ACNE vulgaris, to use its icky, full title, affects 44% of women, according to a survey commissioned by skincare brand, Eau Thermale Avene.
“Adult acne is increasing in prevalence, among women in particular,” says Professor Rino Cerio, a dermatologist at The Royal London Hospital.
“I’m seeing some women come to me with acne in later life; they can be tearful, frustrated, and have very poor self-esteem, or depression in some cases.”
Hormonal changes are often the cause — either due to natural fluctuations, changing/stopping birth control methods, and the menopause.
But stress also increases the production of androgens — the hormones that stimulate oil glands and cause breakouts.
Thankfully, there are steps for maximising skin health, like drinking eight glasses of water a day and getting enough sleep.
“Overall, proper nutrition is important for healthy, acne-free skin,” says Dr Howard Murad, dermatologist and founder of Murad skincare. “Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables rich in Vitamin A, to help normalise the turnover of dead skin cells.”
As for acne treatment, tailor it according to your needs. Whether you suffer from just the odd spot, or regular breakouts and more persistent zits, here’s what the experts advise...
For infrequent acne, the old adage about never going to bed with your make-up on still applies.
“Always cleanse your skin before you retire to bed. Without proper cleansing, bacteria can survive — and thrive — on your skin, leading to breakouts,” says Dr Murad.
Cleanse with caution, though, says consultant dermatologist, Dr Justine Hextall: “There is a reflex, with acne-prone skin, to over-cleanse and strip our natural oils with heavy alkaline, often alcohol-based cleansers. Stick to gentle cleansers that keep the skin barrier calm and optimally functional.”
Follow with a mattifying toner and moisturiser, and target individual spots with a serum treatment to dry them up overnight.
Now, let’s clarify, once and for all: is it ever OK to pop a spot? Only if you must, the pros say.
Professor Cerio warns: “The spot itself is keeping the bacteria contained, so when you breach the barrier, you’re at risk of creating other spots and permanent scarring.”
Dr Hextall says: “If the spot has a yellow head, it is suitable. Make sure your hands are thoroughly clean and press until clear fluid appears, not blood, as you can encourage scarring. Wipe the area and then apply either witch hazel or tea-tree oil.”
CLEANSE: Murad Clarifying cleanser, €35.25 (www.feelunique.com, free p&p).
TONE: La Roche-Posay serozinc, € 9.68 (available April 1; www.boots.ie).
MOISTURISE: Avene Cleanance MAT mattifying emulsion, €15.99 (Boots).
TREAT: Witch overnight clearing serum, €7.99 (Boots).
If acne attacks become more frequent, step up your skincare regime with clearing ingredients and clinically-proven products.
“Salicylic acid helps to clear blemishes and prevent future breakouts. Try products that protect and restore skin health, with antioxidant vitamins C and E,” says Dr Murad.
“For more heavily blemished skin, look out for hydrogen peroxide with a patented delivery system that spirals down into the pore, eliminating bacteria with oxygen, while maintaining hydration.”
Professor Cerio says: “It’s so important to strike the balance right between treating acne and maintaining healthy skin. Cleanance Expert has a core ingredient of diolenyl, which works only where it’s needed and actively targets the acne-causing bacteria.”
The moisturiser can be used twice daily and can help soothe the irritation that some topical acne medicines cause.
CLEANSE: Super Facialist, by Una Brennan, salicylic acid purifying cleansing wash, €10.49 (Boots).
TONE: Murad blemish-clearing solution, €54.99 (www.feelunique.com, free p&p).
MOISTURISE: Avene Cleanance Expert emulsion, €19 (Boots).
TREAT: La Roche-Posay effaclar A.I. targeted breakout corrector, €13.99 (Boots).
What if, after trying all the chemist’s suggestions, your spots are still showing no signs of retreating? “If in doubt, seek medical advice, especially if symptoms worsen over a period of time,” says Professor Cerio.
“The are a multitude of measures that can be taken to improve acne and help to prevent its return, including contraceptive pills.”
An expert will be able to reveal more about the exact causes, too.
“A dermatologist can help tailor a treatment specifically toward your skin issues and the underlying causes that are unique to your lifestyle,” says Dr Murad.
“Especially if you have severe cystic acne, which is marked by pimples that are both deeper and longer-lasting than regular acne.”
You may have heard of Roaccutane (or Accutane), a controversial pill that reduces oil-production and has been shown to be highly effective in treating acne.
“I only advise this treatment when first-and second-line treatments are unsuccessful or deemed unsuitable,” says Dr Hextall.
Dr Murad adds: “I don’t typically recommend Roaccutane to my patients, as it can cause harsh side-effects, but it is really up to the physician and the patient to determine what would work best.”