Adult Acne: Why Am I Breaking Out So Bad? 5 Potential Causes

Adult Acne: Potential Causes, Solutions, and Prevention

Acne Header Photo by Website/Unsplash

Acne breakouts suck, and they almost always happen right before an important date. Read on to find out what causes acne breakouts and how to treat them.

Phew! Your schedule is beyond packed this week. On Monday you’re heading out to a mixer your college friend is hosting, then on Tuesday you’re meeting with your boss and the company’s potential partners, while Wednesday has you penned for a high school reunion, and so on.

Perhaps you’ve even got a big event lined up for the weekend – like a wedding you’re super involved in, or a date with someone you really want to look good for. Maybe it’s not always something huge – but its’ almost never not.

All of a sudden you notice a pin-sized spot on your face. And another. And another. Before you know it, your face has broken out with angry, painful, pus-filled pimples and smaller bumps that disturb the smooth surface of your skin. Not only is your self-esteem shot, but you find yourself wincing in pain when you accidentally touch your face. Frustrating, right?

Adult Acne: Potential Causes, Solutions, and Prevention 1

What type of acne do I have?

Acne breakouts usually occur most where the skin has the most oil glands, such as the face, chest, upper back, and shoulders. Typically, a pimple will happen when a hair follicle gets filled with dead skin cells, sebum, and bacteria – which causes swelling and inflammation. For easier identification, here are the most common types of acne that you might come across:

Adult Acne: Potential Causes, Solutions, and Prevention 2

Papules and pustules are usually what we mean when we say ‘pimples’, these painfully solid, inflamed bumps are coined papules, and can later develop into pustules when they develop white or yellow pus in the centre.

Adult Acne: Potential Causes, Solutions, and Prevention 3

Comedonal acne includes whiteheads and blackheads, caused by plugged hair follicles. What separates blackheads from whiteheads is the darker colour of the comedone, caused by its’ exposure to oxygen.

Adult Acne: Potential Causes, Solutions, and Prevention 4

Cystic Acne is a type of painful inflammatory acne that causes swelling deep in the skin’s middle layer. These are usually incredibly painful and take months to heal.

Adult Acne: Potential Causes, Solutions, and Prevention 5

Fungal Acne is another class of red bumps caused by an overgrowth of yeast in the hair follicles. Oftentimes confused with bacterial acne, fungal acne usually presents in clusters and can be surprisingly itchy!

Why am I breaking out? Potential Causes of Adult Acne

Breakouts can be caused by various factors, but the reassuring part is that there are several ways to prevent and treat them. If you find yourself battling against a sudden acne breakout, it's important to consider whether the following causes might be contributing to the problem.

Can poor sleep cause acne breakouts?

Adult Acne: Potential Causes, Solutions, and Prevention 6

Consistent good quality sleep can really make all the difference to your health – inside and out. When you rest, your body is able to regenerate cells, promote healthy cell turn over, and supports your immune system.

A lack of sleep can prevent you from reaping all the above-mentioned benefits, and it can also contribute to stress, which can trigger increased production of sebum, causing acne.

Is my diet bad for my skin? Do I need to quit dairy for clear skin?

Adult Acne: Potential Causes, Solutions, and Prevention 7

This is a tricky one. While we know that diets can have a huge impact on our overall health – it’s hard to definitively label specific foods as ‘bad’ for your skin. Everyone is different, what worked for your cousin might not work for you, and it would be far more productive to trial-and-error specific foods to find out what triggers your breakouts.

That being said, there are some studies out there that have found that refined carbohydrates may be linked to acne, but there’s still not enough literature to unequivocally go by.

Low glycaemic diets are associated with reduced acne, according to some of the more peer-reviewed studies, so if you’re struggling to find somewhere to start – here might be a good place.

You may have also had people advise you to lay off the dairy, and while the science isn’t out on milks’ effect on acne breakouts, there is a correlation between isolated whey protein and acne breakouts. So it might be a good idea to switch out your whey-protein powder with a plant-based protein powder.

Is my pillowcase causing my acne?

Adult Acne: Potential Causes, Solutions, and Prevention 8

When you don’t replace your pillowcase frequently, you might start to notice acne breakouts on the side of the face you sleep on. Your pillowcase accumulates bacteria, dirt, moisture, and oils from your own skin, as well as the environment, which can transfer back onto your face and trigger a breakout. Make sure to frequently switch out your pillowcase at least once a week to prevent your place of rest from turning into your source of worries.

Is my skincare giving me pimples?

Adult Acne: Potential Causes, Solutions, and Prevention 9

The skincare game used to be so simple. A good cleanser, moisturizer, and reliable sunscreen used to be all we needed. But with the advent of social media, we’re suddenly being bombarded with retinoids, acids, peels, masks, and spot correcting product recommendations that might not be compatible with each other. It’s almost as if we need an Excel sheet to calculate what to use and when.

Like your diet, what you put on your skin might work for you, and not for others. It doesn’t matter how many benefits a product promises, you have to listen to how your skin reacts to each product. A good rule of thumb is to use products made for sensitive skin to start, with non-comedogenic ingredients that don’t clog up your pores.

Another thing to note is that your body and skin are constantly changing every day. Skincare that is effective for you today might not be as helpful down the line, or even simply using the same product in another place with differing humidity levels can also lead to quite different results. Trialling is an ongoing process.

Does smoking cause acne?

Adult Acne: Potential Causes, Solutions, and Prevention 10

Smoking can cause more comedones, as shown by a recent study, making the oil of your skin thicker and more susceptible to blocking your pores.

How can I get rid of my acne?

If you’ve had a skim through the above mentioned ‘causes’, you can try and keep your acne at bay by prioritising your sleep, managing stress, tweaking your diet and skincare routine, and keeping your pillowcase clean.

Treating an acne breakout has much to do with consistent care of your own body, which includes exercise, practicing good hygiene (especially after you exercise), and a well-rounded diet.

Adult Acne: Potential Causes, Solutions, and Prevention 11

Topical creams and cleansers that contain salicylic acid and benzol peroxide help exfoliate the skin and keep pores clear- but be wary of using too much as it can dry out your skin.

With fungal acne, you can try anti-dandruff shampoos as a cleanser, as active ingredients such as ketoconazole and selenium sulfide can help kill off the fungal bacteria. Fungal acne may react poorly to typical acne treatments, which might worsen the condition, so its’ important to identify which type of acne you’re dealing with.

If you believe that you are dealing with a more serious case of acne breakouts, or if your acne breakouts are consistent, it’s time to visit your dermatologist for a more comprehensive diagnosis and treatment plan.

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