels and mental health, but it can also wreak havoc with our skin, too. “Stress is directly linked to our adrenal glands which produce adrenalin,” says Debbie. “An over production of adrenalin will start to push other hormones out of balance, and can stimulate your oil glands leading to more sebum production.” Sebum is a key factor in the formation of a pimple, so finding stress-relieving activities is key to helping keep your adrenals from hitting burn out. “A stress-relieving activity like yoga will not only help to reduce daily adrenalin production but it should also mean you to nod off easier giving you the much needed beauty sleep.”
According to Debbie, we all need to remind ourselves of the importance of sleep. “Just keep reminding yourself of the saying “you need your beauty sleep”,” she says. “Despite being an old saying it is actually based on science. When you are in deep, ‘REM’ sleep, your body repairs and regenerates. So, if you find yourself sleep deprived you will notice that the skin in general looks lacklustre and any spots you have will be slower to heal, so rather than a final flick through your social media, tuck your self into bed for a good night’s sleep.”
“The ingredient proven to treat acne is retinoic acid (a stronger prescription only version of retinol),” says Debbie. “Retinol (a less aggressive form of retinoic acid) is available at a 0.5% or lower strength or you can get a prescription from a doctor for 1% or higher.”
Even though retinol’s acne-fighting abilities are widely proven, it’s no miracle cure. “You need to use retinol consistently and regularly for 6-12 weeks to start to see the results. It can leave the skin feeling dry and looking red and flaky for several weeks before it settles.” Other ingredients which help are salicylic acid, which is antibacterial and anti inflammatory, and helps to control sebum production.
For severe cases, especially if the acne is leaving scars, I would recommend seeing a dermatologist and discussing a course of the prescription medication Roaccutane,” says Debbie. “For moderate to milder acne cases I am a huge fan of laser treatments combined with peels and even microneedling.”