June 24, 2008

Adults Also Struggle With Acne

Blackheads. Pimples. Zits.

Most teenagers suffer at least a minor breakout at some point. Some have it worse, with more than a few probably having embarrassing stories ranging from a prom-night blemish to daily hallway name-calling.

But acne isn't just a scourge of adolescence. Adults in their 20s, 30s, 40s and beyond suffer from it.

That's according to the American Academy of Dermatology, although it doesn't have statistics about how many -- they're hard to come by, according to an e-mail from an academy spokesperson. No "non-biased" organizations track that kind of information -- mostly just pharmaceutical companies.

But it's a "pretty common" problem, said Dr. Mark Lehman with Tulsa Dermatology Clinic, 2121 E. 21st St. He sees about two or three adults with acne each day.

"Acne, primarily, is a toxic buildup in the skin," said Michael Ritchie, the counter manager for Origins cosmetics at Dillard's Promenade. "It just festers up and comes out your pores."

Girls usually have adolescent acne -- that angst-ridden stage most of us call puberty -- earlier than boys, like ages 11, 12 and 13, Lehman said. Although

boys experience it a bit later, like between the ages of 12 and 14, they also typically have it worse than the opposite sex. Hormones play a big part in it.

The exact cause, however, isn't certain, Lehman said. Bacteria sometimes plays a role, as does oil production.

"Testosterone, a hormone which is present in both males and females, increases during adolescence," according to information from the AAD. This hormone kickstarts the skin's sebaceous glands to enlarge, produce oil (sebum) and, consequently, block pores. That's what those whiteheads, blackheads and pimples are all about.

By the ages of 18 to 20, both sexes usually stop having acne problems, Lehman said, save for the occasional minor breakout. Not everyone's that lucky, though.

So if you're one of these, what can you do?

Keeping your skin clean is the most common step to take, Lehman said. Wash with a gentle soap a couple of times each day -- morning before work, night before bed. Play sports or work out, and sweat? Rinse off your face.

Don't scrub too much, though, as this could aggravate the existing problem, he directed. Use a mild cleanser, and only use a moisturizer when you need it. Dry skin doesn't make wrinkles, he said -- sun damage does.

Your makeup -- and sunscreen, now that we think about it -- should be oil-free or say "noncomedogenic," which means it's been tested to not predispose you to acne, Lehman said.

Beyond cleansing your face, look for products that have 2 percent salicylic acid, which will help open up your pores, he said. Origins, for example, has Spot Remover ($11) -- just dot it on the top of the pimple after cleansing, Ritchie said.

Another ingredient Lehman suggested is benzoyl peroxide, although it might be a bit more drying and can cause irritation for some folks. Also, look for cleansers or topical treatments with either glycolic or alpha-hydroxy acids.

If these aren't doing the trick, you should consider seeing a dermatologist, who might prescribe something from the retinoid family, which are vitamin A derivatives, Lehman said -- think Retin A, a topical solution you've probably heard or read about. Oral antibiotics are another option, and some dermatologists might prescribe birth control pills to females with acne problems.

For consistent, scarring acne, Accutane might be prescribed, he said. It's a powerful drug that can increase triglycerides and cholesterol in the blood stream, but the success rate is very high. It's a no-no for pregnant women, though.

To keep your acne from worsening, avoid picking at zits, Lehman warned. "That tends to leave a blemish that looks worse than when it started out, and it tends to linger."


Will that slice of pepperoni give you acne?

Years ago, people thought stuff like pizza, greasy food, even soft drinks played a role in causing breakouts, said Dr. Mark Lehman with Tulsa Dermatology Clinic. But most of that has been proven not to be the case.

After all, lots of teens eat pizza and junk food, and not all of them have acne problems, he said. However, if you notice your skin reacts with certain foods, it's a problem related to your own body chemistry.

So if that happens with pepperoni ... well, you might want to find another edible vice.

And what about water?

It's great for your skin and health, Lehman said, but it probably won't combat acne. Most people don't drink enough of it, though, so consider that food for thought.